“A treehouse, a free house, a secret you and me house …” wrote the famed poet of childhood Shel Silverstein. For those lucky enough to have spent childhood playing in a treehouse or fort, the memories reveal the value of these secret hideaways in children’s lives. For those who weren’t fortunate enough to have a treehouse escape, here’s your chance: Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville invites you to explore and enjoy seven whimsical treehouses as part of their annual summertime family exhibit.
What: Treehouses: Great Works of Literature Exhibit
When: Running through Sept. 3
Where: Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville
For more information: 615-356-8000 or www.cheekwood.org
Treehouses: Great Works of Literature features large-scale outdoor treehouse structures inspired by great works of literature throughout the ages.
“These treehouses are more than you would imagine a treehouse could be,” Leigh Anne Lomax, Cheekwood Botanical Garden horticulture manager, said. “Each one is interactive, very well thought out and brings literature to life.”
The treehouse exhibit is the result of a contest that Cheekwood held in January in conjunction with the Middle Tennessee chapter of the American Institute of Architects in an effort to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Cheekwood’s first summer exhibit, Terrific Treehouses. Judges selected seven designs from 27 entries by Nashville-area architecture firms.
Treehouse construction began in April 2012, and the exhibit opened to the public in May.
According to Lomax, the treehouses have been a hit with all ages. A record-breaking 60,000 people have visited Cheekwood this summer, and she said many guests return again and again to spend time in the treehouses.
Seven treehouse structures situated along walking paths at Cheekwood invite children and adults of all abilities to explore, imagine and enjoy time outdoors.
A few of the whimsical works of art include the following:
The Rainbow Fish Treehouse, designed by Tuck-Hinton Architects, is inspired by Mark Pfister’s 1992 children’s book of the same name: "The Rainbow Fish shared his scales left and right, and the more he gave away, the more delighted he became. When the water around him filled with glimmering scales, he at last felt at home among the other fish."
Guests enter The Rainbow Fish Treehouse through the mouth of a giant fish on a ramp. From inside, guests can peer down to the water’s edge to see their own reflections. Shiny, detachable scales within the structure can be “shared” with other smaller fish within the landscape.
The Jolly Ranger Treehouse, designed by ESa, brings to life Captain Hook’s infamous ship from the century-old novel “Peter and Wendy” by J.M. Barrie: “One green light squinting over Kidd's Creek, which is near the mouth of the pirate river, marked where the brig, the Jolly Roger, lay, low in the water; a rakish-looking craft foul to the hull .… She was the cannibal of the seas, and scarce needed that watchful eye, for she floated immune in the horror of her name.”
Visitors can turn the ship’s wheel to change the direction of the compass, and cannon sights reveal painted images depicting scenes from the book.
Walden Treehouse, designed by Pfeffer Torode Architecture, is a romantic, back-to-nature retreat inspired by the introspective words of Henry David Thoreau in his book 1854 book, “Walden,” which details his experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond in Massachusetts: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Up and Down Again, A Hobbit's Tale Treehouse, designed by Takuma Johnson, Max Plummer and PLAD Studio, features an underground retreat, slide, living wall, wooden fort and more from the underground fantasy world of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien: "There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something."
The inviting form emerges from the ground, wraps between two trees and reaches for an adjacent pond, offering visitors the opportunity to explore secret passages, climb, slide and experience the world from both above and below.
The Conch House Treehouse, designed by Anne Daigh Landscape Architect and Pfeffer Torode Architecture, features a giant canvas shell to represent the symbol of democracy, leadership and purity among the self-governing group of deserted boys in “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding’s famous 1954 novel: "His ordinary voice sounded like a whisper after the harsh note of the conch. He laid the conch against his lips, took a deep breath and blew once more. The note boomed again: and then at his firmer pressure, the note, fluking up an octave, became a strident blare more penetrating than before."
Visitors are encouraged to assemble before entering The Conch House in order to create rules for their own “tribe.” Inside, the first person to reach the top platform blows the horn and becomes “chief.”
Treehouses: Great Works of Literature will run through Sept. 3. At that time, the treehouses will be disassembled, all except one: Walden.
“An anonymous donor purchased the Walden Treehouse and donated it to Cheekwood, so we will keep that one on exhibit,” Lomax said.
The future of the other six treehouses remains unknown, Lomax said, and anyone interested in information about their fate can contact the designers.
For more information about Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art and the Treehouses: Great Works of Literature Exhibit, visit www.cheekwood.org or call 615-356-8000.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist living on Walden’s Ridge. She enjoys writing about the natural world and exploration opportunities found within the southeastern United States, one of the most biologically and recreationally rich regions on Earth. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.
Updated @ 12:17 p.m. on 07/24/12 to correct a factual error. The article originally listed the ramp leading into The Rainbow Fish Treehouse as ADA-compliant, which was misinformation.