The odor of wood permeates the air as visitors enter the d.Tree Studio exhibit at the Wright Museum, where they are greeted by artful wooden creations – a “decolonized” chessboard, a sculpture, a vase set – all fashioned from the remains of three dying Zelkova trees that once adorned the Wright Museum’s grounds.
The six-month exhibit is the culmination of an ongoing partnership between the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the College for Creative Studies, focused on the life of Detroit trees – and whether they can continue living on after they expire instead of adding to waste in a landfill. The project explores the interconnection between object making, belonging and storytelling in African American history and various African material cultures.
“This started with three small trees that were dead and dying,” said Neil A. Barclay, CEO of The Wright. “These trees live on in our work. These three trees have truly demonstrated partnership, mentoring and centering Detroit.”
Spearheaded by Leslie Tom, the museum’s chief sustainability officer, and Ian Lambert, graduate dean at the College of Creative Studies, the exhibit features works fashioned from the Zelkova trees’ remains by six community members and six CCS students that examine how we can sustain the lives and stories of Detroit trees through art made from them.
“These trees are helping to show us how we can all unite and become one community. Through this journey, I learned the crucial role artists and makers play in crafting climate solutions,” Tom said.
The International Society of Service Innovation Professionals recognized the work’s impact on society.
“This d.Tree exhibition is a leading example of how an African American Museum and an art & design institution can start to create a ripple of impact for our climate,” Yolanda Jack, manager of community engagement for the Wright Museum, said at the opening night reception.
The exhibit went beyond addressing sustainability as a topic by incorporating green measures into the exhibit’s production. The d.The tree logo used leftover wood from the projects and paint with low volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). The proximity of both institutions allowed museum staff to reduce their carbon footprint by transporting artwork by shuttle, foot, and hybrid vehicle. Exhibit makers repurposed previously used bubble wrap and cardboard boxes to protect the artwork.
“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a museum and an art school have collaborated as such,” Lambert said. “The work has provided a powerful medium for the important conversation on climate change and climate justice.”
QR codes throughout the exhibit point to sustainability resources around the city for getting trees, workforce development, and more. As attendees leave, they are invited to contribute to a wall asking them, “What tree actions will you do today to care for our Detroit trees?”
There are plans for another class of d.Tree Studio students in 2024.The d.Tree Studio exhibition is currently at the Wright Museum in Detroit through December 10, 2023. The Wright Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 am-5:00 pm (Thursday 9:00 am-7:00 pm). The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.