The Avian Avatars exhibit will run through March 2023 at the Dawes Arboretum
NEWARK – The beautiful grounds of Dawes Arboretum are a natural bird sanctuary. But never have such giant birds – some over 20 feet tall – graced the hills of the Botanical Garden.
“Avian Avatars,” six bamboo and mixed-media sculptures by Myth Makers, the husband-and-wife team of Andy Moerlein and Donna Dodson, sits within the 2,000-acre Licking Township Arboretum.
At one end of the field, overlooking a meadow, stands “The Great Owl”, a 26-foot-tall bird built of thin, hollow bamboo stalks with zippered eyes and beak. A bench is placed inside at the base of the huge bird for visitors to sit and enjoy the same view of the hill as the great horned owl.
“When I was working on it, there was a barn owl calling antlers,” Dodson said. “Now he (the sculpture) is looking at the meadow and it looks like he’s going to go after a mouse.”
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Each of the six sculptures is almost translucent, allowing light and air to pass through. Constructed almost exclusively from natural materials – primarily Virginia bamboo – the sculptures are embellished with recycled materials serving as eyes, buns and a few feathers.
When visitors enter the arboretum, a large blue bird titled “The Gentleman” greets them at the door. This blue-and-rust bird was built as a tribute to arboretum founder Beman Dawes and especially his great-grandfather, Manasseh Cutler, an amateur botanist and influential in passing the 1787 Northwest Ordinance.
The six sculptures were carefully planned by Dodson and Moerlein to reference the birds of Ohio as well as the culture and history of the arboretum. After a site visit to Dawes a year ago, the Boston-based couple continued to research and plan, then built the sculptures in a studio in New Jersey. With the sculptures in a truck trailer, Dodson and Moerlein returned to Ohio in May, spending most of the month finishing and installing their birds.
The works are designed to withstand the elements and will last up to five years, eventually disintegrating naturally. Dawes plans to keep them until March 2023.
Most large sculptures can be walked through. All have signs that give their titles and descriptions. Maps are available to help visitors locate the sculptures.
Dodson and Moerlein pay tribute to one of their favorite artists, Columbus-based Ann Hamilton, with “Towering,” a 25-foot-tall sandhill crane they say is as powerful and iconic as the art of Hamilton.
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“Bertie’s Peacock” – with blue, yellow, gold and green plumage made from welding fabric and wrapping material – recalls Beman Dawes’ wife Bertie’s love for the flamboyant bird.
And two northern cardinals – Ohio’s state bird – are featured in “Love Long Last.” (Cardinals will mate for life.) The more colorful male stands on one side of the path with the female on the other side. Dodson gave her a bit more pizzazz by adding red swirls to her bun.
The Myth Makers have collaborated on more than 50 such projects in the United States and other countries. Dodson is a graduate of Wellesley College and, through her writing, an advocate for the arts. Moerlein, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Cornell University, is a longtime gallery director and educator. Both are passionate about nature and the environment and consider themselves bird watchers.
“Avian Avatars” is their first project in Ohio.
“Our mission with these facilities is to be site-specific and unique to the region,” Moerlein said. “Dawes is an absolutely wonderful place for these birds.”
In one look
“Avian Avatars” continues through March 2023 at The Dawes Arboretum, 7770 Jacksontown Road, Newark. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission: $10 adults, $5 5 to 15, free for 4 and under and members. Call 740-323-2355 or visit www.dawesarb.org.