Alan Sonfist (b. 1946)

Created 2008
Installed 2011

Charred wood, steel, and gravel

Located in the atrium of the Toyota Technological Institute building
6045 S. Kenwood Avenue

Collection of the Smart Museum of Art

Artist Profile






Incorporating burned remnants of aspen trees from a forest fire near Aspen, Colorado, Alan Sonfist’s Trees of Aspen (2008) is a work of quiet grandeur that attests to both the fragility and resiliency of nature in the face of man–made and natural disasters. In stark contrast to the characteristically grey–white bark of live aspen trees, the sparsely spaced trunks in this composition are charred black and missing their leaves and branches. These monumental tree trunks, permanently preserved in their state of decay, seem to tower over the viewer as ghost–like reminders of destruction and death.

At the same time, however, Sonfist’s direct reference to forest fires also hints at the possibility of renewal, since these naturally occurring phenomena are, in fact, essential to ecological cycles of destruction and regeneration. Underscoring this potential, the artist has embedded thousands of tree seeds into the wax seal of the sculpture. Although imperceptible to the eye, they symbolically represent the possibility that the dead trunks may disseminate the seeds and propagate a new ecosystem. Indeed, by salvaging these wood pieces for a work of art, Sonfist has also creatively given the trees new life within an artistic context and new site.


Written by Nancy P. Lin, a doctoral student in the Department of Art History


Related Links

Smart Museum of Art

Alan Sonfist studio

Archival Materials

Conservation photograph of a seed on Trees of Aspen

Conservation photograph of moss on the sculpture


Interview with Richard Bumstead, Associate Director of Campus Environment, 24 May 2016

Sonfist, Alan, Alan Sonfist: Natural Phenomena as Public Monuments(New York: Neuberger Museum, 1978)

Further Reading

Graham, Samuel Alexander, Aspens, Phoenix Trees of the Great Lakes Region (Ann Arbor, 1963)

Perala, Donald A., Aspen, Rev. May 1985. (Washington, D.C., 1985)