Healing Sculpture

MY APPROACH to creating art relies on the interplay of restoration science and the creative process. As an artist interested in our cultural conditions, I want to do more than witness and document the changes in our urban and rural landscapes. I want my sculptures to have a part in restoring the ecological balance of compromised environments. With the watershed as venue, open spaces, urban waterways, wilderness areas, and rural and agricultural lands become the unlikely sites for my work.

I build my sculptures by weaving together branches and cuttings from riparian plants taken directly from the watershed. Shown initially in art galleries, the sculptures suggest nature not only through the materials used, but also in construction, form, and gesture — they are sized to fit the curves of eroded stream banks and gullies. Later, I install them in the watershed by staking them to the land with cuttings from rapidly growing native plants, most often willow and cottonwood saplings that re-establish quickly.

Once placed in damaged gullies and stream banks, the sculptures act as silt traps that collect eroded soil and runoff. The traps allow cleaner flows downstream by filtering silt that would suffocate the eggs of spawning salmon and steelhead if left to flow into the stream during the winter rains.

Most of my installations also include elements of community education and participation that serve to inform people about the natural systems at work in the lands surrounding their communities. The sculptures are my response to mixed cultural relationships with the land, such as ranching, agriculture, tourism, and increasing development — all of which have adverse impacts on riparian ecosystems.

As the restoration process begins, the sculptures start to break down, leaving behind thriving groves of willow and other riparian plants. Eventually they disappear completely, and a succession of erosion-controlling growth takes hold and stabilizes the stream bank. In time, the artist’s presence, absorbed by the recovering watershed, is no longer apparent.

Daniel McCormick’s sculptures have been installed in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the lower Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, and other watersheds throughout the country.


  1. what beautiful thoughtfully conceived and constructed work. Im glad to know of Mr McCormick’s art, and I especially like the way his art turns back to the earth, his source of inspiration, leaving it better off than it was before.

  2. If art is a way of living then all of what we do should be restorative, a return to balance. Resurrection, one might call it.
    I think McCormick’s work is praiseworthy.

  3. The spiritual quality of your work serves as a living, then vanishing, ideal. And yet it never really disappears. Something better takes its place; a breathing, functioning, healthier space for all concerned. If that isn’t the essence of art in its finest hour, I can’t conceive of what would be. Thanks!

  4. Beautiful! I love art that has a real relationship with its environment, like Buster Keaton’s work. McCormick’s work speaks of hope and reconnection in many senses, and is a perfect example of the positive movements our world needs so desperately. Thank you.

  5. What a wonderful vision. Since hearing Adam Werbach’s thoughts on enviromentalism I’ve come to appreciate vision as much or more than action. Action is important, but the correct action is more important than just any action. Your work combines both. Well done! You are an inspiration.

  6. In truth, life is art, every moment is an artful or seemingly artless moment. We are a natural part of life’s/art’s landscape along with all other living things animate & inanimate. How to get the thinking into the mainframe of our actions. How to redefine the thinking behind the moments one after the other. Children do it until they learn how not to think of it or do it. I enjoyed everyone’s thoughtful comments. Mr. McCormick’s art is much needed these days. How to remember our own nature. We only need to tip the balance. Nature needs us to help it now.

  7. Renaissance artists had the de Medicis and other patrons. How fitting in this carbon footprinted era if enviromental good becomes the patron and nature itself the gallery walls for eco-creative visionaries like McCormick. May this school of art catch on everywhere public resources might go to encourage artists to help secure the environment so beautifully.

  8. I love the concept that a work of art doesn’t have to last generations simply to inspire thought and discussion. Mr. McCormick’s art doesn’t need humongous museums, complete with staff to explain it nor the infrastructure to protect and preserve it. Instead, what he has made is art that will change as the environment changes, leaving in the end a restored piece of an ecosystem, indestinguishable as a work of art, but one nonetheless!

  9. Cool! This type of installation of useful art as restorative action is another loving and lovely example of a new way of thinking about all those subjects: art, environment, action, and restoration. It is akin to the recently recognized “rain gardens” and constructed wetlands as artful yet utilitarian methods of honouring the Earth’s processes of Nature, and acting in a knowledgeable and benevolent manner, creating a positive effect. Thank you for the art, and the idea. My favourite art is of the utilitarian kind, and this is one of my favourite examples to date (on a par with the Arcata Marsh in northern CA). Good job well done!

  10. I am working on an urban stream restoration project for my undergrad thesis and thought this would be a great idea to incorporate. It appears to have the ability to serve as an erosion mechanism, utilizing something other than geo-textiles and brush layering. Crossing disciplines this would include art and sculpture students as well as environmental science, biology and geology. It is wonderful to see such innovative ideas being published. Cheers.

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