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Paper Words for Nebraska City’s Arbor Day

Seven years ago I arrived in Nebraska City in August for an artist residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. I wanted to be in Nebraska City because it is THE city in which Arbor Day began, in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton. Over a million trees were planted that first year, and because of its success, the day was celebrated the next year and the next and spread to other states and territories. It’s not a federal holiday, but every state now observes it. The actual date varies depending on the state and its planting zone. Many states, including Nebraska honor it on the last Friday of April.

I am now in Nebraska City at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (KHN) as a resident again, fulfilling a dream that began during that first residency to install my Paper Word project for Nebraska City’s Arbor Day celebration. In honor of that, fellow resident Erin Malone and KHN Program Director Amanda Smith (Thank you!) helped me install paper words at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure. The words will also be on trees in front of the county courthouse and city hall.

At the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, we hung a haiku-inspired text written by Holly Wren Spaulding that is part of our collaboration Here, Stands, a variation of my paper word project down in the valley along the wood chip trail.

Other words, the “empowering words” as I call them, are along the upper trails. Here are some pics of us installing the work.

Here’s a summary of the inspiration for this: Here, Stands is a collaboration between poet Holly Wren Spaulding and artist Melanie Mowinski that brings brief, image-driven poems to public spaces. Mowinski takes Wren’s words and her own and makes them into handmade paper words that are tied around trees. The spare, haiku-inspired texts bring attention to the many functions of the forest (utilitarian, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic). The project serves to engage passers-by with reflections having to do with humans’ relationship to the environment. Inspiration includes the forest monks of Southeast Asia who “ordain” trees by wrapping them in sacred monk’s robes in an ongoing effort to save endangered forests from industrial logging. Our project enrobes the trees in poems, another way of bringing awareness to their virtues, both sacred & mundane.

The project comments on and invites conversation about some of the challenges faced by society, including our growing disassociation from our natural world and lack of awareness about the role it plays in sustaining life. The poems and words chosen and created for this project point to, and ennoble the trees and other features of our landscape that clean the air, filter our water, hold our soil in place and provide safe-haven from the elements.

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