Libraries collect stories and share them with communities. The new Winthrop Library’s first art installation—a 17-foot tall Western Red Cedar—introduces another narrative: a chronicle of “the passage of time and the undeniable urge for survival,” said artist Tori Karpenko, who, in partnership with artist Hannah Viano, was commissioned to create the art piece.
The art installation is being called “Solace.”
When the new library (located on White Avenue across from the Spring Creek Ranch Trailhead in Winthrop) was in the design phase, Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL) conceived an art plan for the library and integrated it into the building process.
“It was the right way to approach it,” Karpenko said. “Instead of retrofitting art to fit the building, they incorporated art into the design.”
FOWL put out a request for proposals; Karpenko and Viano submitted their ideas and were eventually selected as the artists to provide the library with art.
Karpenko said that he and Viano were both committed to the idea of bringing nature into the building, to establishing connections with “the wildness around us.” Also, Karpenko had long been interested in creating a sculpture that would be large enough to stand in, but knew that “it would be ridiculous to take on a project of that size if there was no plan for where to put it.”
The FOWL commission provided Karpenko an opportunity to do both—to create a sculpture that was both substantial and nature-oriented. For Karpenko, a tree was the logical answer. “Trees are so universal,” he said.
An avid backcountry explorer, Karpenko knew he had seen many trees that he had wanted to take home. The challenge for the library installation was finding a tree that was large enough, accessible with a vehicle, in a place where he would be allowed to cut. The fact that he began his hunt in earnest in October of 2020, when winter arrived early, added pressure to the search.
One day, though, Karpenko was driving up 8-Mile and he spotted a stand of cedar trees. One tree in particular drew his eye, so he got out of his truck and hiked up the hill to take a closer look. Incredibly, when Karpenko walked around to the back side of the tree, he saw that it was burned out in the middle. “This is a miracle tree,” he said to himself, almost giddy with relief.
A flurry of paperwork and permitting ensued, involving the U.S. Forest Service, the Methow Valley Ranger District, and all due diligence required to remove the cedar tree from the forest. “[District Ranger] Chris Furr was very supportive,” Karpenko said. “He helped us get everything lined up in a timely manner.”
Karpenko and Viano weren’t allowed to take any equipment off the road to procure the tree, and they were required to bring the tree down on snow, to avoid damaging the forest floor. Using an 8-foot crosscut saw, Karpenko, Viano, and Viano’s husband, Joe Talbert, cut the tree, which is about 7.5 feet across at the base. “We eased it down onto the snow, stabilized it, and then had to leave it for the winter,” Karpenko said.
In June, the team returned with a boom truck and used a grip hoist to drag the tree as close to the road as possible, then loaded it onto the truck for transport to Karpenko’s property.
“Every step of the way has been an all-consuming process to avoid damaging the tree,” Karpenko said. “We moved the tree twice—to my property, where I built a structure around it so we could rehearse the raising of it and see what it looked like upright in a building, and then to the library. We needed to envision what it would look like in the building, to understand how we would take it in a sculptural direction.”
Karpenko called the moving of the tree a “Herculean task,” noting the many friends and other helpers who contributed to the effort.
“It was really amazing to see people rally around whatever stage we’re at. We’re very grateful to have so many people who were willing to help,” he said. Even the Impel Construction crew, which is building the library, helped get the tree through the doors. “We knew it was possible but it was a really tight margin,” Karpenko said. “We had to rotate the tree 90 degrees. It worked, but barely.”
For Karpenko, whose experience as an artist is mostly confined to solitary work in his studio, the experience of partnering with Viano and working with so many others was rewarding. “I have enjoyed this so much,” he said. “To see a lot of different kinds of people relate to this project in their own way has been very meaningful.”
“It’s a dream project for both of us,” Karpenko added, “For Hannah and me to create art through a collaborative process and to have it installed locally. We really feel positive about this contribution to the new library.”
The tree now stands in the vaulted library ceiling; the library’s interior finish carpentry will take place around it. When the library opens, the tree will be a focal point, not just visually, but also emotionally and spiritually. “People will relate to it in their own way,” Karpenko said. “But it’s clearly a symbol of resilience and fortitude, bearing the marks of weather and storms, shaped by the elements and most significantly by wildfire. Rising vertically into the vaulted ceiling above, this sentinel cedar tree is a symbol of renewal and the regenerative cycles of the natural world around us. Nature continues to give, even in its passing.”
Karpenko said “Hannah and I want the tree to be a piece of art to be examined, but also to be touched. I imagine the base as a perfect place to curl up and read a book. We want people to put their hands on it, to feel all these wonderful unique textures.”
Karpenko had the char sandblasted off the void in the middle of the trunk up to about 8 feet high to facilitate the tree becoming a tactile art piece. Above that, though, the char remains. “It’s part of the tree’s story,” he said.