HIDDEN GEM: Surreal sculpture tucked in Dayton MetroPark frames hikers’ view of the prairie

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

From a distance, a passerby might mistake it for simply two peculiar-shaped trees poking through the Possum Creek horizon. But a closer look reveals something much more extraordinary.

Anchored in the waving grasses of Jean V. Woodhull Prairie at Possum Creek MetroPark, the “I Invite You” sculpture is a lesser-known treasure of Dayton’s parks. It was gifted to the park in spring of 2005 by Vermont artist Herb Ferris.

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

The sculpture is located on a short footpath in the prairie, a 100-foot detour from the 1.3-mile yellow trail loop.

Made of wood from an eastern white pine, the arches have a carved channel that has been covered with 28-carat gold leaf that “throws light,” especially at dusk. The arches frame the view of the prairie and, in the distance, the lake.

When gifting the piece to the park, Ferris wrote a letter to the then-regional manager of the southwest area of Five Rivers MetroParks, Jim Martin, telling the story of the sculpture and why it belonged in Dayton.

“I started these larger sculpture projects in 1998 with a 32-foot curving tree, which I made into what is called a torii in Japan,” Ferris wrote. “Toriis mark the entrances to special places. I placed the torii at the base of Mount Ascutney on a dairy farm where I live in eastern Vermont, near the Connecticut River. I wanted to make a thank you present for this land.”

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

The land that Ferris lived on had been farmed for 200 years.

“The torii is set with the mountain behind it on the edge of one of the hayfields," Ferris wrote. “When I say all this in the art community, I get blank looks, but it has made perfect sense to people as they drive by and ask me what I am doing, working on the enormous log. As my neighbor said, ‘Oh, it’s a gate to the mountain.'”

Hikers at Possum Creek get an idea of the Vermont mountain view when they see the Midwest’s take on Ferris’s vision. It’s a surreal feeling of being lifted above the prairie when standing beneath the stretching, curved trunks.

A logger in Vermont contacted Ferris after hearing the artist made large works of art from the curving trees called “sweeps” by people who work with woods.

Lining the cuts of the tree so that the curves precisely met on the same plane was no easy feat. Once the cuts were made, Ferris first opened up the torii at a sculpture park in Woodstock, Vermont.

On the night of opening, a full moon came into the space between the arms. The sight, Ferris said, was fantastic.

“At about 40 feet away, walking toward it, the arms begin to soar up,” Ferris wrote. “As you get closer, they hold sky. In all seasons, they almost lose their connection to the ground, your connection to the ground, and invite you to look up. You become the connection between the earth and sky.”

Like giving thanks to the land that his home sat on, Ferris wanted to give the sculpture a home in Possum Creek as a thank you to the prairie’s namesake, Jean Woodhull.

In 1962, Woodhull was instrumental in the creation of MetroParks, according to Five Rivers.

“I’m very pleased that it will be in Dayton and will honor a woman who has consistently insisted on connecting the city to the river, to the trees and to the prairie,” Ferris wrote upon gifting the sculpture.

“Everything in the form connects people to the land and sky,” Ferris wrote. “Sometimes we think of nature as separate from ourselves, but of course, we are not separate, and this sculpture is a happy reminder of that fact."

More information on Ferris and his other works can be found at www.herbferris.com. Possum Creek MetroPark is located at 4790 Frytown Rd. in Dayton.

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

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