THE TREE SPA FOR URBAN FOREST HEALING uses the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process to power a communal steam room. 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 from the maple trees growing nearby. The Tree Spa is based in Keney Park, in the North End of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood with a poverty rate near 50%.
The Tree Spa has developed over several years. Colin McMullan (Emcee C.M.) 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. The club has partnered with Herb Virgo of the Keney Park Sustainability Project, and Lauren Little of Knox Parks, 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.
The steamroom portion of the Tree Spa premiered at the Artspace CWOS festival, in October, 2018. In March, 2019 we visited Real Art Ways in Hartford for a two week installation and series of events, along with tree tapping workshops at Keney Park and public schools in Hartford. In March of 2020, we are scheduled to visit the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, as a part of their Weather Report exhibition. We are interested in bringing this project to other venues within the maple producing region, please reach out if you are interested in hosting us.
This drawing from 2016 represents the seed of the TREE SPA idea.
I’ve been toying with this research 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.
Custom infrastructure for tree juice sharing in public spaces: 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.
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.
At Hartford Art School, 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.
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.