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UMD Artist Resurrects Spirit of Beloved Chapel Oak

January 24, 2014

Nicky Everette 301-405-6714

Chapel Oak SculptureCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – A noted University of Maryland sculptor will formally unveil his latest creation, a 10-foot-tall wooden "vessel" that memorializes a campus landmark, at a reception in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 25.

Foon Sham, a professor of art in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), built the 5,000-pound sculpture from remnants of a beloved white oak tree that stood in front of the university's Memorial Chapel for close to 75 years, providing a canopy for everyone from wedding parties to students seeking shade as they studied.

Known as the Chapel Oak or "Duke's Tree"—honoring a groundskeeper who tended to it for almost four decades—the majestic oak was cut down in July 2012 after being struck by lightning and suffering further damage from fungi and insects.

Duke's TreeSham's "Chapel Oak Vessel," comprising more than 1,500 pieces from the tree, is on display at the Arlington Arts Center, part of a six-month exhibition of community-sourced art that highlights the center's mission of nurturing and supporting regional artists.

"The [sculpture's] abstract acorn shape represents the fruit from the white oak," Sham says. "Now that the tree is gone, the fruit remains as a metaphor of transformation from one identity to another."

Sham worked with university groundskeepers after the tree was cut down, first storing the wood on campus before transporting large sections to his home studio in Northern Virginia.

In keeping with some of his earlier sculptures—including one commissioned by the World Bank in Washington. D.C., and another currently on display in Shanghai, China—Sham says he wanted to create what he terms a "vessel" with remnants from the Chapel Oak.

Foon Sham"I want people to be able to walk in, to see light above, to hear their echo inside the sculpture and be transported," he says.

ARHU Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill says Sham's art illustrates the imaginative spirit that defines virtually everything in the college. "This piece is particularly special, as it rekindles memories of that most beautiful tree that meant so much to our campus community."

Dane Winkler, Sham's graduate student, assisted his adviser with much of the heavier work, chain-sawing large parts of the tree into sections that could be more easily worked with.

Winkler, a master of fine arts candidate at Maryland, will have his own sculpture on display at the exhibit, which kicks off a yearlong celebration of the Arlington Arts Center's 40-year history as an incubator of regional talent.

Laura Roulet, a 1999 Maryland graduate with a master's in art history, is curating the exhibition. "As we looked through the center's archives when planning this exhibition, Foon's name repeatedly came up as someone who often showed his work here, mentored other artists and truly represented the center's mission of keeping extraordinary talent in the area," she says.


An opening reception for "CSA: Forty Years of Community Sourced Art," takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Arlington Arts Center. Foon Sham, Dane Winkler and other artists will be on hand to discuss their work.


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