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August 13, 2022

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum hosts large-scale art exhibit

SANTA CRUZ – Bizarre and beautiful plants, bulleting hummingbirds and more often inspire visitors to the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. And now, through Nov. 17, a large-scale art exhibit on the picturesque hillside takes that inspiration to some intriguing places.

“Art in the Arboretum: Environmental Installations” is the arboretum’s third such art undertaking, curated by Santa Cruz artist and sculptor Susana Arias. The art varies widely, in size and style, with pieces dispersed throughout the spacious New Zealand and South African gardens.

It includes at least three large-scale structures. Posted statements include descriptions of the art and the process. On a recent afternoon, visitors leaned over to read them, intrigued by the impressive sculptures.

“This is wonderful,” said Bonnie Mac, who lives in the Pleasure Point area. “It’s just magical; I love being up here.”

Works impressive in size alone include the “Ubiquitous Seed,” by Boulder Creek artist Diana Hobson that sits, level, on an arboretum field. Hobson said it echoes the ancient Egyptian symbol for the seed. She inserted some environmentalism into the 30-foot-diameter circle of radiating path-like arcs of pebbles and small rocks that leads to a larger “sitting stone” in the center.

She said the work arose from a concern about loss of the diversity and quality of seed banks in the world, which are “being destroyed in war zones … and are now at risk from global warming.”

Other towering pieces include “Sequoia Semprotea,” a mythical incarnation of a Protea plant spanning 70 diameters by Bonny Doon artist Wendy Domster, “Spirit Nest” a wildly circular woven eucalyptus work by Big Sur artist Jayson Fann, “Suncatchers,” an awe-inspiring display of larger-than-life wooden figures by local artist John Hylton and an impressive replica of eucalyptus leaves and pods affixed to a fence that was constructed with steel, burlap, concrete and vermiculite by local artists Jamie Abbott, Barbara Downs and Ray Holmberg.

Smaller-scale work includes hidden gems such as Jenni Ward’s round ceramic sculptures of alluring blue and green hues set in a grove of cheesewood trees, and a shell-shaped basket lodged in a tree in another part of the garden by Felton artist Larry Worley.

The installation includes Capitola artist Lucia Bruer’s work “And Sow it Begins,” reflecting her look at a harvest cycle, Ward’s second piece in the installation, “Umbel Series,” 230 or so handmade ceramic mustard flowers creating a whimsical, yellow path that curves out about 100 feet, Ethan Estess’ “Gas Field,” and “The Raven and the Wolf,” Los Angeles artist Sharon Loper’s depiction of some mythological legends surrounding those animals.

Arias, the arboretum’s volunteer curator, explains installation art by stating that it’s “an artistic form of three-dimensional work that changes the viewer’s perception of a space.” She says the change stems from a direct communion between the artist and affected environment.

Arboretum representatives say the three installations have been well-received by visitors and strengthen the arboretum’s relationship with the community. This third installation opened May 20.

The arboretum is at 1156 High St. in Santa Cruz. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.  Call 502-2998 for information, or visit


Artist Wendy Domster encourages people to get their hands in the tumeric dust at the center of her sprawling mystical incarnation of a South African protea plant. Made in part with storm-downed redwoods, the Bonny Doon former firefighter said her “Sequoia Semprotea” or “Rare Coastal Bloom” reminds one of “the continued potential of long-lived hope, change and transformation.” Domster’s work includes the use of art to help burn victims heal. Photo by Cathy Kelly/For the Pajaronian


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