Ursula von Rydingsvard’s 30 year-long artistic relationship with a sacred tree

Western redcedar has shaped life in the Pacific Northwest for centuries

Thuja Plicata, the Latin name for western redcedar, is a reference to the species’ leaf pattern. Plicata meaning folded in plaits or braids.

Redcedar wood has been called the “cornerstone of Northwest Coastal aboriginal culture. It is also known as Arborvitae, or the tree of life. The tree was used in every aspect of aboriginal life; utilitarian, medicinal, and ceremonial. Western redcedar has been and continues to be a highly regarded and an intensely spiritual plant form. Artist Ursula von Rydingsvard has had a close working relationship with the material as an artist for more than 35 years. 

Redcedars can grow 230 feet tall and 13 feet wide once mature

Von Rydingsvard is known for her sculptures and monumental pieces purposefully carved and chiseled from Redcedar from Vancouver. Her sculptures illustrate the intuitive and close relationship she has with the material and its inherent qualities. She begins each piece by cutting, chiseling and gluing planks of redcedar, finishing each sculpture by rubbing graphite powder onto the surface to express its organic texture. Each sculpture in von Rydingsvard’s oeuvre carry the element of being physically and spiritual grounding; each piece is a balanced interplay of imposing and inviting. The artist was commissioned by the General Services Administration (GSA) to create a sculpture to be installed at their Miami office space, leased by the FBI. The sculpture Cedrus was installed in 2015, at 17 feet high and weighing nearly 15,000 pounds, the redcedar sculpture resembled a centripetal force in motion. The GSA purchased Cedrus for $750,000, unquestionably a price much lower than its actual value, to only be disassembled shortly after at a cost of 1.2 million tax payer dollars due to unforeseen health and allergy issues that sent several employees of the building to hospital. Cedrus is currently being kept in a storage facility in Maine but other sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard can be seen at MIT and Princeton University.

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