Living Tapestry is a temporary outdoor site installation designed to bring attention to the ecology of the Mystic River shoreline and raise awareness of future improvements planned for Blessing of the Bay Park. The project is comprised of 72 woven rings of bittersweet vine, each painted a color to represent the existing tree species in the park. The purpose of the communication project is two-fold: First, the fabrication and installation of the project was completed over 6 separate community events, to spread the word about the park schematic design process taking place and to create energy around opportunities for future park improvements. The second installation objective was to educate the community about the vegetation on site to understand how future park improvements could influence its ecological trajectory.
The Blessing of the Bay Park in Somerville is on the cusp of a transition from a non-descript and underutilized park, to an ecologically and programmatically diverse landscape. In 2018, a community driven schematic plan was created with the goal of transforming this 1/2 mile stretch of the Mystic River over the next decade. When the site analysis was completed, an inventory of tree species revealed that trees planted within the upland park area have reproduced and colonized the riverbank, creating a dense canopy of non-native Lindens and Norway Maples. While the river’s edge appears lush and healthy, it is made up of large swaths non-native trees that moved in from seed sources planted at the park. To illuminate the need for diverse and native plantings along the river corridor and to foster ongoing community engagement and ownership of the park development process, the designers created Living Tapestry. Each tree originally planted on the existing park site is represented with one woven ring in the tapestry. The vivid colors represent the tree species, illustrating the dominant species in the park planting. Signage along-side the installation provides a key to the vegetation and describes how the species have spread and the adverse effects of invasive species. In addition to the ecological message, the installation creates a whimsical display of color as a preliminary design intervention, drawing users’ attention to the boathouse and its newly expanded programming.
The project was a pro-bono effort by Offshoots, as a follow-up to the formal park schematic planning process. The design was brought to fruition collaboratively with the local artist Carolyn Lewenberg in collaboration with the Mystic River Watershed Association. Six public community events were organized to create the installation. Volunteers collected bittersweet vines along the Mystic River (helping combat the invasive species,) and wove them by hand to create one ring per tree. Student groups used water-based eco-paints to color code the rings, which were then woven together to create a fabric made up and displayed on site throughout the summer and fall months. In order to maximize engagement, the project was displayed at the heavily used boathouse in full view of the passing cars, bike commuters, dog walkers, rowers, and the community events that happen in the park. In the winter, the piece was transferred indoors to a local art gallery where it was included in an exhibit showcasing artwork that visualizes data in an accessible way. While Living Tapestry represents a single quantifiable moment in time, it also highlights the ongoing impact of human and natural processes in the landscape. The design decisions we make today, even in decisions as innocuous as plant selection, will continue to create ongoing change in the landscape. Through selection of appropriate plants, we can contribute to the preservation and diversity of our natural systems.