Michael Marras’ Akron Tree Project is, in a way, giving back to nature what we’ve taken from it. About 75 percent of the giant tree affixed to the west wall of Hazel Tree Interiors is made from recycled materials, items that were once sought after only to be discarded and cast aside.
“It’s all stuff that at one point in time was very special and high-tech and state-of-the-art and we had to have it and it’s trashed, scrapped and forgotten,” says Marras, a sculptor who was a runner-up in last year’s Akron Art Prize. “I’m getting those things that are so important that we probably destroyed a lot of habitats and wildlife to create, which we then tossed to the side after so many years. Because of our consumption and our need to constantly redefine ourselves through many means of growth is the reason I’m able to do what I do because there’s just so much waste floating around.”
The tree’s trunk weighs 300 to 500 pounds, and is made using parts from an old TV antenna tower, with thinner gauge steel branches and aluminum pieces serving as the leaves. Rust is also incorporated into the color palette of this sculpture. While rust is a contaminant and difficult to predict or control, Marras allowed the pieces of this tree to submit to the elements and add to the patina.
“With this it worked out great because I got that tree look in the rust, so I was able to utilize what would naturally happen in the metal to play off the aesthetics of a tree,” he adds.
This is Marras’ first large-scale public piece, but he’s become well known in Akron for his vivid and lifelike steel sculptures, one of which earned him a runner up award in last year’s Akron Art Prize.
While the public sculpture is massive, Marras kept portability in mind in case it needs transported anywhere in the future. “I wanted to design it so that just a few people could install it and it could be removed easily as well by just a couple people and one piece of machinery.”
Marras has become known in Akron for his lifelike sculptures made from scrap materials, many of them part of a larger story and screenplay Marras has been developing for some time. Believe it or not, the tree also fits into this storyline.
His work follows in the footsteps of other Akron found art sculptors — people like PR Miller and John Comunale. The industrial materials of these artists are relics of our Rust Belt skin that once identified this sense of place. And these same materials can now find new purpose as this local art movement picks up steam.
Marras’ work stands out from these comparisons, however, because he implements painstaking detail of human anatomy to give his sculptures an elegance that seems to contradict the form. Even the way the sculptures are posed give the viewer the sense that they could spring to life at any moment.
His characters are vivid, with their own identities and back stories.
The Akron Tree Project was the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign last year. The sculpture is located at 143 W. Market St. For more info about Marras’ work, visit mwmarras.com.