Tree Spa for Urban Forest Healing

This video presenting the TREE SPA FOR URBAN FOREST HEALING was shot at Artspace CWOS, during the test run of the project in October, 2018.

This drawing from 2016 is an initial sketch proposal for the TREE SPA. The project is currently based in neglected Keney Park, in the North End of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood with a poverty rate near 50%.

We started the Hartford Maple Syrup Club in 2017, an off-campus expansion of the maple syrup project that was previously operated by the Sculpture Club at Hartford Art School.  HMSC has partnered with Herb Virgo of the Keney Park Sustainability Project,  Lauren Little of Knox Parks, Real Art Ways, and Artspace New Haven‘s CWOS, to build the reach of social-engagement for this project.

In winter of 2017/2018 we built a mobile sugar shack, tapped trees in Keney park and at schools and residences in Hartford, and ran a series of tree-tapping workshops for area kids in collaboration with  with  Knox Parks. In addition, we did a series of discussions about decolonization and land connection with students from the University of Hartford and Real Art Ways.

We celebrated the maple syrup harvest with our third annual BYOBatter Pancake Festival, at the Keney Park Pond House, on March 10, 2018.

The newest extension of the TREE SPA re-uses the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process. Participants take the healing waters of the trees and discuss important matters affecting our communities, in the relaxing social space of a steamroom, while drinking tree juice and eating food steamed in the very same steam! This portion of the project began in earnest with a test-run in October of 2018. Originally commissioned by Artspace, Inc, for City-Wide Open Studios with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Connecticut Office of the Arts. There has been additional funding from Macktez Summer Stipend, Real Art Ways, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

The following is a collection of images from my tree juice collecting and sharing research process from 2015-2017. I drink lots of tree juice every spring, and encourage others to do so. I’ve been toying with this idea ever since about 2010 when I wrote a piece called We Common. At the time I was living in New York City and covertly tapping trees in city parks, among many other foraged food sharing experiments.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with making and installing custom infrastructure for tree juice sharing in public spaces, like this bucket with a custom spigot and paper cup dispenser.


There are a lot of great things about the tree juice gathering lifestyle. One of the best is that you are active during the coldest time of the year, which is great for mental and physical health. It also means you get to experience magic like seeing the crocuses come up in your footprints where your body heat has literally melted the snow and warmed the Earth.

This image is from a parallel project I was doing at my workplace, the sculpture studio at Hartford Art School. I often put quotes from the book of work up on this chalkboard. Collecting and processing tree juice is a ton of work, but it’s so rewarding.

I have been working at tree juice gathering in earnest since 2013. I make, sell, and donate syrup from some of the juice I collect too. You can buy some in the Emporium of Real Things if you want.

I started out collecting and boiling tree juice with my brother and some friends (that’s Nick Brown in the picture) at the homestead we were working in Storrs, CT (see Building Buildings and Landing on Land). We had an old borrowed evaporator from Sweet Acre Farm and a plastic covered  hut we slapped together from bamboo poles.

I made a rocket stove which has been useful for finishing and bottling the syrup. Rocket stoves are an incredible example of appropriate technology that allow you to boil water (or tree juice, or soup, or whatever you want) using a mere handful of twigs or scrap wood.

I first made the rocket stove as a visiting artist at Bennington College in 2014. I wanted to inspire the sculpture students to cook for themselves and boycott the corporate dining hall.

Then for awhile my rocket stove was at Hartford Art School, where we used it for soup, syrup, and socializing with the Sculpture Club. Now it is at Keney Park Sustainability Project, along with the rest of the Tree Spa.

We used to make the syrup in plein air, right under the old sculpture gantry, utilizing a 2′ x 6′ wood-fired evaporator I purchased used in 2016.

It was a good time, we got some publicity for the University too, which they of course loved, when the local TV news covered the story. We had a really fun BYOB (Bring Your Own Batter) pancake competition when the syrup was ready.

The following images and text are excerpted from a slide lecture I gave at Pecha Kucha, New Haven, in 2015, about my tree juice collecting practice.












That’s all for now, I leave you with another quote from the book of work…