AIR at 40: Told to Me by Trees

By Jenny Zeller

2019 Artist in Residence: Janice Lee Kelly

Partnering with Trees, March 2020

Architect, photographer, and aerial sculptor, Janice Lee Kelly returned to Bernheim this February to create work in a winter forest after her initial exploration of the landscape in spring 2019. Kelly uses biodegradable balloons as building blocks for her nature-inspired sculptures. Experiencing Bernheim in two drastically different seasons influenced her creative process and nature’s response to them.

Battered Tutu #3, June 2019

Spring brings the promise of renewal and rebirth with warmer, longer days. During her time at Bernheim, Kelly created a visual diary of sketches that encapsulated her investigation of the natural environment full of bold, bright colors and a bit of whimsy. Kelly found the winter forest equally sublime, although seemingly dormant, stripped bare and grey. These subtly colored ephemeral works popped up around the arboretum where one least expected to see them. While still playful in their approach, these creations suggest more practicality and function in their forms. Her creative process comes full circle as she photographs these lively works of art, documenting their existence.

Sycamore seed pods serve as artistic inspiration.

Inspired by the interior texture and exploding nature of sycamore seedpods, Kelly channeled this pod and installed a large swaying sculpture on a prominent Sycamore Tree near the Visitor Center. The work created “in situ” coincided with a First Sunday Nature Hike led by Bernheim Naturalist Joe Rogers, where all participants learned the inspiration and botanical provenance of Kelly’s creation and provided with seed pods to dissect as they saw fit.

Participants on the First Sunday Nature Hike interacted with artist Janice Lee Kelly and her sycamore inspired sculpture.


Being selected as a Bernheim Artist in Residence was an invitation to The Ball. And all the forest required of me was that I bear witness. Most of the work I have made in nature has been inspired by the salt marsh, where I live in Rhode Island. However, winter forests especially beckoned me – with bare trees showing their architecture, twisted, thorny underbrush in tangles of texture, the dankness of fallen leaves so wild and primal, the light casting shadows on so many shades of grey. Everything asleep – but surely dreaming in color. The trails provided more inspiration than I could absorb or prioritize. And every idea led to three or four more.” JANICE LEE KELLY



2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Bernheim’s Artist in Residence program. 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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