Arboretum Presents ‘Spring Trunk Show II' with Virgil Leih
Chanhassen, Minn. (Feb. 23, 2010) - The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is proud to present "The Spring Trunk Show II: Art of Tree Transformations," opening March 19 and continuing through May 2.
This "trunk" show encompasses some 20 exquisite large and small wood turnings created by talented Edina artisan Virgil Leih. They are true works of natural beauty - breathtaking in scale, shape, texture and grain - testimony to their former arboreal existence.
Leih's is a fascinating process. He rescues and re-creates whole tree trunks - "urban forest" discards otherwise destined for landfill wood chippers. Minnesota natives such as ash, elm, walnut, box elder, hackberry, cottonwood and maple are transformed into stunning artworks in Leih's studio. This year's exhibit features a sculpture created from a walnut tree formerly in the Arboretum's collection. All of the pieces will be for sale, at a range of prices, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Arboretum.
On a side note, the Galleria of Edina also will spotlight Leih as guest speaker in its "Arboretum Experts" luncheon series at Crave restaurant on Thursday, April 15, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets (including lunch) are $30 for Arboretum members and $35 for non-members and may be reserved at 952-925-4321.
Leih's artistic medium isn't for the fainthearted. In some instances, he may carve away up to 95 percent of a 2,000-pound tree trunk to reveal an impressive, unique inner pattern of golden grain and rings. Leih uses a 1917-era 7,000-pound lathe for turning the massive trunks and a super-sized microwave for drying them. Multiple layers of shellac provide the finishing touch.
Even after he carves away up most of the tree mass - sometimes as weighty as a ton - the remaining artworks are monumental, some reaching 7 feet high; others 3 feet in diameter.
Leih has worn many "hats" through the years - he's a retired minister and former executive recruiter. But woodworking has been a lifelong love. He grew up in a family of woodworkers and at age 4 was cleaning up the worksite. By 8, he was running power tools. A visit to the grand lodge at Yellowstone Park sealed the deal. He came away totally impressed by the "sheer scale, beauty and majesty" of log construction as evidenced in the historic landmark. "I was totally smitten," said Leih who went on to learn cabinetmaking and carpentry. After a career in the ministry, he began a second career as an executive recruiter in the 1990s. He also decided to build his own log home on an island in northern Minnesota - an intense project that involved hand-peeling 70-foot red pines, sanding them and then hand-scribing and cutting the interlocking saddle joints. The cabin was finished by New Year's Eve 1999. From there, he moved on to his large sculpture work.
"As I peel away the decades of growth, the inner beauty begins to reveal itself," Virgil says of the process. "The heartwood's texture and color is very different than the lighter new growth located near the bark. A sphere or a dome piece shows the full life of the tree, its hidden beauty wonderfully preserved. At the very center of the heartwood are the earliest years of its life, with each ring adding to its history, size, unique color and beauty. What beautiful contrast the rings produce, moving from dark to light, emphasizing the growth old to new."
"Every object of art I produce is already hidden inside the tree trunk waiting to be revealed and enjoyed," Virgil says. "It is such a privilege to reveal what is inside unseen."
The "Spring Trunk Show II" will also include a mini-exhibit within the exhibit documenting the entire process from discarded tree trunk to work of art.
All the wood turnings will be for sale and Leih himself will offer "artist tours" of the exhibit from 1 to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday during the exhibit which runs at the Arboretum from March 19 through May 2.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the largest public garden in the Upper Midwest and a premier northern arboretum, is part of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota and developed as a community and national resource for horticultural and environmental information, research, and public education. It is located 9 miles west of I-494 on Highway 5 in Chanhassen. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator. The Arboretum is disability accessible and smoke free. Arboretum admission is $9 adults; free for ages 15 and younger and free for members.