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Creation of the Garden of Stones at Cornell Plantations

In June 2004, a crane unloaded four oval granite boulders from a truck and laid them in a field on the southeast corner of the F.R. Newman Arboretum at Cornell Plantations. Three of the boulders, each ranging from 4 to 8 tons, were hollow in the middle. The fourth was intact.

The boulders are an extension of the Garden of Stones exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. The installation at Plantations, which honors victims of the Holocaust, is on loan indefinitely from the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

“The exhibit serves as a very powerful symbol of how art and nature can be combined to remind us of our common humanity and our often-difficult history,” said Donald A. Rakow, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations.

Andy Goldsworthy, whose art is characterized by spare, simple shapes made from natural materials such as leaves and stones, was an A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell from 2000 to 2008.  The British artist is well-known for his use of stones, leaves, wood and water, among other materials, to create art pieces.

Thomas Whitlow, Cornell associate professor of horticulture, and other faculty members and students played a key role in advising Goldsworthy on the type of tree to use, the type of stone, and on coring and creating an irrigation system through the rock. The dwarf chestnut oak (Quercus prinoides) only grows about 10 feet tall, is more like a shrub than a tree, often has more than one stem and can live for hundreds of years. “Over decades, the trees will grow and change the virtual impact that the sculpture has,” Whitlow said.

As the trees grow, their roots will fuse to the stone. The soil and clay that fill the hollow of each rock also extend down beneath the rocks. Goldsworthy hopes the roots eventually will grow through the rock down into the ground. “The stones are not mere containers,” he wrote. “The partnership between tree and stone will be stronger for the tree having grown from the stone, rather than being stuck in it.”

Goldsworthy said he chose the granite stones because they “have had a long and, at times, violent past.” The stones, formed by fire within the earth, traveled up to the surface where they were carried and worn down by glaciers, moved by New England farmers and trucked to New York City and Ithaca. The boulders are on loan to Cornell at Goldsworthy’s suggestion.