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Towering sequoia sculpture on OSU campus meant to spur thoughts of climate change

"Emeritus" will be on the OSU campus for 14 month. This photo was taken while the sculpture was still being installed.
"Emeritus" will be on the OSU campus for 14 month. This photo was taken while the sculpture was still being installed.

An 80-foot-tall sculpture of a giant sequoia tree is temporarily taking up residence on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis.

It’s called “Emeritus” and it’s made from more than 100,000 pieces of resin and salvaged wood. It stands some 80-feet tall and is located inside a grove of living sequoias in the quad on the heart of the OSU campus.

It’s the brainchild of Seattle-based artist John Grade, who says it’s meant to get people thinking about climate change and how people and ecosystems are adapting to it.

“The bulk of my work is placed within an interest in the natural world and how we think about the natural world, as well as how that’s changing and how we’re interacting with it," he said.

Grade visited the OSU campus earlier this year to scope out possible locations for the sculpture. His reconnaissance mission didn't take long.

“I was about to go through a tour of all of the campus, and we started with this little grove of giant sequoias, and I just kind of stopped right there and said this is absolutely the place,” he said. "So there was no need to look any further. I was just so inspired by that."

The sculpture was installed over the course of nearly a week in early October.

"We had hundreds of people from the community at OSU helping us," mainly by piecing together components of the sculpture on the ground, said Grade. A much smaller crew of experienced climbers helped to hang the sculpture from the living trees in the grove, being careful not to damage them in the process.

While "Emeritus" is located in an area of campus with a lot of foot traffic, it isn't immediately visible to someone passing through.

"It's within this grove, so it's something you could easily walk by and never know is there," said Grade. "So I like the idea that it's something you discover, you come across and have this moment of discovery."

In the evening, however, the sculpture takes on a different character altogether.

"We have some artificial lights that are illuminating it, so it serves more like a beacon," said Grade. "So as you're walking across the central quad of campus, you see light coming out from between the trees and it might draw you to it. So it's a very different experience (at night)."

The sculpture is also being used by OSU researchers to collect data about the ecology of the trees surrounding the artwork. “Emeritus” will remain in place for 14 months before it’s moved to a forest in Alaska.

Grade will be on the OSU campus on Friday, Oct. 28 at 5:30 for a lecture and artist’s reception. More information is available on the OSU website.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”