Woonsocket, RI, September 28th, 2022—Teen artists at Riverzedge Arts this week unveiled a massive arboreal sculpture outside NeighborWorks Woonsocket’s “Art Center” as part of a project to raise awareness about the city’s urban forest and the challenges it faces.
“Most people don’t even think about trees unless one falls down and starts causing problems,” said artistic director Brad Fesmire, who oversaw the project, “and we wanted to change that.” The sculptured, titled Chronicles of the USS Ocean State, is certainly eye-catching. Based on a sketch by senior Kay H. (18), a papier-maché ship rests high in the branches of an urban ash tree, besieged by a massive foam octopus like something you might find in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
But the project is far from merely decorative. Supported by an Urban and Community Forestry Grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), the teen artists who worked on the sculpture engaged in extensive environmental education with RIDEM and the RI Tree Council to learn about the benefits of—and threats to—RI’s forests.
Each year, trees in RI save the state over $30 million in anti-pollution benefits and bring in more than $348 million to the local economy through fishing and wildlife watching. But threats like climate change, resulting severe weather, and pests like the emerald ash borer pose a serious risk to trees across the state.
And according to Fesmire, the teen artists wanted to make a bold statement about these risks. “Our studio wanted to really grab people’s attention. We wanted to build something that would make people stop, think, and care about the trees that are all around them. And just maybe we’ll spark a neighborhood kid’s imagination while we’re at it.”