The Chicago Tree Project

Paul Russell

The Watching Tree

Pottawattomie Park


The Watching Tree, completed in 2018, is a symbol of diversity. What better place to celebrate this concept than Pottawattomie Park in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park? I came up with the design and made the steel eyes. The after-school kids at Pottawattomie Park, as well as my kids and a few adults, painted the eyes.

My design for The Watching Tree was accepted in 2016 and a tree was picked out by the Chicago Park District on the lakeshore trail at 31st St. Harbor. After tapping an eye on the tree, a swarm of wasps poured out of a deep crack and I was gone. The next tree was a huge sycamore in Rainey Park on the southwest side. It was cut down by miscommunication. By this time, ideas for how the eyes would be painted developed. Kids. Particularly, kids that would frequent the park and actually see the tree the most. So, the third and final tree happened to be in Pottawattomie Park in Rogers Park, possibly the most diverse neighborhood in the city. In a way, The Watching Tree is a celebration of diversity. The eyes are different shapes and sizes. In fact, one girl painted the words, “We All Live Here” on an eye. I could go on and on about how rewarding this project was. I spent hours on that scaffold tapping and placing the 119 eyes and loved it. There are many ways to look at this piece. I believe the kids enjoyed painting the eyes and hope they are proud of themselves. It’s important not to overlook the creativity of children.