'Steelroots' Grow Above the Ground, Up to 40 Feet High, in Illinois

steelroots tobin morton illinois
Credit: Courtesy of Kenny Ek.

See the tree. The roots are underneath. They anchor the plant to the ground, and take in water and minerals. Unless they're "Steelroots," which live above the ground, to be appreciated as art and explored with your hands and feet. "Steelroots" is the name of an outdoor exhibit at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois—west of Chicago.

The massive sculptures were created by Steve Tobin of Pennsylvania, the same artist who did the Trinity Root 9/11 memorial near Ground Zero in New York City. The four-season exhibit opens April 9.

There are a 14 sculptures on display, standing up to 40 feet high. They're made of recycled steel. Unllike most art or museum exhibits, visitors are encouraged to see and touch the sculptures, walk under and around them, or lie underneath, with the sky and clouds in the background.

"I'd like people to think about the fact that roots may not often be visually apparent, but that's where the tree's strength is," Tobin says.


Steelroots is located in a 22-acre Conifer Collection, amid real live pine, juniper, fir and spruce trees.

The Morton Arboretum bills itself as a world-renowned leader in tree and science education. Right up our alley.


"The roots evoke communities, families, unseen power and networks all coming together for a shared purpose," Tobin says of the exhibit.

"They gather energy and send it upward in support of the 'tree' that is not visually apparent. The curvilinear geometries between the roots frame the view creating landscapes in the negative spaces that ebb and flow as the viewer moves around and under the piece. The legs are anthropomorphic, suggesting images of people dancing or huddling together in embrace and collusion. They create a sense of gathering."

Steelroots runs through Jan. 31, 2011.

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