Middle Fork Exhibit

Middle Fork sculpture by John Grade

MadArt presents Middle Fork by artist John Grade and invites visitors to explore a unique sculpture temporarily taking root in the heart of Seattle

This winter, stop by MadArt’s spacious artists’ studio in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood and explore a sculpture that is made from hundreds of thousands of individual wood pieces – each individually shaped to fit within the whole. A year in the making, Seattle-based artist John Grade’s latest sculpture, Middle Fork, will be open to the public at MadArt Studio from January 25th through May 8th before it leaves for exhibit in London and Washington, DC.

The process of making this sculpture began 85 feet above the forest floor in a 140-year-old Western Hemlock growing in North Bend, WA. With the help of arborists, John and his team of assistants scaled the living tree to take plaster casts of the trunk and limbs. The molds were then transported back to MadArt’s large-scale studio in the bustling neighborhood of South Lake Union. Over a period of one year and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, an intricate structure was pieced together from salvaged old-growth cedar blocks. The blocks, no thicker than the annual growth ring of a tree, were placed around the form, bonded with waterproof glue, sanded, and the interior plaster casts removed. The final result reveals a hollow, light-filled armature that holds the exact shape of the tree, suspended horizontally at eye level, with limbs radiating outward towards the floor, walls, and ceiling. The bank of floor-to-ceiling windows at MadArt invite passers-by to view and explore a familiar organic form from new perspectives.

“John’s goal was to have people volunteer and directly participate, bringing them into closer conversation with the intricacies of the tree he experienced at the North Bend site,” said founder of MadArt, Alison Milliman. “Some of the volunteers walked in off the street to sign up. We have had students, tech workers, families, and art collectors. The process is social, open to view, and open to anyone who wants to join in.”

Middle Fork represents the record of one year. While the sculpture has come to life over the last 12 months, the original tree has outgrown the plaster armature made to carefully record it’s every curve. After the sculpture is exhibited at MadArt, it will travel to art fairs and museums (including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery), and then it will return to the base of the living tree from which the mold was taken. There, the sculpture will gradually moss over and disintegrate into the ground. This idea is central to John’s artistic practice. His work is often created to decay and change over time, interacting with their environments and sometimes disappearing altogether.

“Departing from the Earthworks model of shaping the landscape itself as a sculptural medium, Grade has become known for extrapolating organic motifs and materials into works that rejoin the land via decay.”
- Alison Ferris, Curator (for Capacitor project), Kohler Art Center, WI. 2013

Middle Fork exhibit hours*:
Mon/Tues – closed
Wed – 11am-5pm
Thurs – 11am-7pm
Fri/Sat – 11am-5pm
Sun – closed
*and by appointment

The exhibit is free, wheelchair accessible, and all ages are welcome.


About John Grade
Seattle-based artist John Grade creates large-scale sculptures that are exhibited internationally in unusual urban environments, museums, galleries and outdoors in nature. His projects are designed to change over time and often involve large groups of people to collaboratively build, install and move from one location to another. His 65-foot sculpture Wawona is permanently installed at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, where it breaks through the floor and ceiling of the building, bridging a view from the water below the building to the sky above. He is currently working on a three-year project documenting and modeling changing landforms above the arctic circle.

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