Art and nature lovers in Sonoma County can walk through, touch, climb, or simply admire the 16 massive wood sculptures made from salvaged old-growth redwood and metal that make up the first exhibit in the free outdoor sculpture garden at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.
Created by acclaimed local sculptor Bruce Johnson, the "Root 101" exhibit creates an only-in-Sonoma-County experience that blends art and nature in a serene and beautiful setting.
With a deft touch, Johnson has crafted his pieces so they feel as if they grew there just as they are, complete with metal scales, short steel posts (to aid in climbing), and other enhancements. Several of the pieces include places to sit, and one towering piece offers an inside ladder that visitors can climb.
Four years ago, Johnson bought 80 tons (four, 40-foot flatbed truck loads) of massive pieces of salvaged, old-growth redwood — an increasingly rare material. Each sculpture that he creates from this supply, Johnson says, is a "small act of preservation."
Nestled between the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and its neighbor, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, the new sculpture garden will showcase large works by regional artists on a rotating basis, with new exhibits installed every other year.
Johnson's massive redwood artwork is the perfect choice for the first exhibit, said Anita Wiglesworth, program director for the center.
"His work is really engaging," Wiglesworth explained. "I challenge anyone not to touch it. You want to. You find your hands just marveling over the grain and the texture of the wood, and how he's manipulated it but also preserved it."
The garden setting designed by Bill Mastick, of Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning, includes meandering pathways, two bridges, 40 trees, and more than 500 plants. It offers a quiet place to enjoy both art and nature.
"I hope people see this as a place to not only enjoy great work, but to reflect, relax, and have a bit of respite," said Wiglesworth.
Wander through the sculpture garden on your own, or dial up a recorded tour on your cell phone (directions are available on site).
And don't stop there — the center's property is dotted with outdoor artwork by national and international artists, starting with massive metal sculptures by artist Robert Ellison that are visible from Highway 101.
A campus map with the locations and descriptions of the sculptures is available online. Or, with advance reservations (707-800-7512), you can take a docent-led tour of all the center's artwork, including the new sculpture garden.
The non-profit Luther Burbank Center for the Arts (50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7006) offers more than 100 performances annually in music, dance, theater, comedy, and presentations by renowned speakers, as well as more than 1,000 community events.
And to really enhance your appreciation all things redwood, combine your visit to the Luther Burbank Center's new sculpture garden with a trip to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-2015). Located about 18 miles away in the Russian River Valley, the 805-acre reserve provides easy trails through the serene and majestic beauty of old-growth coast redwoods.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.