Location: Newark, OH, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $100,000
The Myth Makers
Donna Dodson & Andy Moerlein
The Dawes Arboretum
The Dawes Arboretum
The monumental bamboo sculpture series, Avian Avatars, pairs iconic birds of the region with iconic people from Ohio. Built from bamboo, wire ties and recycled materials, these six sculptures are the largest exhibit to date at The Dawes Arboretum.
The Gentleman, 12 ft tall, that greets you at the gate, is an Eastern Bluebird honoring the horticultural contributions and progressive social vision of Manasseh Cutler, the great grandfather of the Dawes Arboretum’s co-founder, Beman Dawes. The Great Owl, 24 ft tall, which sits overlooking the pastoral landscape, is a Great Horned Owl that invites you to sit on the bench inside the sculpture and pause to honor the land stewardship of the indigenous peoples of Ohio. Towering over The Dawes Arboretum Education Center, this 26 ft tall sandhill crane honors the Columbus artist Ann Hamilton. Love Long Last, 18 ft tall each, are a pair of Northern Cardinals, the Ohio state bird, with their eyes locked celebrating lifelong love. Bertie’s Peacock, 22 ft tall, activates the hillside near Daweswood, the historic house. It beckons children to run through the trails under its 30 ft long tail and celebrates the Dawes Arboretum co-founder’s, Bertie Dawes, passion for peacocks in her formal gardens.
The goals for integrating commissioned art work into the iconic landscape of the arboretum were to educate, activate, engage and inspire. Each iconic Ohio bird tells the story of conservation, land management, and co-existence that is central to the arboretum’s educational mission. Sited throughout the pathways and trails, the sculptures activate five locations of this iconic 2000 acre park. Visitors are invited to explore the one mile trail connecting the sculptures while experiencing their favorite views in a new way. The scale of the sculptures presents dramatic selfie opportunities, entice visitors to explore new pathways off the paved trails, and offer new benches to rest upon. The Myth Makers use natural and recycled materials to inspire visitors to think about environmentally friendly materials and everyday materials as art supplies.
The sculptures are temporary, meant to last up to five years, and then compost back into nature. They are made from natural materials that echo the feeling of the surrounding natural plants, trees and shrubs of the arboretum. The bamboo begins green, and changes to golden yellow and then silvery gray. The work is designed to survive in all weather, leaving
The artists completed a site visit last year with The Dawes Arboretum Leadership team. The artists and staff toured the arboretum and identified the iconic Ohio birds that nest in the garden and key locations in the landscape with clear sight lines, popular foot paths and places where multiple ages gather.
The core sculptures were built off site at Gardenship, an artist run warehouse in Newark NJ, and delivered nationally via light trailer and pickup to The Dawes Arboretum in Newark NJ. Dodson and Moerlein worked as Artists in Residence for three weeks to complete each of the compositions. With the help of The Dawes Arboretum staff, The Myth Makers added decorations to the sculptures that evoke feathers fluttering in the wind, anchored the sculptures, designed accessible landscape trails with knitpack and mulch and added additional parts to make the sculptures interactive and integrated into the landscape.
Overlooking wetland prairie grasses Towering elicits conversations about the migration, habitat and the resilience of the sandhill crane, an ancient species of birds who lived beside dinosaurs. The Ohio artist Ann Hamilton’s engaging sensual public art work stands out as a powerful inspiration of the connection between creativity, nature, science and the lived experience. The Great Owl takes a long view of time and place. It strives to honor the contemporary lives of Indigenous peoples. Love Long Last, celebrates Northern Cardinals. They mate for life and enjoy romantic partnerships. They are seen as harbingers of good health, renewal, and loving relationships. Whether it is an omen or just a delight, it is evident that sighting a red cardinal makes everyone happy. Bertie’s Peacock Is a very interactive sculpture. The tail structure was built with participation from the community during a workshop of bamboo building materials and methods by The Myth Makers. The Gentleman honors Manasseh Cutler (1742 –1823), a founder of Ohio University who wrote the Ordinance of 1787 that prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory. The Eastern Bluebird is one of many birds who rely on the abundant tree life of The Dawes Arboretum, but he is by far the most dapper of them all.