Nature-inspired sculptures on view at Matthaei Botanical Gardens


“A Garden of Earthy Delights,” an installation of ceramic sculptures inspired by the habitats of the Great Lakes and the plants that grow in them, is now on view at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

The multi-piece stacked sculptures were created in collaboration with Matthaei and the Ann Arbor Potters Guild in celebration of the guild’s 70th anniversary. Thirty-three artists collaborated on eight teams to create 10 sculpture towers, which will be on display through Oct. 3.

The exhibit takes place in the Great Lakes Gardens at Matthaei. This series of spaces re-creates the region’s special habitats and the plants that are found here and nowhere else in the world. Among the environments represented in the Great Lakes Gardens are dune, limestone plain, wetland and prairie. Visitors can see and experience up close plants and ecosystems they might rarely encounter in the wild.

“’A Garden of Earthy Delights’ is another example of what makes the arb and gardens unique at the university and in southeastern Michigan,” says Tony Kolenic, director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. “Over the years we’ve hosted many exhibits, performances and research — the kinds of cross-disciplinary collaborations that really create a sense of place and also intersect with so many avenues of learning and enjoyment.”

To visualize and create the sculptures, the guild’s teams looked to each habitat’s special plants, animals and landscapes, explained Mary Avrakatos, a guild member and spokesperson.

The sculptures, which vary from representational to abstract, make use of the full range of ceramic tools and techniques.

“For example, visitors will see multiple plant colors, textures and shapes in the prairie section of the Great Lakes Gardens,” Avrakatos said. “The sculpture’s pieces reference the shapes of plants and the creatures that live in them found in open fields, on top of flowers, and in grasses growing in the Michigan prairie ecosystems.”

The Ann Arbor Potters Guild was founded in 1949 by nine potters who rented space in an alley near U-M. The guild was incorporated the following year and in 1968 the building at 201 Hill St. — where it is presently housed — was purchased. Today the guild is home to some 45 artists whose work ranges from sculpture to production pottery. It is thought to be the oldest ceramic artist cooperative in the country.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens, located at 1800 N. Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor, currently is open to the public Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Reservations, which need to be made online, are free but are required.


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