The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Turning over a new leaf: Fallen tree repurposed into Hillsborough art project

Installation Artist Jonathan Brilliant poses with his newest installation in River Park in Downtown Hillsborough, NC on Mar. 25. More of his work can be seen at

Nearly four years ago, a 250-year old Southern red oak tree fell on Calvin Street in Hillsborough during Hurricane Florence. 

Many Hillsborough residents wanted to see an art piece come out of this problem, Mollie Thomas, executive director of the Hillsborough Arts Council, said. 

And following community input, the wood from the tree has been repurposed into a permanent art installation: the River Park Arch. The project opened to the public on March 15. 

“Because Hillsborough is known for honoring history and celebrating the arts so well, that was kind of the natural path that was taken,” Thomas said. 

The project was developed by the Hillsborough Arts Council in partnership with the Orange County Arts Commission and local government representatives.

Katie Murray, director of the Orange County Arts Commission, said the Calvin Street tree was part of a group of protected trees in Hillsborough known as “treasure trees," which are nominated because of their age. 

The tree, which stood in a prominent spot, changed the town's skyline when it fell. 

“We knew we couldn't just, you know, send the wood off to a mill,” Murray said. "We needed to do something with it."

After an extensive jurying process, Raleigh-based installation artist Jonathan Brilliant was selected among 32 applicants to move forward with his proposal to repurpose the wood in the shape of an arch.

He envisioned that the arch appears like an integral part of the Town's environment.

“The hope is that in the end, it looks like it belongs here, it makes sense for the space and the viewer just sees that always,” he said. 

Brilliant said the wood from the tree was processed into lattice strips — thin, flexible pieces of wood — which he then used to create the arch’s woven design around a metal frame.

At the base of the arch, Thomas said there are round structures that pay homage to the shape of huts that were inhabited by the Occaneechi tribe along the Eno River during the 17th century. 

In order to fund the project, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation donated a $20,000 grant, which covered costs associated with wood preparation, materials and artist compensation.

Brilliant finished assembling the project on Friday. Members of the public were invited to view the structure and meet Brilliant during the Hillsborough Arts Council’s LastFridays Art Walk that same day.

Thomas said this Art Walk, which is the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, lined up with the installation's completion.

“The fact that this is the first official LastFridays Art Walk of the season for 2022 and the artist is finishing up this weekend on the project just makes for a really wonderful celebration of all that we've managed to get through over the past two years,” she said. 

For more information on the Art Walk, visit the Hillsborough Art Council website


@DTHCityState |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for February 5, 2024

More in Hillsborough

More in City & County

More in The OC Report

More in City & State