John Grade’s “Middle Fork” Returns to Seattle, This Time at SAM in 2017

Posted on May 23, 2016, 4:15 pm
3 mins


Seattle Art Museum is bringing a bit of the great outdoors into its Brotman Forum next January. Artist John Grade‘s monumental cedar wood sculpture, “Middle Fork,” is based on a living hemlock that stands at the eponymous middle fork of the Snoqualmie River. In time, the sculpture will be laid to rest at the base of the original tree to moss over and decay, but not before it makes a tour of several institutions.

Grade (pronounced GRAH-day) worked with volunteers at MadArt in South Lake Union in creating an early iteration of “Middle Fork” before it traveled to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s in Washington DC as part of the Renwick Gallery‘s reopening exhibition, Wonder, curated by Nicholas Bell.

Grade’s tree keeps growing. It is an intricate, thoughtful, beautiful work and well suited to the Brotman Forum. “Middle Fork” was made for a horizontal suspension, unlike Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune: Stage One (AKA “The Cars”) which hung vertically in the Guggenheim. There, it was an eerie spectacle, exploding straight upward (or plummeting down), while at SAM it became more like an eccentric set of chandeliers. With Inopportune’s opportune removal, SAM committed to having a rotation of large scale installations in its front forum, and “Middle Fork” will have its largest iteration yet when it comes back to Seattle—over 100 feet long and 25 feet tall.

View a beautiful video documenting the creation of “Middle Fork” below.

The Middle Fork project began in April 2014 when a team of ten people made a plaster cast of the old growth hemlock. Over the course of one year the sculpture was built around the surface of this cast. Hundreds of people participated in making the sculpture at MadArt studio in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The sculpture is made from salvaged cedar, milled and carved into hundreds of thousands of ¼″ pieces, each cut and shaped to fit the surfaces of the cast made from the original tree. The sculpture was exhibited at the University of Wyoming Art Museum in the fall of 2014 when it was 18 feet long. It was also exhibited at the Mad Art studio as it was being created in 2015. The sculpture’s limbs now spread 20 feet wide by 25 feet tall along its 45-foot length.

Seattle Art Museum has not yet announced what is coming to Brotman Forum between now and January 2017…all we know is that on June 7, there will be another massive painting hanging where Kehinde Wiley‘s “Saint George and the Dragon” was hung during his solo exhibition, A New Republic. Stay tuned.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.