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Group hoping to raise money for Summer Night Tree restoration

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By Brad Flory – Exponent special writer

Summer Night Tree, a black metal sculpture that is Jackson’s most revered and most ridiculed piece of public art, is in line for a facelift.

A fundraising drive to restore and protect the 10-ton piece was launched in September, when City Council approved a fiduciary agreement designating Ella Sharp Museum to collect and hold money.

Donors will be asked to finance resurfacing of the city-owned sculpture to museum standards. Pitting, fading, and corrosion will be removed and new paint and finish coatings applied. The cost is estimated at $25,000 to $40,000.

The Jackson Public Arts Commission expects restoration will last three decades to preserve the artwork created in 1978 by internationally renowned sculptor Louise Nevelson.

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“There is no denying the cultural impact that Summer Night Tree has made in our community,” said Janet Meyer-Jackman, former chairwoman of JPAC and head of the Summer Night Tree restoration project.

“Whether you like the piece or not, its global significance brings much cultural recognition to Jackson.”

The sculpture is said to be worth $4 million and is promoted as an attraction for art-loving visitors. However, Jackson residents have nurtured a love-hate relationship with Summer Night Tree for two generations.

Nevelson’s work was created specifically for Jackson and was originally installed, with great fanfare, on an expansive lawn in front of a downtown hotel. The piece was commissioned with $152,000 raised from local donors and the National Endowment for the Arts. With inflation, the initial cost would today equal more than $560,000.

From the start, many Jackson residents held the sculpture in low esteem, calling it ugly.

Former Mayor Betty Granger once said, “I don’t know of anybody who likes it.”

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Summer Night Tree suffered the indignity of being moved into storage in 1999, when its grassy site was turned into a parking lot.  It was reinstalled in 2001 near East Michigan Avenue and North Francis Street, where it remains today. It was hit by a car in 2009.

JPAC reports that Summer Night Tree has not been “restored or cared for” since 1993, when it received a coat of black paint.

A 21-page report from an art-restoration firm says the “coatings have failed extensively,” leading to corrosion and other problems.

Meyer-Jackman said need for restoration is heightened at the current site, where Summer Night Tree is pinged by stones and, in winter, splashed by salt spray thrown from vehicles.

​“They will take it down to bare metal, clean it totally, and apply a new coating,” she said. “It should not have to be restored again for 30 years.”

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Organizers hope to complete fundraising fast enough to do the work next spring. No one expects City Hall to contribute taxpayer dollars.

“Our goal is to not use any tax dollars, because no tax dollars were used to bring Summer Night Tree to Jackson,” Meyer-Jackman said. “It was a gift to the city.”

Anyone interested in donating to the restoration should contact Ella Sharp Museum.

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