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Tree-Shadow Art Installation to Debut in Cobble Hill After Eight Years

A Honey Locust treet on Columbia and Degraw streets.
A Honey Locust treet on Columbia and Degraw streets.
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DNAinfo/Heather Holland

COBBLE HILL — After nearly eight years of anticipation, a recently completed art installation has made its home along the sidewalks of Columbia Street, featuring permanent imprints of shadows cast by native trees in New York.

In 2004, Manhattan-based artist Nobuho Nagasawa began the project "Timecast" to bring indigenous trees and their shadows to the sidewalks of the Columbia Waterfront District.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Transportation commissioned the project, with $160,000 in funding, as a part of the DOT’s broader plan to reconstruct Columbia Street.

Within a span of eight years, the silhouettes of six different trees began appearing on the sidewalks along the stretch — with the last tree installed on Hamilton and Van Brunt Streets last week.

According to DDC spokesperson Joe Soldevere, the project was delayed because of unanticipated subsurface conditions including poor soil, as well as a variety of private utility and sewer lines that had to be rerouted.

The installation consists of six different types of trees identified as native to New York, with each sapling handpicked by the artist herself and installed into tree pits along the sidewalk. The shadow of each tree was then traced and recreated on blue stone, so that its outline stretches across the adjacent sidewalk.

“It had been so long,” said Brian McCormick, co-founder and director of development at the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative.

“We didn’t know whether it really was going to happen or what was going to happen. Lo and behold, we have the most beautiful public art, the most unique in the city. It’s something that really hits you over the head, and it’s kind of refreshing in New York City.”

The time and date of when each shadow was also recorded and etched onto the blue stone, underneath each silhouette. All trees in the series were initially chosen as saplings, but the last tree, a Crimson King Maple that was installed last week on Hamilton Avenue, was the only existing tree used in the series due to site condition.

Passersby will also notice that at another site, on Van Brunt and Degraw streets, the shadow is there but the corresponding tree is missing. The shadow belongs to a Red Oak that was planted there in March 2011, but three months after installation someone sawed the tree down, Nagasawa said. The blue stone still bears the footprint of the tree in its absence.

Other trees that can be found along the path include Kentucky Coffeetree, White Swamp Oak and a Sweetgum.

“I just hope that when it snows and people have to plow, that they do it very carefully,” said Nagasawa. “It’s kind of a gift to the community. I hope that the community will take ownership of the trees and take care of them.”

The artist, however, can take some solace in knowing that blue stone is highly durable and low maintenance, Soldevere noted.

“Permanent installations exist across the city and stand up to the demands placed on New York City's streetscapes," he said. “This installation is no different — it’s designed to hold up to the wear-and-tear that New York City sidewalks typically experience.”

As the installation phase of the project comes to a close, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative is holding a dedication ceremony on May 19, followed by a tour of the installations that ends with a reception at the Brooklyn Greenway office, located at 153 Columbia St.

Since the installation was completed last week, passersby had good things to say about the new addition to the neighborhood.

“It’s very interesting,” said Tony Straiges. “It was very well done. It doesn’t look cheap.”

“This community loves them,” added Bobbi Burnett, passing by an etching on Degraw Street.

She then pointed across the street to the greenway that is still under construction.

“It’s bringing plenty of jobs to the neighborhood. This is already a beautiful neighborhood, but it’s making it better, and there are lots of tourists coming by now.”