In 2021, Belwin Conservancy welcomed Tom Bierlein as its Artist in Residence. Tom is a Minneapolis-based sculptor, builder, and gardener. His works create spaces to experience rest, connection, and reflection between people and the natural environment. 

For his Belwin residency, Tom created a living sculpture titled “The Coming Soil” at Belwin’s Creative Center.

“My project at Belwin centered around the decaying of an old oak log via mushrooms,” Bierlein said. “The sculpture incorporates a Shou Sugi Ban treated wooden wall. That provides the log and fungus with shade, along with a seating element for people to sit within the space.” 

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

Tom Bierlein seated in front of his sculpture, The Coming Soil, at Belwin's Creative Center.

Sit Still

Belwin supporters viewed the installation in-progress during Saturdays on the Savanna, a donor-only event in summer 2021.

In October 2021, Bierlein held a workshop at Belwin’s Creative Center. Titled “Sit Still,” participants met with Tom and discussed his installation, “The Coming Soil.” Attendees then walked the trails, listening to the natural elements and recording what they heard around them.

“I was inspired by 4’33” by composer John Cage,” Bierlein said, referring to Cage’s 1952 composition that is commonly known as four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. 

“As a visual artist and gardener, I approach all of my work with the mindset of reciprocity, growth, and decay,” Bierlein said. “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 said. “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 everyone who applied for the 2021 Artist in Residency position at Belwin. Also, thanks to our selection panel composed of past Belwin Artists in Residence, 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: 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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