SALEM, MA -- The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Branching Out: Trees as Art, an exhibition in the museum's Art & Nature Center that explores the often unexpected ways in which contemporary artists use trees as an inspiration and a medium. Made from bark, wood, roots, seedpods, leaves, fossilized resin (amber) and biosignals, more than 35 varied works and a selection of hands-on interactive opportunities ask us to consider our relationship with trees as a vital natural force.  Branching Out is on view September 27, 2014 to September 20, 2015.

"I still remember being awed by certain old trees as a kid and my frustration at trying to draw their complex forms," said Jane Winchell, The Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of the Art & Nature Center at PEM. "We share a special bond with trees. We've built homes from them, burned them for heat and discovered life-saving medicines in their bark and leaves. It's little surprise that trees have become a universal symbol of life and the source of inspiration for many artists working today."

Branching Out features an array of inspiring artworks by contemporary artists who work directly with live trees or creatively engage with tree materials. The works are as diverse as they are unusual. Artist David Yann Robert recorded the bioelectrical signals in a beech tree using an acupuncture needle. With the help of a sophisticated computer program, he converted the tree's biosystem activity into a drawing, a process captured in a 17-minute time-lapse video and sound piece called Bokträd (beech tree).

Another equally engaging work is a photograph by James Balog of a 242-foot, 2,000-year-old giant sequoia named Stagg. Considered the world's fifth largest tree, it was captured in segments by Balog, who rappelled down a neighboring tree while shooting more than 400 photographs that he later stitched together digitally to create a 93-inch tall vertical panoramic composite. Two climbers, appearing as red specks in the photograph, help the viewer grasp the tree's immense scale.

For her site-specific installation in the Atrium, Falling leaves, artist Joan Backes displays hundreds of leaves she gathered from locations around the world, while artist Beth Galston created a 300-foot-long rope with acorn caps she collected from under a single red oak in Boston's Arnold Arboretum.     

Branching Out is the second exhibition in PEM's redesigned and expanded Art & Nature Center. Featuring fresh exhibition spaces, art studios, interactive stations and amenities for young families, the Art & Nature Center attracts adult and children audiences alike with an ever-rotating roster of programs, activity stations, multimedia elements and annual exhibitions that highlight the vital connections between human creativity and the natural world.


10:30 am-4 pm | TREEmendous! From Legends to Live Beings

From the mysteries of enchanted forests to the welcoming shade-givers in our backyards, trees captivate our imaginations. Join us for a day of exploring trees through art making, stories, music, artist talks and more.

9:30-11 am | MEMBERS' BREAKFAST | Reservations at or 978-542-1641

Members and their children/grandchildren at the Family, Sponsor, Patron and Benefactor levels are invited to celebrate the opening of Branching Out. In addition to a breakfast buffet, guests will enjoy a forest-inspired musical performance by percussionist Ricardo Frota.

10:30-11 am | STORY TIME: Tree Tales |Meet at information desk | For ages 3 to 7 with an adult

Discover new ways to see a tree as we read Lori Nichols' Maple followed by Barbara Reid's Picture a Tree.

10:30 am-12:30 pm | DROP-IN ART MAKING: Greenman Masks | Atrium

Also known as the Wild Man of the Woods, the Greenman is a mythical figure who appears as a leaf-covered face carved on buildings across Europe. Create your own forest-inspired mask and get in touch with your inner tree spirit.

10:30 am-1:30 pm | ARTIST DEMONSTRATION: Bonsai Techniques | Atrium

Meet bonsai experts from New England Bonsai Gardens and find out what tools and techniques are necessary to create these living works of art.

11-11:15 am | CEREMONY: Tree Planting | Meet at information desk

Join us as we plant a new tree to mark the opening of Branching Out, including a "grounding" treatment by The Tree Whisperer and plant pathologist Jim Conroy, Ph.D. Dedication in memory of honorary trustee Dorothy "Dotty" Addams Brown.

11:30 am-12:30 pm & 2:30-3:30 pm | STORYTELLING: In the Grove with Diane Edgecomb | Morse Auditorium | For ages 10 to adult | Tickets available day of program

Award-winning storyteller Diane Edgecomb and harpist Margot Chamberlain share stories and songs about trees and the people who live among them.

11:30 am-noon & 3-3:30 pm | WORKSHOP: Connect with Green Beings | Meet at information desk | For ages 8 to adult | Tickets available day of program

Join nature communication experts Jim Conroy, Ph.D. and Basia Alexander in a unique guided visualization exercise with live trees on PEM's campus.

Noon-12:45 pm | PERFORMANCE: Music from the Forests | Atrium

Musician and international performer Ricardo Frota uses handmade instruments to explore the ecology of sound through rhythm and materials of the forest.

Noon-2 pm | DROP-IN ART MAKING: Tagua Nut Scrimshaw | Create Space 2 | For ages 10 to adult

Carve your own tree-inspired design on these tropical seeds. Note: Tagua nuts are not known allergens but visitors with nut allergies should be aware.

Noon-4 pm  | PERFORMANCE: Strolling Trees  | Atrium, Essex Street and Art & Nature Center

Whimsical walking tree figures, created by Ten31 Productions, make their way around the museum.

1-1:45 pm | ARTIST PRESENTATION: Exploring Trees as Live Beings | Morse Auditorium | For preteens through adults | Tickets available day of program

Artist David Yann Robert and plant pathologist Jim Conroy, Ph.D., demonstrate how they each interact with the biosignals of trees.

1-4 pm | DROP-IN ART MAKING: Bark Rubbings and Tracings | Outside PEM

Investigate the beauty and science of tree trunks with bark specialist Michael Wojcek and create an enhanced bark drawing to take home.

2-4 pm | DEMONSTRATION: Tree Tastings | Atrium

Meet experts from Taza Chocolate and the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary to discover how chocolate and maple syrup are made, then try samples created here in Massachusetts.

2:15-4 pm | ARTIST DEMO & MAKER CHALLENGE: Tree Biosignals | Maker Lounge  | For preteens through adults

See and hear biosignals made by a live plant with David Yann Robert, an artist in Branching Out. Then experiment with converting live cell signals into an original work of art.

3-3:45 pm | ARTIST PRESENTATION: Human Trees | Bartlett Gallery | For preteens through adults | Tickets available day of program

Branching Out artist Joseph Wheelwright shares the inspiration and methods behind his large-scale tree people and intimate root-figure creations.

IMAGE CREDIT: Waltzers, 2013, Joseph Wheelwright. Pine roots.


Support for the exhibition is provided by the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.      


The Art & Nature Center (ANC) is a dynamic, welcoming space geared toward families and features self-guided and facilitated interactive experiences. This intergenerational exhibition area integrates works of art and natural history objects within interactive, interdisciplinary displays to highlight vital connections between the realms of art and nature and to provide a thought-provoking segue to/from the museum art galleries.  Activity stations, multimedia elements and a range of programs provide a variety of entry points for investigating the artworks and themes presented.   


The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest and fastest growing museums in North America. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. Founded in 1799, the museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, as well as Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique guest experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities, performance spaces and historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House, a 200-year-old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $18; seniors $15; students $10. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866?745?1876 or visit

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