Art Imitates Life In Highlands: Public Installation Raises Awareness Of Environment

Jul 10, 2017

Recycling is taking on a whole new meaning in the town of Highlands, thanks to some local businesses – who have donated what they’ve taken in to an international artist whose creating his latest project in a prominent place in town.  

This time of year, the population of Highlands explodes, nearly tripling in size thanks to tourists.  Many of the visitors here check into the historic Old Edwards Inn, which thanks to its size is one of Macon County’s largest employers. But this summer, guests at the inn are seeing something a bit different on the front lawn.

Artist John Kenneth Melvin has worked in collaboration with area photographer Anna Norton on the "How Many Trees" installation. The idea for the project came about after Highlands discontinued its recycling program.
Credit Davin Eldridge

In between Main Street and the hotel, stands a large archway. Old branches of birch and willow and maple are woven together, like a big cocoon.  Big bulbs made of recycled office paper machete sprout out from each branch.  Beneath them sits international artist John Kenneth Melvin, attaching each bulb. He’s coated in dried glue.

Once completed, the tent covering this piece, entitled "How Many Trees", will be removed. The piece will last for as long as nature allows it.
Credit Davin Eldridge

“Visually, what we have, is we kind of have a micro-macro view of nature. Eggs, trees, all sorts of different things like that. The paper machete balloons are kind of doubling for eggs or a cloud, it's abstract so it's a lot of different things.”

Melvin is known for his site-specific sculptures, but more importantly, its function within the ecology of its location. He began working on the project with local photographer and Old Edwards marketing assistant Anna Norton, as a way of kicking off the hotel’s initiative to go green.

“We both are enamored with light and shadow," he says. "But we’re also concerned about the environment, concerned about how society is reacting to that, how society is reacting to its relationship to the environment—and that’s the core of what I do with my own work—examining how culture understands its relationship to nature. And so this project sort of grew around that.”

The idea for the project came about last year. Since then, businesses like The Highlander Newspaper, The Bascom, and Old Edwards started recycling on their own—much of that waste going toward this project.

“It’s been drawing a lot of attention," he continues. "It’s great. People are being congratulatory and for drawing attention to this.”

Melvin says the installation will be complete in just a few days’ time, and once it’s done… 

“Nature will completely consume it, and it’ll be compostable material afterward.” 

Which means how long you’ll be able to see the sculpture all depends on the weather.