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Collaborative art project highlights the artistic and healing properties of trees

From trees to sticks to collaborative art about 50 people came to a community sculpture build at the University of Guelph

Combining nature, art and science came to fruition with a collaborative stick weaving project today.

At the How To Draw A Tree Wellness Circle on Johnston Green at the University of Guelph, people were welcomed to join artists Dawn Matheson and Agnes Niewiadomski to create a sculpture made out of sticks. 

Trees saved Matheson’s life. She has her own challenges with mental health but being with trees in nature relaxes her and calms her mind.

“It's just a practice I've developed. It grounds me,” she said. 

She wanted to bring a bit about what fuels her creativity and helps her mental health to the public with this art project.

The process of the sculpture will continue to unravel in the next couple of weeks as people add sticks to it. About 50 people came out to the event on Wednesday.

Eventually the sculpture will be used as a set piece for a play put on by Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) students. 

“Our idea is always like, challenge yourself to try something that you're not used to,” said Gerard Gouchro, teacher and minor head of arts at GCVI. Students came to help create pieces of art as part of the sculpture. 

The project stemmed from an idea to get people engaged with the wellness circle. An art project called How To Draw A Tree was created by Matheson four years ago. Although the project is finished she hopes people will still engage with it. 

The team behind the project is a mix of artists, sound composers, students, poets, ecopsychologists and more. They created sound walks. People can go through a guided tour in the Arboretum while listening to artists talk about their relationship to trees.

There are four guided sound walks onsite and each person has a tree planted at the wellness circle that they connected with while working on the project.

The stick sculpture will be a work in progress. There will be a sign that reads anyone is welcome to add a stick to the sculpture. “It'll become a true process based community sculpture, maybe it'll get destroyed, which is fine by me. I'm a process based artist, there's no final product,” said Matheson.

Most of the materials used for stick weaving are sticks from trees in the Arboretum that were pruned in the winter. Instead of the material being put into a chipper “this was a great opportunity to share it here for this project,” said Justine Richardson, director of the Arboretum. 

Matheson hoped with minimal instruction people felt free to add sticks to the sculpture wherever they saw fit.

“It's just kind of come alive to see everyone's contributions. I'm really impressed,” said Niewiadomski.

Trees are the ultimate improvisers; they move wherever the sun is, said Matheson. Trees are good listeners and you can’t experience a lot of rejection from them.

“There's two parallel crises that are the biggest crisis in the world right now. And that's mental illness and climate crisis,” she said. This is what the project is about.

There will be researchers from the U of G who will be studying the art project and will give feedback to see how beneficial creating a connection between people and the earth is.

The question that runs through Matheson’s mind is; how do we glean life and creativity from trees but also give back to nature?

The art piece will be up for the next couple of weeks on Johnston Green and people can contribute by adding in their own sticks.