This season, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) is celebrating the power of the unseen with its theme, Roots: The Other Half of the Story. That celebration culminates with the opening of artist Steve Tobin’s exhibit, “Unearthed.” For the next year, visitors will be able not only to tour the gardens, but also to tour Tobin’s stunning, massive root sculptures.
Tobin’s pieces are staggering, and their impact is undeniable. Their subject matter, roots, is deliberate, illustrating structure, function and possibility. “His work is about structure and space working together to make the unseen seen, telling the story of a moment,” says Interpretation and Exhibits Coordinator, Vanessa Nesvig.
“These pieces,” Tobin adds, “because they’re so open, activate the space between the viewer, the sculptures and beyond. They invite in the surroundings, changing not only the way, but what the viewer sees—and that sight is ever-evolving.” Just as in nature, light and shadow are as much a part of the art as is the structure. “The sun hits the piece and makes shadows that change throughout the day,” Tobin explains. “The shadows are my drawings—you have to continually look at these pieces because they are constantly changing as seasons and light change.”
On the subject of light, Tobin’s exhibition will also be the first ever to be integrated into CMBG’s annual light show, Gardens Aglow. “It will be like painting with color,” says Tobin, “and with the winter light, the shadows will become the strong element, the structures otherworldly.”
That the sculptures have found their way to the Gardens and to Maine is fitting. Not only does Tobin have a long, personal history in Maine, in 2005, the Gardens acquired his sculpture, the perennially popular Pine Cone. “I love Maine,” Tobin says. “I love the light and shadow. The flora and fauna, the tide pools — they’re are all amazing inspirations. I would love to have more of my work permanently in Maine because of that light—that play of light and shadow is my ideal.”
If you’re interested in a visit, admission is free for all year-round residents of Lincoln County, Maine, on the first Wednesday of each month. Boothbay residents with a valid ID receive free admission on weekends.
Tobin has been called a “visual philosopher” by art critics; the Christian Science Monitor described his sculptures as “monuments to the meeting of science and art.” Tobin’s work has been exhibited globally, including the American Museum of Natural History, New York City; the United States Botanic Gardens, Washington D.C.; Chicago Morton Arboretum, Chicago; Burpee Seed Gardens, Pennsylvania; Calgary, Canada; Osaka, Japan and Shanghai, China. The sculptor works and resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.