We are pleased to introduce Belwin’s 2021 Artist in Residence, Tom Bierlein. Tom is a Minneapolis-based sculptor, builder, and gardener who creates spaces to experience rest, connection, and reflection between people and the natural environment. You might remember Tom and his dirt sculptures from the 2019 Bison Festival. In 2020, Tom completed a Fellowship at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, Minn.

“I was driven to apply for the residency at Belwin because of my interest in Belwin’s mission, and the exceptional work in land restoration that is being done,” Bierlein says. “As an artist, I understand my expertise lies in the visual realm more than the scientific, and I felt a residency at Belwin could lead to a very strong collaborative experience as well as an educational one.”

For his Belwin residency, Tom created a living sculpture titled “The Coming Soil” at Belwin’s Creative Center. “’The Coming Soil’ offers space to witness the simultaneous decomposition and regenerative properties of a fallen tree,” Bierlein says. “Three shou sugi ban cedar walls accentuate the architecture of surrounding oak trees. Within this interior, the fallen aspen tree is a new ecosystem unto itself. Insects, lichen, and fungi all take their part in returning the tree back to the soil.”

“Shou Sugi Ban is a Japanese method of treating wood using fire,” Bierlein continues. “The charring of wood makes it more weather resistant, but it also reflects the method of restoration and maintenance for the oak savannah. I think the use of Shou Sugi Ban will draw out the connection between the prairie burnings on the land and the structure itself.”

“As a visual artist and gardener, I approach all of my work with the mindset of reciprocity, growth, and decay,” Bierlein says. “Working with natural materials that break down and grow over time such as soil, cedar, and plants, allows me to engage in a collaborative relationship with them, giving the material the room to be an active participant.”

“These works are constantly in a state of becoming, never completed upon the installation,” Bierlein says. “Calling upon the conceptual qualities of the Mono-Ha movement as well as the formal qualities of minimalism and landscape architecture, my work reduces forms to basic shapes and compositions to center the experience on the relationship between material, body, and place. Thank you to all Belwin staff for helping in the creation of this work!”

Variations on Becoming. 2020. Franconia Sculpture Park. Artist: Tom Bierlein.

Belwin Conservancy Executive Director Katie Bloome says, “We are excited to have Tom as Belwin’s 2021 Artist in Residence. We hope his installation will enhance the walking experience on the trails and spark curiosity and understanding about fungi and soil health.”

Thank you to everyone who applied for the 2021 Artist in Residency position at Belwin. And thank you to our selection panel which included past Belwin Artists in Residence as well as area artists and arts administrators such as Ta-coumsa Aiken, Kinji Akagawa, and Cindy Gehrig (also a Belwin Conservancy Board Member).

Follow Tom’s work and contact him: www.tombierlein.com and @tom_bierlein on Instagram.


Events related to Tom’s residency are made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Artist in Residence Arts, Culture, and Ecology

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