May 16, 2008

Acre-sized art installation uses grass as canvas

What strikes instructor Marcia Eames-Sheavly about her class's "Turfwork!" creation, nestled into a field next to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, is "the beautiful simplicity of the design. It may look simple, but tremendous thought went into the execution of it."

The turf artwork, created by art of horticulture students over the past several weeks, covers more than an acre at Cornell's Bluegrass Lane Landscape Horticulture Field Research Facility and is meant to be viewed from both ground level and from the air.

Eames-Sheavly, a senior extension associate in the Department of Horticulture, along with advising artist Jeff de Castro, taught the course, which took students through a semester-long design process culminating in the artwork's creation.

"I believe we've created something completely unique and amazing for the Ithaca area," said Michael Panich, a graduate student in landscape architecture who took the class.

Original designs for the temporary art installation, which evolved as the students developed the concept during the semester, resembled more of a maternal figure -- a woman extending her arms out in an embrace -- elements of which can still be seen in the flowerlike design, which was unveiled May 11, Mother's Day.

"I am extremely pleased that the original project simulations are so fully realized in the final product," Panich said. "I believe that is a testament to the class's rigor and capability."

The students, who researched other green art installations for inspiration and ideas, ended up turning to familiar horticultural materials to create the artwork -- using a sod cutter and working with sod, mulch, straw and plastic (to temporarily turn the grass yellow). "They ended up looking to the tools of the trade and borrowing those in a unique way," Eames-Sheavly said.

The idea to incorporate a maypole, placed at the "flower" center, came up in the final design session. Children from Ithaca's Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School created the ribbons that were stretched from the pole (de Castro teaches at the school).

Flisa Stevenson '03 was a landscape architecture major and took the class this semester. What she took from the experience, she said, "was the joy of making something so big and amazing that people's first reaction is a joyful, 'Wow!'"

"In a driven academic community like ours, lack of joy can slip into many experiences, but somehow this large-scale project has opened some hearts and lifted some heaviness, and that's a good thing," Stevenson said.

Other student artists in the class were Zach Aburahma, Pete Cadieux, Brett Hochstein, Danielle Hodgins, Sven Kalim and Mary LaFrance.