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The Boca Museum Of Art Is Making Admission Free In July So People Can Craft A Banyan From Newspaper

Madeline Fox
Artist Maren Hassinger (left) shows volunteers how to twist newspaper strips so they resemble the aerial roots of a banyan tree.

The Tree of Knowledge, a giant banyan tree and major landmark of Boca Raton’s historically black Pearl City neighborhood, has stood for at least 100 years.

An artist’s rendering of the tree for the Boca Raton Museum of Art, with its air roots fashioned from twisted newspaper, won’t stand for nearly as long. But artist Maren Hassinger hopes her project will still serve as a community gathering place, and a point of connection, in the same way as the banyan it’s modeled after.

Credit Madeline Fox / WLRN
The museum hung some newspaper strips and twisted cords of paper in one of its galleries to give visitors a feel for what Hassinger's Tree of Knowledge project will look like.

“In other communities, the trees are decorative,” she said. “Here's a community where the centerpiece is this tree.”

Hassinger isn’t delivering a fully-finished art project to the museum. She wants members of the community to come help finish the tree with her by shaping its branches.

This desire to make it a community art project led her to the Boca Museum on a recent Monday, on a day when it’s typically closed. She directed a small group of volunteers gathered around tables set up in the lobby in how to craft the tree’s strands.

At Hassinger’s direction, they tore copies of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel into strips, then twisted each strip until it formed a coiled rope of newspaper. They then tied ten strips together using simple square knots, forming longer strands of newspaper reminiscent of the banyan’s aerial roots.

There was a group of soon-to-be high school juniors twisting paper to get closer to the 100 hours needed for one of the state’s Bright Futures scholarships. There were older, retired couples and singles. And there were people in between the two, like Lola Shoyinka.

She lives in Boca Raton, and loves working with her hands. She said she’s done mosaics, sewing and other crafts.

“I like anything tactile, so this is just an extension of that for me,” she said as she twisted newspaper strips.

Credit Madeline Fox / WLRN
Lola Shoyinka twists a strip of paper from a copy of the Sun-Sentinel into a narrow cord.

The volunteers will teach community members how to twist the branches together while Hassinger is back in New York, where she lives. Admission to the museum, usually $10-12 for adults, will be free for the entire month of July so visitors can add pieces to the tree.

Irvin Lippman, the museum’s executive director, said he’s excited about the way Hassinger’s project is designed to get people more involved in their museum.

“Museums are very democratic, or they should be – that is with a little ‘D’,” he said. “I just love the participatory aspect of this exhibit.”

Hassinger, as a New Yorker, is not herself very familiar with Pearl City. When the museum asked her to do a piece inspired by the tree, she said, she and curator Kathleen Goncharov drove through the neighborhood and looked at the tree.

To fill in some of the gaps, she said she also wants to collect people’s personal histories of the neighborhood and its tree. She said her plan is to exhibit some of the stories they collect in written or verbal form, and perhaps through photographs.

“I hope that they will be able to come in and share some of their histories with the museum, and with me, and with each other,” she said.

The finished exhibit will be on display starting November 4th.

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