Originally published on Clean Energy Resource Teams.
By Joel Haskard
When you visit the Franconia Sculpture Park between Shafer and Taylors Falls, MN, a brightly-lit tree sculpture stands out, far away from any buildings.
Ever wonder, like us, what it’s all about? We interviewed the sculptor, Asia Ward, to learn more.
How did you come up with the Solar Tree?
My landscape sculptures use diorama-like layers to create artificial depth and perspective. I find that the viewer automatically fills in the spaces between the layers, rounding them out, in order to complete the landscape. I knew the location for the sculpture at Franconia Sculpture Park, and was inspired by the oak savanna nearby. The shape of the sculpture became a stylized oak tree, built especially to be solar powered. That is why there is a 15 degree slant on the canopies, facing south. I built Solar Tree to appear to be assembled in four planes, two for the trunk, and one for each canopy. I installed these Neon Flex Lights, which are especially bright LED lights, on the edges of the four planes, green for the canopies and white for the trunk. At night, the lights are so bright they can be seen for miles.
These lights were also installed because Solar Tree would be far in a field, not close to any houses or electricity, and I knew this would arouse people’s curiosity. How can something so bright work way out there? Why is there a bright tree in the middle of nowhere? This has already brought hundreds of passerbys and observers to Franconia to see the Solar Tree. During the entire process of making the Solar Tree in the outside studio space, I talked to 20-50 people a day. Most of the conversations were about structure, the engineering, inspiration, and how it was going to be solar powered. So during the construction of Solar Tree, I got to educate people about solar power and LED llighting and demonstrate how an artist can work with both.
What was most fun about building the Solar Tree?
The best part about building the Solar Tree was that I got to produce a sculpture at an amazing place, Franconia Sculpture Park. The staff are incredible and the resources they have for emerging artists trying to do public sculpture is extremely helpful. In 2003 I was an intern at FSP. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be one of the fellow artists. And last year I was finally accepted and received a Franconia Sculpture Park Jerome Fellowship for $5,000 to complete Solar Tree. So not only did I get a chance to make a large public sculpture, but I also received support for its production. I greatly enjoyed learning about photovoltaics, and took classes from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in solar PV site assessment, design, and installation. My teacher, Kris Schmid, helped me during my installation.
You are also the Co-director of REcharge Labs. Tell us a little bit about this company.
REcharge Labs is in its second year as a new LLC separate from The KidWind Project. Michael Arquin from The KidWind Project and I co-own and direct it together. We engage and inspire today’s K-12 students, educators, artists, and tinkerers to become the innovative renewable energy leader of tomorrow by offering effective hands-on activities and kits, educator professional development, online engineering design challenges, and lessons.
I often say we are a mission based for profit! Sounds silly, but if you knew how much we put toward free resources and events, you would see that our profit margin isn’t like most for profit businesses. We have really big hearts here.
Reprinted with permission.