Alison Saar was born in Los Angeles in 1956 to a well-known African American artist, Betye Saar, and an art conservationist, Richard Saar. Alison became a sculptor. Saar earned her B.A. from Scripps College in California and an M.F.A. from Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles. She began making sculpture that focused on the theme of cultures of the African heritage. Her work has been exhibited and is represented in collections including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Studio Museum in Harlem and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
The sculpture she created for Laumeier was carved before it was given its name, while perusing a book on mythology, Saar discovered Leelinau, a North American Indian legend, the story spoke to her work and gave her sculpture its name. It was added to Laumeier Sculpture Park’s collection in 1997. Saar learned of the ledgend of Leelinau. She was attracted to a nearby sacred grove that was inhabited by spirits and fairies.
Leelinau loved the solitude of the forest. Her parents arranged for her marriage but she was quite distressed and went to the woods to find solace. Leaning up against a tree, she heard the voice of a tree spirit whispering to her. Leaving her family and friends. Leelinau, on the eve of her wedding day, fled to the arms of the Tree Spirit instead of meeting the man her parents had chosen, Leelinau, which means delight of life. Saar intended that the wooden female figure and the oak tree would increasingly becoming one over time through natural degradation.
Tragically, Leelinau fell from her perch high in a tree located in a special place along one of the trails at the Laumeier Sculpture Park. At a recent meeting of docents at Laumeier, there was a sigh of relief and some bittersweet laughter about the ephermeral nature of life and art. And so we mourn the loss of treasure hidden away at our jewel – part park – part museum – all St. Louis.
(above) Leelinau in better days was installed in the height of an oak tree along a trail at Laumeier Sculpture park, Now on the heels of the Mother's Day Art Fair in May of 2015 she lies in pieces (middle) and a last peek of the wire hair with leaf detail (bottom). Below: Laumeier e-newsletter in February 2016 copy.
WHERE DID THEY GO?
Alison Saar, Leelinau, 1997
Alison Saar's Leelinau, 1997, formerly located in Laumeier's Eastern Woodland, was inspired by the legend of Leelinau, a North American Indian girl who was enticed by the sacred wood inhabited by spirits and fairies. Growing up, Leelinau preferred the solitude of the forest to the company of people, so she escaped to the woods for comfort when her parents arranged her marriage to an older man. There, she heard the voice of a tree spirit whispering to her, asking her leave her family and follow him. On the eve of her wedding, Leelinau retreated to the sacred wood to be with the tree spirit forever. Fragments of lore and myth like this one, as well as the customs from culturally diverse backgrounds, echo in Saar's powerful artworks.
Leelinau was hung upon the side of a tree along the Art Hike Trail, with her long hair hanging almost fourteen feet from the top of her head. Saar intended for Leelinau to be an ephemeral artwork which would decay with exposure to the elements over time, and the artist confirmed this intention during her 2014 visit to Laumeier. In May 2015, a storm destroyed Leelinau past the point of repair, and she was respectfully de-commissioned from Laumeier's collection on her 18th birthday.
Kelsey McGinnis, Graduate Research Assistant