In the early 1960s, the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz had begun to earn an international reputation as a sculptor working with fibers, creating, for example, room size environments. Over the years, her work ranged from sculptural studies focusing on the powerful presence of a single figure to the resonance of crowds. She often thought in terms of cycles, both emotional and physical aspects of nature. When she visited Western in the spring of 1993, Abakanowicz chose the south end of campus as a site for Manus. Although the work was part of her Hand-like Trees series, she revealed her interest in linking the natural setting of the area, including the trees of Sehome Hill, with the human activity on campus. The 15-foot high sculpture is a unique piece made directly from the artist’s model on a one-to-one scale at the Venturi Art Foundry in Bologna, Italy.
“The idea of Hand-like Tree sculpture explores the similarity between different creations of nature. I see muscles and veins in the body of a tree, a spine, sometimes only visible while looking into a disintegrating or perished trunk. Its bark - wrinkled skin - each square inch differs from the other - the mystery of the organic world on our planet.
Nature does not pretend to make art, we do. What is the meaning of man’s sensitivity in comparison with nature’s wisdom?”
Now walk around the sculpture and look at the side facing the Wade King Student Recreational Center. From that view Abakanowicz said:
“I once saw hands stretched vertically, voting, protesting, manifesting. They were similar to branches moved by the wind. I saw trees with branches stretched in a pompous movement - still and frozen, but dramatic like hands.”