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What's Up With That Blue And White Tree On Lake Shore Drive?

By Isra Rahman | June 15, 2017 5:26am
 Artist Samantha Rausch is creating a public art piece from a dead tree by Belmont Harbor. 
Belmont Harbor tree art
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LAKEVIEW — If you've driven, biked or run by Belmont Harbor recently, you might wonder what's going on with that odd-looking tree near Lake Shore Drive.

First it was skinned. Then carved. Now it's white and blue, with an artist up in its limbs.

It's the latest effort by the Chicago Tree Project, which revives dead or dying trees by turning them into works of art.

Artist Samantha Rausch is busy on the latest project, working on a ladder as drivers whiz by on Lake Shore Drive.

The tree can be seen right off of Lake Shore Drive. Rausch works on it three days a week. [DNAinfo/Isra Rahman]

This isn’t the first tree to be revived. The Chicago Park District teamed up with Chicago Sculpture International in 2014 to start the Chicago Tree Project. Chicago Sculpture International is a cooperative of sculptors in Chicago who work on adding more public art from local artists to the city.

The Chicago Tree Project began in the summer of 2014 and allows sculptors to transform dying trees into public art. In the past, artists have carved trees or attached flowers. Rausch's painting, however, makes it a unique piece among the others.

Rausch, a Pilsen resident, heard about the project earlier this year and submitted a proposal for her design. Once it was approved, she began sanding down the tree and preparing it for painting, which she started this month.

The art piece is titled "Endless." According to Rausch, it's meant to blend different concepts of time and life with the image of a dead tree.

The tree is adorned with navy blue and white designs around the trunk and up the branches of the tree. The colors are meant to bring peace and hope and are derived from Rausch’s memories of scuba diving and star-gazing.

“I plan on incorporating a worm-type creature through holes and indents that I have created to show fluidity and play with the concept of time and wormholes,” Rausch said.

Samantha Rausch plans to incorporate a wormlike creature through the holes in her tree. [DNAinfo/Isra Rahman]

She explained how the project is meant to bring in concepts of time from different cultures through certain symbols such as the Celtic knot and her sketches from the past.

“The worm will be sort of snakelike, but I’m avoiding the term 'snake' because of the traditional religious connotation of snakes. It is meant to be more of an otherworldly fluid creature that flows through time and space,” Rausch said.

The tree can be seen right off of Lake Shore Drive. Rausch works on it three days a week. [DNAinfo/Isra Rahman]

Working on her tree on the east side of North Lake Shore Drive, Rausch said she has gotten quite a positive response from drivers and residents.

“I have people honking at me as they drive by, yelling once traffic picks up. Residents walk by and say they have been watching me from their window,” Rausch said.

Rausch said she has always been interested in large-scale pieces of public art. Her work has snowballed into bigger pieces and led her to working for the theater departments at North Park and the University of Chicago.

“I’m fascinated by grand art, all-encompassing environments, such as in theater where they incorporate sounds,” Rausch said.

If all goes well, Rausch hopes to have a soft opening for the piece by the end of summer and use it to pivot to bigger projects in Chicago.