The Secret Language of Trees: the Understory

Bridgette Guerzon Mills | The Secret Language of Trees: the Understory, book art sculpture, foraged natural materials, canvas coated with beeswax and damar resin, at Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, MD

Artist Statement: Trees are the record keepers of the natural world; they can tell us so much about the life within and outside of them. But we have to know how to read them. This book is called The Understory and its pages contain collections from the forest ground – acorns, samaras, sweet gum, seed pods, bark with lichen attached, moss, etc. These little bits called “forest litter” are so important to the health of a forest. They provide food for animals, nutrients for the soil, and within themselves the next generation of trees. 

Writer Herman Hesse perfectly captures this perspective on trees: “A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life.”

Secret Language of Trees: the Understory, book art sculpture by Bridgette Guerzon Mills

When I was invited to submit a proposal for the 2023 outdoor sculpture invitational at Adkins Arboretum for their “Artists Dialogue with the Landscape” exhibit, I knew that I wanted to create another book art sculpture. I just love to make these earthy magical books and then install them in the woods so that they seem to emerge from the earth or that they have been there forever.

One of the first book art sculptures I had made for an outdoor installation was called Book of Collections where I sewed on natural bits I had collected onto plaster and encaustic pages. I wanted to do that again but in a book form that was like another book I had made where the covers were from big pieces of bark that was called The Secret Language of Trees.

sewn seeds, nuts, and pods

The other element I wanted to incorporate from my past creations was when I did my daily nature meditations out of nature bits I found on walks. I made a lot of the pages in my studio, but I left a few blank so that I could create on site and really have that sense of place in my book.

poplar tree “swords” design, created
The Secret Language of Trees: the Understory, boo art sculpture by BRidgette Guerzon Mills
sweetgum all in a line

I made a video of the installation when I finished, so if you want to see a flip through all the pages, visit my Instagram video. After I was done, I sat in silence and gratitude for the opportunity to make these creations in the woods.

This weekend is the artist reception at Adkins Arboretum. I am honored to be part of this group and excited to see the other ephemeral works.

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