For many artists today, it is common to be inspired by creative individuals who lived in different eras or worked in different mediums. But for Jayson Fann, inspiration comes from an entirely different species.
Since he was a child growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Fann has been gathering wood to create nests. Fascinated by the intersection between art and nature, Fann honed his skills over the years and eventually began developing large-scale structures known Spirit Nests.
Now, Fann is commissioned to build a Spirit Nest at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont. Located near the Pines Picnic Area at Bernheim, the instillation will serve as a dynamic art experience and as a staging area for storytelling, musical performances and educational programming.
“Jayson Fann represents what is exciting and relevant with contemporary sculpture,” Bernheim Arts in Nature Curator Jenny Zeller said. “Bernheim will bring Jayson’s work to Clermont, Kentucky, and the Greater Louisville region for the first time, keeping Bernheim at the forefront of popularizing public art in Kentucky and increasing the region’s cultural vitality.”
Based in Big Sur, California, Fann said he honed his craft while serving as an art director for a cultural center known as the Big Sur Spirit Garden, where he created several structures for visitors to engage with while enjoying concerts, multi-cultural educational programs and other events.
“My nests really developed into this living theater of cultural information and a bit of a crossroads where people from all over the world could meet and share their work,” Fann said.
Over the years, Fann has created more than 50 Spirit Nests across the U.S. and in multiple countries. Some of his notable commissions include the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Basalt Public Library in Colorado.
When creating his Spirit Nests, Fann largely uses wood sourced from habitat restoration and maintenance projects in California. He said eucalyptus is a wood commonly used in his projects.
“There’s a tremendous amount of eucalyptus that just gets chipped and put into landfills so I intercept that wood before it gets to the landfill and I build a lot of my sculptures with it,” he said.
For the sculpture he is developing at Bernheim, Fann said he created a eucalyptus substructure for the nest in California, which was shipped to Clermont. Building off of the substructure, Fann is using wood from trees at Bernheim that have fallen because of natural conditions. He said the Spirit Nest at Bernheim is a combination of at least 10 different types of wood.
Throughout the process, Fann said he has used the help of Bernheim staff members and volunteers, along with local craftsmen.
“Being in a place with such a long history of conservation and education, this is exactly the kind of environment I like to work in as a naturalist and an educator,” Fann said. “It’s completely congruent with my values.”
The installation also includes an approximately 500-pound drum made from a hollowed maple tree. The drum also includes natural cedar pegs for tuning and a head made of buffalo skin, Fann said.
A professional percussionist, Fann said he has made several percussion instruments from materials found in nature over the years. He has performed with several ensembles, including the San Bernardino Symphony, the Oakland Symphony and in the Monterey Symphony with renowned composer John Wineglass.
“My work is really about an integration between music, nature and art and where all of those really broad spaces intersect,” he said.
On Saturday, a grand opening celebration will take place for the Spirit Nest at Bernheim. Held in partnership with Kentucky Refugee Ministries, the event includes information from Fann on the process and philosophy behind the Spirit Nest, along with an eclectic lineup of musical performances.
Set for 3 to 6 p.m., the event is free and open to the public.
Fann said the Spirit Nest at Bernheim is one of 12 art instillations he plans to complete this summer across the country, noting that all of the organizations he is working with emphasize nature education and conservation, along with cultural programming. He said he sees these efforts as a way to increase cultural and ecological literacy in areas throughout the country.
“We are essentially creating a bit of a network between organizations so that people can cross-pollinate and really inspire each other’s work,” he said.