Above: Berthold Boone working on his tree sculpture Readymade in Portage Park.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Chicago Tree Project and Tree Sculptures

What is the role of Chicago Sculpture International (CSI) in the Chicago Tree Project?

After CSI sends out the RFP, we notify the artists and help them through the process of creating the sculptures by providing scaffolding and being the liaison between the artist and CPD. We also maintain the Chicago Tree Project Web site and publicize the Project by creating updated brochures and putting the tree sculptures on our Otocast audiotour.

What shape should the tree be in to be a good candidate for a sculpture?

In short, the tree has to be dead but not too dead: recently dead or dying.  The tree will often still be sprouting, but not very much, and not from every branch. Another sign is that the bark is just starting to separate from the tree.

What kinds of trees are best for sculptures?

Tree species is not a consideration in the choosing of the trees. Although there are woods that are better for carving, this does not play a part in the choice, as not all tree sculptures involve carving, and the condition of the tree and its appropriateness for the proposed design are more important.

How much of the tree should be trimmed before the artist starts working?

We advise that any branch less than 8” in diameter get cut, as well as any branches that extend beyond 6’. Also, a trained tree trimmer/arborist should determine if there are any branches that may be at risk and should be cut for any other reason.

How long does a tree sculpture last?

Once a tree sculpture is created, it is expected to remain for five years, although if it is cared for, it can last much longer.  The Chicago Tree Project started in 2014, and some tree sculptures have had to be removed because of wind damage or rot. Basically, the fewer and shorter the branches are, the less vulnerable the tree. A tree that has no branches at all, or whose branches have been trimmed off, is the most stable and will therefore last longer.

Also, a tree that has been debarked will last longer because it deprives insects of their food. It is advised that, if an artist chooses to leave the bark on the tree, at least a few inches of bark at the very bottom of the tree be removed. The artist can also put some gravel around the base of the tree with some granular insecticide, although some parks/cities may not want this substance to be used.

I know of/own a dead tree. Can I get an artist to sculpt it for the Chicago Tree Project?

The only trees that are chosen to be sculpted for the Chicago Tree Project are those located on Chicago Park District property, and the artists are chosen by CPD.

Can I get a tree on my property sculpted?

CSI can find experienced tree sculptors for you who would submit designs that you would approve of.

What information does CSI need from me to get started on a tree sculpture?

    • An evaluation of the tree first by an experienced arborist to see if the tree is stable enough to be worked on and to last at least five years (strongly advised).
    • Photos of the tree—views from different angles. If you would like to send a short cellphone video of it as an additional resource, it wouldn’t hurt.

    • Approximate height of the tree and measured trunk circumference.

    • The species of the tree. If it can’t be readily identified, please send a close-up photo of a leaf, a photo of the leaves situated on a branch, and photo of the texture of the bark, and we can help you identify it. The species of the tree is not crucial, but it’s still good to know.

    • Your budget and an idea of the range of what you would be willing to spend to hire a Chicago Tree Project-affiliated sculptor and if the cost and/or sponsorship of the project is by a particular party other than yourself.

    • Your timeframe between selecting a sculptor to work on your tree and expected date of completion.