Into the Woods with Ann Morris and the College of Fine and Performing Arts
By Frances Badgett
Set among the rolling hills and verdant forests of Lummi Island, Sculpture Woods is a beautiful and tranquil oasis overlooking Rosario Strait. Noted artist Ann Morris developed the 14.5-acre property with an outdoor sculpture exhibit, an art studio and a tranquil yoga space. In 2018, Morris and her family generously gifted the grounds, studio and outdoor collection to the WWU Foundation. Sculpture Woods is a meaningful addition to Western’s art education curriculum and a complement to the Sculpture Collection on campus in Bellingham.
Morris says of her gift: “The gift of Sculpture Woods to Western Washington University Foundation is given in the hope of this place continuing to inspire creativity in all who come here, Western students, professors, the public. May it be a gift that continues giving.”
In 2019, the College of Fine and Performing Arts hosted “Strait Plays,” an immersive retreat for emerging playwrights who wrote and performed plays inspired by the island and the surroundings of Sculpture Woods. Professor of playwriting, dramaturgy, criticism and film at WWU, Kamarie Chapman, ’06, B.A., theatre, led the retreat, and six alumni participated. They performed their plays outdoors among the sculptures and trees that make Sculpture Woods special.
In the fall of 2020 during COVID isolation, Director of Dance Susan Haines was seeking innovative ways to practice and perform. Sculpture Woods provided the perfect location. Haines choreographed “the three graces” with the beautiful surroundings and sculptures as inspiration for the work. She and her peers rehearsed virtually over Zoom and then met at Sculpture Woods to perform. The performance allowed Haines and her peers to dance together for the first time in six months, and the performance was filmed as a video art project. The film of “the three graces” won the Best Dance Film (Short) at the Berlin Indie Film Festival in 2021.
With Morris’s generosity, Sculpture Woods will continue to feature more performances and workshops, inspiring future generations of Western students and faculty.
Morris moved to Lummi Island in the 1980s and by 1995 she completed Sculpture Woods. Her body of work ranges from her 16 large bronze figures to palm-sized delicate mixed media sculptures fashioned from small bits of twigs, rocks, and shells she finds on her travels and on the grounds of Sculpture Woods. Her recent work is a collection of sculptures called “Shelter” in which she has built reinterpretations of houses, nests, yurts, and other forms of shelter in delicate, open arrangements.
In her work, Morris explores the intimate relationship between humans and nature, and her 16 large works on the grounds of Sculpture Woods serve as a lush outdoor museum. Morris’s work has been shown in various galleries and private collections across the country.
“This is a transformational gift for Western on so many different levels and the Western Washington University Foundation is committed to maintaining it as a place of reflection, intrigue and inspiration,” said Kim O'Neill, vice president for University Advancement and president and CEO of the WWU Foundation. “We fully understand the importance of Sculpture Woods to Lummi Island and the greater Whatcom County community, and we will continue to be good and supportive neighbors. The Foundation takes very seriously our role as stewards of not only this land, but of the gifts that have been made to ensure its ongoing success.”