Arts & Culture

Find the art among the trees at Swan Creek Food Forest

An earth loom by Miranda Pollitz is part of a new environmental art exhibition in Swan Creek Park, Tacoma.
An earth loom by Miranda Pollitz is part of a new environmental art exhibition in Swan Creek Park, Tacoma.

There’s a 12-foot tree at the entrance to Swan Creek food forest — not that unusual in the forested 373-acre Tacoma park. Only this tree is different. It has a golden halo in it. The “tree” is actually a sculpture by Acataphasia Grey, one of 13 local artists creating work for an open-air exhibition opening Saturday with art-making, food talks and a drum circle. Made largely from materials found in the park, the art is intended to draw people to Swan Creek’s Food Forest — and blur the line between natural and man-made.

“My goal originally was to publicize the food forest, this incredible utopian idea of having a permaculture forest where the community and volunteers tend plants and grow food, and where anyone is allowed to pick,” said curator Lisa Kinoshita, who’s organizing the art in partnership with Metro Parks. “Then the idea grew into a kind of hide-and-seek with art in this spectacular wilderness … just five minutes from downtown.”

Grey, whose taxidermy art was featured in AMC’s “Immortalized,” decided to create the tree as a way of showing visitors in an unequivocal fashion that there was art in the park. Finding a dead trunk nearby, she trimmed it and bolted other branches on, adding a gold-painted circle of twigs and zip-tying the whole thing to the fence post at the northwest corner of the community garden.

Other sculptures aren’t quite as easy to find. Turn south along the park’s interior road and you’ll find “Fish Trap,” a teepee structure of lashed bamboo and rope mirroring the madronas and evergreens that surround its small meadow. Made by Jennifer Lawrence Bennett and students, it’s a reference to Coast Salish fish traps. But you’ll have to wander into the canyon-rim trail to find works by Terri Placentia and School of the Arts students: a person-high “nest” of twigs and a “river” of pine cones flowing between rocks over the precipice into the gulch.

Other works sprout from tree trunks: Gabriel Brown’s layered cardboard “fungi,” referencing consumer culture, debris and decomposition; and Elizabeth Gahan’s colorful grids. Be prepared to walk or bike around — the art is hard to spot, though Kinoshita plans to have arrows on the road pointing to sculptures.

Tucked behind the small shelter at the food forest itself (just south of the community garden) is an earth loom made by Miranda Pollitz. Thin branches of dappled willow, pinky sedge, lime-green bamboo and white-berried snowberry are woven delicately through wool yarn between two saplings, like a living window. The effect is a calm median between nature and craft — exactly what Pollitz wants. Often exploring ideas of entropy and change in her art, she was inspired by Swan Creek’s history of houses that have since been swallowed up by the forest.

“This place has changed over the decades,” Pollitz said. “I love the idea of this art changing.”

And the art will change. Not only will it be affected by the elements, there are people to consider — like the vandal who has been damaging murals and traffic box wraps on nearby McKinley Hill.

Even before Saturday’s opening, someone had converted Placentia’s woven twig spiral on the canyon trail into a shrine to a friend called “Montae,” with a poster, overturned desks with paper spilling out and other debris.

Pollitz is hoping park visitors will contribute to her earth looms. She’ll be leaving baskets full of weaving materials for people to add.

And Grey is just taking what precautions she can against vandals, securing her “tree” with a bike lock and constructing it so there’s nothing to tempt thieves.

“At the end of the day you just hope for the best,” she said.

Meanwhile, she and other artists are excited to bring more attention to Tacoma’s Food Forest, now 2 years old and already growing into a sustainable source of free local food.

“Swan Creek is a tremendous park, and nobody knows about it,” Grey said. “Anything that can be done to put it in the public eye is good.”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

“Art, Edibles and Sustainable Culture”

What: Environmental artwork spread out through forest.

Where: Swan Creek Park, East 42nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Tacoma.

When: Opening event 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, then on view daily until the artworks break down.

Opening event: 10 a.m. kids art-making with Kate Cendejas (meet at gazebo), 10:30 a.m. permaculture talk, 11 a.m. drum circle, 1 p.m. mushroom ID.

Cost: Free.