Daniel Minter: In the Healing Language of Trees, a natural act of transformation restructured for curing many ills

June 17, 2023 - 10:30am



As a child of the forest, trees have become a powerful symbol of belonging for me. The tree and bush represent safety, home, strength, longevity, and plenty. From this perspective, I have paid close attention to the plight of the trees attacked by the emerald ash borer beetles. The small sparkly green beetle lays eggs in the bark of the ash tree and once they hatch the larvae eat a path along the inner layer of the bark. This is like severing all the blood vessels in the trunk and branches, cutting off the tree’s ability to feed itself.

The tree holds a spiritual significance for me and it is unsettling for me to see them in this condition of stress. I also see how closely this is connected to the cycle of biological stress that we find ourselves in.

The infected tree is left stark, with all of its visible life drained. I am inspired to connect with the dead trees to create a sculptural totem to reference the natural healing in all living things.

To create the piece I would remove all the branches from the trunk leaving a tall natural spire. The branches would be segmented into many smaller pieces of many different sizes that people could be taught to carve into large wooden beads. The beads would be strung together to form “necklace like” ropes that would drape down the remaining trunk of the tree.
--Daniel Minter

After two years, we are coming to the end of this phase of Daniel Minter's project, In the Healing Language of Trees, a natural act of transformation restructured for curing many ills. Drawing on traditions of the African Diaspora, and invoking axé, the “spiritual force that resides in all living things,” Minter envisioned an ash trunk adorned with necklaces of giant, hand-carved wooden beads created in collaboration with community members, including those already engaged in our Call & Response and HOME refugee programming.

Many Milwaukeeans have been a part of Healing Language: the teachers in our Innovative Educators Institute; the summer campers who joined our Whittlers camp and then our Whittlers Club; the HOME Steering Committee, which participated in our first (virtual) workshop with Daniel and Arianne two years ago; the more than one thousand children and youth who carved with Minter over Zoom during the pandemic; the visitors who attended workshops whenever Daniel was in residence. New projects emerged as Call & Response artists Folayemi Wilson, Portia Cobb, Reggie Wilson, Scott Barton, and Arianne King Comer spent time with Minter at Lynden, in Portland, Maine, where he lives and co-directs the Indigo Arts Alliance, or at their own home bases.

On Saturday, June 17, we gather friends of the project, Call & Response artists, and the public to install Daniel Minter’s work on the grounds of the Lynden Sculpture Garden.

We will start the day by stringing wooden beads and stamping cloth garments. After lunch, we will don our coats and adornments and assemble for a procession out to the tree. The artists who created healing coats with Arianne King Comer will wear them in the procession. We will take time to honor the tree and all it has given us. In an act of natural healing, we will offer our gifts to the tree.

As part of the celebration, we will be opening Eneida Sanches’s exhibition, Material Trance in the gallery. Sanches was invited into Call & Response by Daniel Minter, and her exhibition expands on a collaboration begun with Minter in 2019. We will also unveil a new birdhouse sculpture Minter has created in response to Folayemi Wilson’s Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities.

Participants and observers are welcome all day and at any time (see schedule, below). You may participate in the procession by wearing the bead necklace and stamped coat you make in the morning, or you can arrive at 2 pm to observe the procession and installation.


10:30 am-12:30 pm Bead-stringing and coat-stamping workshops
Please register here. These activities are free, but we need to know that you are coming to have sufficient materials on hand. Feel free to drop in between 10:30 am and 12:30 pm.
12:30-1:30 pm Picnic. Bring your own lunch; treats provided.
1:30-2 pm Prepare for procession
2 pm Procession and installation

This project was made possible in part by the Joyce Foundation through a 2021 Joyce Award to Daniel Minter and Lynden Sculpture Garden; the Brico Fund; the Chipstone Foundation; the Greater Milwaukee Foundation; the Herzfeld Foundation; Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies; the Ruth Foundation for the Arts; and several individual donors.

©2024 Lynden Sculpture Garden