The Urban Forest Project (Our Tree)

tree Urban Forest Project Banner, 2006, Walker Art Center

tree 7000 Oaks, Minnesota

Perhaps the most grandly scaled of Joseph Beuys' projects was 7000 Oaks, a five-year effort to plant seven thousand trees in Kassel, Germany. Begun in 1982 and completed posthumously in 1987 (the final tree was planted by the artist's son Wenzel), the project was carried out by Beuys and hundreds of volunteers who planted trees in locations determined by community councils and citizens' initiatives. Near each tree a basalt stele was sunk into the earth; the combination of rigid, static stone with the continuously self-transforming tree was meant to evoke the harmonious coexistence in nature of opposing states of being. Each pair was a sculptural group on its own, as well as part of an enormous social sculpture that sparked conversations about a host of social and environmental issues.

Beuys imagined that his project would inspire similar efforts throughout the world, professing, "We shall never stop planting." In spring and summer 1997, the Walker Art Center sponsored 7000 Oaks, Minnesota, a three-part undertaking led by independent curator Todd Bockley. During the first phase, one thousand trees were planted in Cass Lake, a town of 860 people on Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. Red maple, crab apple, white cedar, and plum trees were offered to the town's residents and business owners, who were asked to display a green ribbon on their front doors to indicate their interest. The Cass Lake Times noted that the community had come together to realize the planting and that the trees "would provide shade for generations to come." 1

7000 Oaks, Minnesota continued in fall 1997, when Bockley and a group of students from St. Paul Central High School planted trees on the school grounds and in surrounding neighborhoods. The project's symbolic center is a single native cottonwood tree and basalt stele, planted on October 4, 1997, in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden adjacent to the Walker. 7000 Oaks, Minnesota was approved by Beuys' widow, Eva, who keeps a register of tree-planting efforts carried out in the spirit of her husband's work. She later responded with a letter of appreciation: "I am so glad to hear what you do! . . . An extraordinary idea and very fitting. Naturally I think it is very difficult to realize this [type of project]. I at least know how difficult the realization for Beuys in Kassel was. So I am very grateful that there are so many in America prepared to honor this project." 2

Joan Rothfuss

1. "1000 Trees Available for Planting," Cass Lake Times, May 8, 1997.
2. Letter from Eva Beuys to Todd Bockley, January 23, 1998 (Walker Art Center Archives).

From Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter, eds., Bits and Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2005), 130.

tree 04/24/2006 17:26 (The Hunt)

tree 04/24/2006 17:42 (The Purchase)
tree 04/25/2006 11:20 (The Care)