By Christopher Loomis

Location: Phelan Cactus Garden

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Through a select juried process, Bay Area artist Christopher Loomis was commissioned by Montalvo Arts Center in the fall of 2015 to conceive and create a new semi-permanent seating element for its Historic Italianate Garden. This functional sculpture is located in the Phelan Cactus Garden and serves as a resting point at the end of Montalvo’s property.

For this new work, Loomis selected two Blue-Gum Eucalyptus trees that were felled less than fifty feet from the Cactus Garden. He carved and arranged four unique sculptural benches from this recovered lumber, which dates back to the creation of Montalvo as a private estate in 1911 by James Duval Phelan, the first popularly elected senator of California.

Twisted Heart and the Eucalyptus Muse refers to California lumber barons’ unrealized dream of replacing acres of native tree species felled using timber clear cutting methods during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the large scale commercial planting of Eucalyptus trees. After a ‘timber rush’ which transformed the landscape of much of California, the Eucalyptus failed to live up to expectations: the wood had an irregular grain and did not make good lumber—it cracked and twisted while drying and it was so tough that the carpenters of the day were not even able to drive nails into it.

Loomis embraces these perceived limitations. Twisted Heart and the Eucalyptus Muse is expected to change over time. Unlike its very stable and user-friendly neighbor the Native California Redwood, the timber will transform as it dries; it will crack and warp and eventual settle into a state of rest.

Today, the Eucalyptus provokes a wide spectrum of opinions, thoughts and feeling, ranging from pleasurable associations with its soothing minty smell to concerns over its flammability and the amount of water it consumes. Whether siting looking out over the Italianate Garden or lying down and gazing at the sky, visitors are invited to gather, rest and reflect on the changing history of the Eucalyptus, and anything else that comes to mind.

Commissioned by the Lucas Artists Program at Montalvo Arts Center, Twisted Heart and the Eucalyptus Muse, is part of the program Art on the Grounds which seeks to support innovative new art making in Montalvo’s 175 acre park.