The Chicago Tree Project

Jonathan Schork

Thalidomide #12 

Midway Plaisance Park


Born and raised in New York State’s Catskill Mountains, followed by another quarter century in a solar house on the end of an island in the Florida Keys, Jonathan Schork’s life experience has imbued him with a deep love of the beauty of nature. An education in the classics has inculcated in him an appreciation not only for the totality of things, but also with a profound sense of stillness. Creating artworks across a broad spectrum of media, from literature, film, & music through couture and cuisine to sculpture, painting, and photography, Schork has won awards in all his major media, and has enjoyed a successful, if eccentric, career path. He shares a condemned home he renovated into his current studios with a stray cat, a stray girl, and his mum. 


Following up on tree-carving work I did in the Florida Keys during the 90s & 00s (partly inspired by the Ewing book, “The Body” [Chronicle books, 1994]), I was interested in creating the latest in a series called Thalidomide, this one number 12 in the series. The trunk and major branches are reduced to create a hand with fingers that have the appearance of a limb influenced by the pregnancy drug thalidomide, the concept being two-fold: 1. by questioning subjective notions of the beautiful and the grotesque, thereby destigmatizing anatomical deformities & amputations with a sculpture that celebrates unconventional morphology; and, 2. to continue to draw attention to the deleterious biological effects of drugs, toxins, and environmental pollutants on humanity, and especially on children and the poor (which is more timely now, as the EPA & FDA are increasingly neutered by current politics). During construction I met many interesting people eager to chat with me about the project, but the standout was a little girl named Lou: inquisitive and attentive, she visited early in the process and returned just as I was completing the sculpture, fascinated by the dimensions and features of the “organs” of my work. While I do not expect many children to derive the same understanding of the work as adults, the involvement of children in public artwork may be our most important contribution to community.