Earthly Delights

Appears in the June 2023 issue.

The Morton Arboretum reveals five new sculptures

Olga Ziemska’s ‘Hear: With an Ear to the Ground’
Olga Ziemska’s Hear: With an Ear to the Ground

Large-scale outdoor sculptures are back in a big way at the Morton Arboretum. Its latest exhibition, Of the Earth, features a handful of new works by Polish American artist Olga Ziemska, who repurposed downed tree branches and other plant materials from the arboretum grounds for her sculptures.

“The focus of this exhibition is that ‘we are nature,’ and everything on earth is ‘of the earth’—there is no separation,” Ziemska explains. “Despite human attempts to separate ourselves from our environment, we must acknowledge what we are made from.”

The title also couldn’t be more spot-on in another way: “Of the Earth” is the English translation of the artist’s last name, Ziemska. Based in Cleveland and the first-generation child of Polish immigrants, Ziemska has public installations around the globe, including in Taiwan, Italy, Poland, South Korea, and Mexico. Her inspiration for this exhibition came from exploring the arboretum. “I use art as a tool for understanding life, and as a way of reminding myself and others about the things we have a tendency to overlook about the world around us,” she says.

The five sculptures vary in height from about six feet to 20 feet tall. One of the sculptures, Strata, lies on the ground and spans 45 feet. “What is unique about this exhibition is that it is the largest collection of Olga’s work anywhere in the world, and it includes sculptures that she created exclusively for the arboretum,” says Amy Scott, head of exhibitions. In addition to plant materials, Ziemska incorporated river rock, mirrored tiles, recycled materials, metal, and concrete to anchor and sustain the sculptures through various weather conditions.

The artist working on ‘Oculus’
The artist working on Oculus

“Exhibiting at the Morton Arboretum can pose challenges for artists because their work must be able to withstand the Midwestern elements,” Scott says. “Of the Earth will run for two years, through spring 2025, and the outdoor sculptures need to be durable while remaining in line with the artist’s vision.”

That vision seems an ideal fit for the arboretum. “The exhibition resonates with our mission to connect people with trees and nature in a meaningful way,” Scott says. “We align our one-of-a-kind exhibitions with our mission to motivate people to get outdoors among trees and explore nature. We’re creating unique, exclusive art paired with nature on a large scale, providing guests with experiences they won’t get anywhere else. We hope they find their own ways to interpret and interact with each piece, and with the natural settings surrounding them.”

Because the sculptures are scattered across the grounds and will look different throughout the changing seasons, planners hope visitors will come to experience them multiple times. “For their first visit, if they want to see them all, we suggest driving through both the east and west sides and getting out at each location to walk around the sculptures,” Scott says. “For those who like to hike, there are maps to guide them to the sculptures along the trails. For the best pictures, we suggest staying for sunsets over the summer, and arboretum members can enter as early as 7 a.m. to catch sunrise images in winter.”

What will happen when the exhibition ends in 2025? The pieces are intended to have a life cycle and revert back to nature. As all earthly things do.

For more information on the exhibition, visit

Where to Find All Five Sculptures

Stillness in Motion (in Arbor Court, outside the visitors’ center)

Ona (in an open field on the west side)

Strata (at the base of a hill near Crabapple Lake on the east side)

Oculus (on the east side near the Maple Collection)

Hear: With an Ear to the Ground (on the south side of Meadow Lake)


Photos: The Morton Arboretum