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Attention-Devotion, Acrylic and Resin on Wood, 2019, 46 in. x 62 in.,
This is a prototype for Listening to the Forest – Leah Wilson

Listening to the Forest

I am excited to announce that I have been awarded the opportunity to create my first Percent for Art public art project!

Listening to the Forest will be permanently housed in Oregon State University’s new Forest Science Complex. The building is beautiful, replete, as you can imagine, with intricate wood interior details and extensive windows. I invite you to follow my process as I create this large-scale 16-panel installation.

Introducing my Collaborating Scientists

This is a highly collaborative project incorporating the help and expertise of Barb Lachenbruch, Professor Emeritus, Ecophysiology Dept. of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, Julia Jones, Professor of Geography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, Adam Sibley, Graduate Student in the Department Forest Ecosystems & Society at Oregon State University, Fred Swanson, Research Geologist (emeritus); Senior Fellow, Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, and adding some international flair, Alan Crivellaro, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Geography at Cambridge University, United Kingdom.

Red Alder Root - Work in Progress

Red Alder Root, Wood, 46 in. x 62 in.,
Detail – Work in Progress – Leah Wilson

Project Overview

Listening to the Forest spans the scale of an old-growth tree from the cellular level, to one growing in the forest. The composition and color of the installation is based on the distinctions of the cellular structure of wood and the variances of light quality from forest canopy to forest floor.

Four rows and four columns forming a grid of bas-relief panels are being created over a one year period. Chromatic changes and patterns of the panels follow the results of my study of light and wood anatomy at the Discovery Tree, a tree approximately 60m tall and estimated age over 300 years in an old-growth stand at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. Three cut-out layers comprise each panel that are separated 1/4 in. from one another. They will be arranged vertically according to tree height, and horizontally according to season.

The composition of the individual panels is taken from the cellular structure of the Douglas-fir, red alder, pacific yew, and western hemlock trees, representing research into hidden aspects of trees: how they work as hydrologic systems, the support structures of ecological and human construction systems, and much more. The cellular patterning of the panels is created by cutting and layering plywood and will vary according to the differences in wood anatomy at specific tree heights. The outward-facing surface of each panel is bright white, but the back of each layer of the panels will be painted, creating the effect of color experienced not as pigment, but as reflected color and light. The colors on the back of the panels are taken from the results of an investigation of the change of light color and quality at the Discovery Tree at HJ Andrews Experimental Forest at 50m, 35m, and at the forest floor.

The installation creates a contemplative visual experience of light, color, shadow, and rhythm. Through the layered cut-outs, the experience of viewing the artwork will change based on the vantage point of the viewer and the quality of light from the windows in the atrium. The subtle shifts in composition, shadow, and color create an invitation to investigate the artwork further.

Western Hemlock, Acrylic on Wood, 46 in. x 62 in.,
Detail – Work in Progress – Leah Wilson

Mock-up Sketch for Listening to the Forest – Leah Wilson


I will elaborate on these ideas and give you a look at the entire process of creating this extensive project. The process has been fascinating, fun, and at times, a little bit crazy.

Contact me by email or on social media with any questions or comments that you may have. I love hearing from you!

Read all of the Listening to the Forest stories

Webinar: Listening to the Forest

Webinar: Listening to the Forest

Join us on Wednesday, May 12 at 4 PM for a conversation about the new public art installation “Listening to the Forest,” located in the George W. Peavy Forest Science Center on the OSU campus. The discussion will be preceded by a short video introducing the artwork and will include a live Q&A with the artist Leah Wilson, moderated by Dr. Brooke Penaluna.

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Field Research, Discovery Tree, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest – Leah Wilson

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