‘Meditative’ outdoor art installation takes over Awbury Arboretum’s grounds [photos]

Starting this weekend, Awbury Arboretum will host a special outdoor art exhibition, but the map is going to show only about half the works on display.

Winter arboretum explorers will have to discover the rest — like whimsical six-inch figurines looking down from the trees — for themselves.

“Meditative Mediations” features work by Germantown artist Carole Loeffler and collaborator Maryann Worrell. It kicks off Saturday afternoon during Awbury’s annual Holiday Greens Sale and Open House.

About the artists

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The two artists, who each bring very different approaches to their work in the natural landscape, are both professors at Arcadia University, a sponsor of the show.

Worrell tends to work with different metals and reflective surfaces, crafting her pieces and then placing them onsite, while Loeffler works in sculpture, fibers and fabrics in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings.

“I’m creating a bunch of works that I’m actually making and sewing and tying and creating at the arboretum,” Loeffler explained of crafting her pieces onsite.

In a winter landscape, because of their bright red color, they really stand out.

She said she works by exploring the landscape looking for tree limbs (both living and fallen) along with other forms that interest her, “and using ribbon and fabric and vinyl to highlight those forms.”

None of it will harm the arboretum’s natural environment. The sturdy materials will all be easily removed once the exhibition ends sometime in mid-February.

Drawing visitors to the site

Loeffler said that both artists’ work “is really meant to get people to come in and sit and look and absorb and spend time.”

The Awbury-provided map will guide visitors to about 10 different pieces, but there may be as many as a dozen surprises for those who roam off the main route.

Those include Worrell’s metal cube with a reflective domed top, designed to frame the viewer’s own face in a halo of trees and sky. It’ll be moved to different unannounced locations throughout the run of the show, offering a new visual experience each time.

“I definitely make sculpture that can hang on a wall or go on a pedestal, but I also really love the challenge of being somewhere new and really having to problem-solve your way through something,” Loeffler said.

A challenging work

Installing an exhibition in the woods isn’t easy.

“The first day I went to the arboretum, I made three things that were just terrible, and I took them apart,” the artist admitted. “It took hours to do it, but it led me to what I want to do.”

Another interesting moment was when Worrell decided to pave a depression in the land with small reflective pieces that evoke a pond.

The artists envisioned the spot as one that could be, or was once, a body of water, and then found out from the site’s landscape manager that the arboretum wants to write a grant to create an area to hold rainwater in that exact place.

“We were seeing things from an artist perspective, form and shape, that [arboretum staffers] were also seeing, but in a totally different, ecological way,” Loeffler said of the process. “It was really neat.”

The artist, a longtime personal supporter of the site, said she hopes that the installation will help drive traffic to the arboretum, which she sees as an underutilized space no matter what the season, but especially in the winter.

“We’re going to bring other audiences to their open house, and the people who come to their open house are going to be a new audience for our artwork, so it’s really kind of a perfect partnership,” she said.

The “Meditative Mediations” opening and Awbury Arboretum’s open house, scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, will also be a chance for visitors to buy firewood and fresh wreaths, Christmas trees and poinsettias, along with holiday sing-alongs, crafts, cookies and hot chocolate to share.

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