In the heart of North Carolina lies the North Carolina Botanical Garden, a conservation garden operated by UNC that is devoted to protecting native plant life. The botanical garden is also the site of one of the most anticipated events for some Chapel Hill artists.
An annual occurrence, Sculpture in the Garden has been open each fall since 1988, the botanical garden’s Communications and Exhibits Coordinator Emily Oglesby said.
The mission of the show is to bring the work of North Carolina artists to the botanical garden.
“We put out a call for entries in the spring, and we try to be as inclusive as we can, so there’s a really wide variety of pieces and artists,” Oglesby said.
Sculpture in the Garden opened on Sept. 13 and will run until Dec. 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. While the show is free, donations are welcome.
As for COVID-19 regulations, the botanical garden has three rules.
“Check yourself for COVID symptoms before you come,” Oglesby said. “If you are experiencing symptoms, please don’t come.”
The two other regulations, Oglesby explained, are to bring a cloth face covering in the event that one comes into contact with others, and to keep distance between other visitors.
Since the water fountains are currently closed, visitors may want to bring their own drink, Oglesby added.
In addition, the botanical garden will be videoing the show and posting it on its website for art lovers who would rather experience the exhibits from the comfort of their own homes. Photographs of the exhibits have already been posted, and all visitors, both physical and virtual, are encouraged to vote in the People’s Choice Awards, which will be open until Nov. 12.
Though this year may look different than years past, Oglesby’s favorite aspect of the show has not changed.
“Having artwork in the garden and seeing the way it changes with the weather and the light and the animals is beautiful,” Oglesby said.
Forrest Greenslade, an artist who has participated in Sculpture in the Garden for over 10 years, shares a similar sentiment.
“You can go every week, and it’s a different show,” Greenslade said. “The way the plants and art interact is changing.”
Greenslade, a long-time artist of Chatham County and member of the Chatham Artists’ Guild, has two sculptures in the show. His first exhibit is called “The Year of the Wild Flower,” and it is composed of 8 pieces that explore the 2020 calendar through a natural lens.
His second piece, “Saprophytic Feast,” illustrates the relationship between humans and saprophytes such as mushrooms. Like these two exhibits, much of his artwork is inspired by his love of biology.
“I’m doing the same thing I was doing in fifth grade — turning over rocks and discovering what wonders nature reveals to me,” Greenslade said.
Fellow sculptor Nana Abreu finds her inspiration from her Puerto Rican culture.
“For the garden pieces, I depict petroglyphs, which are the carvings on the rocks that the Taíno Indians, the Native people of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, left behind,” Abreu said.
Abreu, who is participating in Sculpture in the Garden for her second year, received an honorary mention award in 2019. This year, her piece “Agüeybaná” shows a Taíno chief who led a revolution against Spanish conquistadors.
“I don’t want my culture to be lost,” Abreu said. “By putting my art in the botanical garden, I share my culture with this nation as a whole.”
For both Greenslade and Abreu, Sculpture in the Garden is an opportunity to share their passions among thousands of North Carolina’s plant species.
“The sculptures and the garden around them work together to create something entirely new,” Oglesby said. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
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