Art installation ‘Sycamore Hatch’ underway in Bernheim’s Sassafras room

By Jenny Zeller

A giant installation of another kind and one that needs a tall scissor lift to accomplish!

An exciting new art installation is currently underway in the Sassafras room of Bernheim’s Visitor Center! We have anxiously awaited the return of  2020 Artist in Residence Lee Emma Running, whose visual art embraces the beauty and complexity of the natural world. Running first arrived at Bernheim in early March and while her initial immersion in the Bernheim landscape was cut short due to the onset of COVID-19, it was long on inspiration. During her time at Bernheim, Running became enchanted with the American Sycamore tree, one that symbolizes strength and protection as well as an indication of waterways in dense woods.

Artist Lee Running installing the work sized specifically to the windows in Bernheim’s Sassafras room.









Inspiration of this wide canopied deciduous tree with a beautiful exfoliating bark led to the conception of a work entitled, Sycamore Hatch, a site-specific, transparent, colorful window installation that will ultimately fill the top three tiers of windows in the Sassafras room of Bernheim’s Visitor Center.

Sycamore buds being traced under projection before digitally processed for printing the cut vinyl.

The sycamore is rare in that their dinner plate sized leaves all emerge from a single bud at the end of a branch. Using the sprouts of new sycamore leaves as inspiration, these unique budding structures were magnified and traced under projection. These silhouetted shapes are the visual framework of the installation and tied together with the honeycombed pattern found inside the large seeds that hang from the tree and fall to the ground in spring.  In many ways this miniature interior pattern is a metaphorical ‘map’ for the growth of this beautiful tree that is hundreds of years old. By transforming the scale of complex bits of nature, Running is able to reveal their intricate networks, and identify some universal elements within them.

The Sassafras room becomes a studio. Here is a visual layout of a complex installation with four layers of different colored vinyl and shapes. Total size of work is 2000 square feet!
The honeycombed pattern, found inside a fallen sycamore seed, that ties the leaves and buds of the installation together.   


Please note, all Bernheim facilities, including the Visitor Center is closed to the public until further notice, but you can view this installation in progress from outside until Friday October 16th. When the Visitor Center is safe to reopen, we invite you to the experience the intense scale of this beautiful installation that will provide a sense of being underneath a sycamore’s canopy.

The vinyl used in the installation is transparent and windows will be partially covered, allowing light to come through and enabling the work to seamlessly blend into the landscape. Sycamore Hatch will change colors as the sun moves throughout the day and takes on different colors when viewed from the outside.


Lee Emma Running is a Drawing, Sculptor and Installation artist, as well as Full Professor of Sculpture at Grinnell College Department of Art and Art History, Grinnell, IA. Running was awarded the 2017 Iowa Artist Fellowship by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts. In the last 6 months, Running has completed two major projects using botanical samples from historic herbariums to create large scale installations on windows. Upon her return to Grinnell in late October, Running steps into the position of Director of Center for Prairie Studies.

Hear the artist talk about her inspiration and process in this Zoom presentation from August, 2020.


2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Bernheim’s Artist in Residence program and the value that art adds to the natural environment. Established in 1980, this internationally renowned program annually awards artists the opportunity to live and create site-specific work inspired by their total immersion experience at Bernheim. Throughout 2020, we are celebrating the contributions of the program’s past that has allowed our visitors to experience nature in a new way while enhancing awareness of Bernheim’s mission of connecting people to nature.

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