Maya Lin’s acclaimed “Ghost Forest” – her installation in Madison Square Park in New York City – was being cut out and the artist couldn’t have been happier: a group of teenagers had seen the harvest of the lumber on November 19 and was sawn Monday, to make boats they plan to sail next year.

“I was thrilled, because otherwise the trees were going to be mulched or turned into shingles,” Lin said in an interview. “The boats are engaging and part of a new life for the work of art.”

Lin had planted 49 trees last spring for the exposure, which opened in May and drew crowds and rave reviews with its haunting evocation of the environmental apocalypse. The trees, the Atlantic white cedars, came from a dying grove that was to be cleared as part of a restoration project in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, where climate change has caused the death of a much of the forest, and with the installation Lin was making a statement on climate change and environmental sustainability.

Lin knew she wanted to save some of each log for future projects, including landscaping in Colorado and a virtual artwork that will coincide with the installation’s anniversary next year. But we didn’t know where the rest of the wood would go.

On Monday, remnants of the artwork lay on the chopping block of a Bronx woodworking shop, where teenagers took the lead and shaped the planks of the boats.

The teens acquired the wood by a stroke of luck. New York City Fire Department programming manager Carla Murphy was walking through Madison Square Park in October when “Ghost Forest” caught her eye. She stopped dead in her tracks and began to listen to the soundscape of the exhibition. It reminded him of the nature trips students take near the South Bronx with a non-profit organization – Shake the boat – of which it is trustee.

Inspiration struck just as Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and chief curator of the park reserve, passed by.

“Hello, I know this is crazy,” Murphy recalls. “But I would like to take your trees.”

Shake the boat is a non-profit organization that teaches Hunts Point students about the great outdoors by building wooden boats and sailing them. The organization often sources wood through donations, and after Murphy asked the Madison Square Park Conservatory about taking the trees, Rapaport and the artist agreed.

The Conservatory devoted part of its budget to hiring Tri-Lox, a Brooklyn workshop specializing in wood. On Friday, a carpentry crew arrived at the park with a portable sawmill. As they were chopping down the trees and removing the bark, nearly a dozen students involved in Rocking the Boat watched and learned.

“This is the first time we’ve seen how the trees are harvested,” said Mouctar Barry, 16, of Hunts Point in the Bronx. He joined the group three years ago for an after-school program and has grown to love working on boats. Like many students, he was unfamiliar with Lin’s work until he learned of his gift. Then he began researching the artist’s other monuments and sculptures.

“It’s interesting how she harvested trees, and now we’re using them,” Barry said. “We give trees new life and new meaning. “

The situation was certainly unusual for the Madison Square Park Conservancy. “This is the first time that a work of art has not left the park in one piece,” said Tom Reidy, the conservation worker who organized the removal.

As the lumber passed through the park’s portable sawmill, Rapaport reflected on his long journey and his final destination. “Atlantic white cedars have great resilience,” she said. “They were from a dying forest. They stood in Madison Square Park as symbols and signs for six months to demonstrate the physical materiality of climate change. And now they are reused with new meaning.

On Monday, the teenagers were at the workshop.

“We don’t want it to sink,” said Joshua Garcia, 17, as he described how he added wood to the 28-foot boat in front of him. The teens had to scarf and rivet the wood, carefully tilt each plank, and seal the frame with paint. Completion of the boat – the first of five using the wood from Lin’s artwork – will take around a year and will have been completed by around 20 teenagers.

Rocking the Boat began as a volunteer project in 1995 when its founder, Adam Green, began working with students at a high school in East Harlem. After migrating to the upscale Bronx a year later, Rocking the Boat has developed after-school and summer programs that often take students to nature. The organization also provides social services, academic tutoring and career planning; some participants pursued careers in carpentry and marine biology, or obtained degrees in environmental engineering.

Green said the students start by building the spine of the boat. The cedar planks are individually shaped and attached to this kind of skeleton until the hull is complete. Stem and stern reinforcement then comes with oak outlets and a ribbed frame providing support. (The rest of the boat is cedar.) The interior is then fitted with floors and seats; students also make their oars by hand and complete the project by naming their boat and decorating it with paint.

By next summer, the boat containing elements of Lin’s artwork will make its maiden voyage, passing the salt marsh banks near its launch pad and into the Bronx River where herons and egrets soar. above water. “The South Bronx is a deeply underfunded community, but has a huge natural resource in the river that can improve people’s lives,” Green said. “Our role is to connect the neighborhood to water.

The teenagers working on the boat this week intend to stick around for this first run down the river.

“When I work on boats, I’m in my happy place,” said Deborah Simmons, 17, an apprentice in the woodworking shop as she sanded another board. “I’m just going to go. I let myself sink into the wood. I am in the area.


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