116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
LISLE, Ill. — Walking through a cold winter breeze in a local park takes on a new meaning at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. The “Human+Nature” exhibit by multidisciplinary artist Daniel Popper showcases five sculptures connecting people and the world around them.
With conversations beginning in 2018 to bring the exhibit to the local arboretum, Popper found himself fascinated by the Illinois location. The Morton Arboretum stretches across Illinois Route 53 (IL 53) in Lisle. Visitors can drive through the park or park their cars and enjoy a scenic walk along the trails.
Across 1,700 acres of the park, five sculptures, ranging from 15- to 26 feet tall lie among the trails, lightly dusted with the quiet January snow. The sculptures, made of concrete, fiberglass and steel, weigh several metric tons, some reaching taller than the trees they surround. Popper has painted the sculptures to look like wood. The exhibit is his largest to date, including all of the international pieces.
What: “Human+Nature” sculptures
Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, Ill.; 3 hours, 22 minutes east of Cedar Rapids and 3 hours east of Iowa City, both via I-80 and I-88
When: Grounds open daily, 7 a.m. to sunset, with 7 to 9 a.m. reserved for arboretum members; Visitor Center open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: By timed-entry tickets; $16 adults, $14 ages 65 and older, $11 ages 2 to 17, free under age 2; discounts on Wednesdays; mortonarb.org/visit-the-arboretum
Features: Award-winning Children’s Garden, Maze Garden and 16 miles of hiking trails, plus exhibitions, activities, events and classes for all ages
The sculptures remain in precise locations, with the nature around them weighing into how distinct each artwork’s story is. Each sculpture is estimated to cost around $80,000 to $100,000.
Follow the blue “Human+Nature” exhibit signs to find places to park and indicators on where to find them. A map of the park also is available at the ticket booth. The exhibit is included with a timed entry to the arboretum.
Three of these sculptures lie within the east side of the arboretum, all within walking distance from one another or a short drive. Visitors are allowed to touch the sculptures, and many viewers remain still in silence, awe-struck at how massive the sculptures are and what stories they tell.
Sculptures as tall as trees
“Hallow,” a huge female figure, emerges near the Meadow Lake and Frost Hill Path, with close parking nearby at parking lots 1 and 2. “Hallow” is sponsored by International Paper, a supporter of the arboretum.
“UMI,” a maternal figure, is as tall as the trees that surround the sculpture. “UMI” is derived from the Arabic word meaning “mother” or “my mother.” The figure is located near the Magnolia Collection, with close parking at parking lot 5. “UMI” is sponsored by Duly Health and Care, a supporter of the arboretum.
The third stop among the sculptures on the east side is “Sentient,” a diverse human facial trait sculpture interwoven with root structures. “Sentient” sits near Loop 1 and the Japan Collection, set back in the woods slightly, but accessible through a wood-chipped trail right off the road. Closest parking is at parking lots 17 and 18.
A five-minute drive or small hike toward the west side of the arboretum will reveal the remaining two sculptures, “Heartwood” and “Basilica.”
“Heartwood,” a towering face split into two, lies within the Europe Collection. The name Heartwood derives from the name of the oldest annual growth rings that make up the layers in the center of a tree. The sculpture is slightly set back in the woods with trail access required, but it is visible from the road as you pass by. Closest parking to Heartwood is parking lots 19 and 20.
The final west side sculpture is “Basilica,” two hands joined by intertwining roots extended near old oak trees. “Basilica” is located at Four Oaks near Daffodil Glade in the arboretum. Closest parking is parking lot 22.
Preston Bautista, the arboretum’s vice president of learning and engagement, said the facility hopes to continue featuring more artwork. He encourages visitors to come see all that the arboretum has to offer as they tour the “Human+Nature” exhibit during the centennial year celebrations.
“There are a lot of other things going on, including a visitor center display, library exhibition and several other programs,” he noted.
The facility launched its yearlong centennial celebration on Founder’s Day, Dec. 14, 2021, and the festivities will continue through 2022. In April, the arboretum will observe a 1,000-tree centennial tree planting initiative in the seven-county Chicago region. April also marks the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day.
The centennial link on the facility’s website points out the arboretum’s “significant impact for trees and people — studying, planting and protecting trees; educating people; and welcoming millions of guests to its living tree and plant collections and its glorious landscapes.”
“Human+Nature” captures that spirit.
Popper, originally from Cape Town, South Africa, is most recognized for his massive public art displays, including a memorial sculpture for the Nelson Mandela School of Science and Technology in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. He also created sculptures for the Boom Festival in Portugal and Rainbow Serpent Festival in Australia.
He encourages visitors to draw their own meaning from the sculptures, and find a connection between the trees and nature.
Three new large-scale sculptures will be added in May 2022, with one commemorating the arboretum’s centennial year. “Human+Nature” will be on view through March 2023.