Reforestation of the Imagination

June 28, 2019 – January 5, 2020

Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)
This is an image of a flower coming out of a tree trunk

Reforestation of the Imagination, Ginny Ruffner with digital collaborator Grant Kirkpatrick; 2018; fiberglass, foam, sand, paint, glass, augmented reality; size: variable; courtesy of the artists © Ginny Ruffner, Photography by Fiona McGuigan

“This is nature reimagining itself. The imagination can’t be exterminated. It just recreates itself.”

—Ginny Ruffner

Ginny Ruffner (b. 1952) is an artist best known for her elegant sculptures and mastery of glass techniques. Recently, she has created work that combines traditional glass sculpture with Augmented Reality (AR) technology to create an interactive viewer experience. Visitors to the exhibition Reforestation of the Imagination will use a downloadable app that superimposes digital information over seemingly barren sculptures, creating two distinct realities to explore.

The installation consists of five islands, each featuring colorless glass sculptures of tree stumps. The landscape appears barren and bleak. Ruffner has imagined a gloriously complex and colorful alternative environment that viewers can access using AR’s technological lens. In this second reality, the stumps grow unique appendages of mythical flora. Ruffner designs these fictional species to adapt to their surrounding conditions in a means unexpected, beautiful, and optimistic. These plants have evolved from existing fruits and flowers, developing dramatic appendages and skills necessary to flourish in this radically different environment. Reforestation of the Imagination calls into question our very notions of reality and fantasy, of concrete and abstract, and of desolation and hope, all while drawing attention to contemporary ecological issues. The installation also includes fourteen drawings that were the inspiration for the AR images.

Reforestation of the Imagination is a collaboration with Grant Kirkpatrick, a Seattle-based animator and media artist.

Ginny Ruffner currently resides in Seattle, Washington where she moved in 1984 to teach at the influential Pilchuck Glass School, founded by Dale Chihuly fifty miles north of Seattle in Stanwood. Originally a rustic summer camp where artists taught artists nestled in the foothills of the Cascade mountains, it is now a world-renowned glass school. Her work is in over forty museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Renwick Gallery, and she has produced numerous public art commissions. She was the subject of an award-winning feature length documentary, “A Not So Still Life” in 2010, chronicling her artistic journey after a life altering, physically debilitating car accident.

Reforestation of the Imagination is the latest project at the Renwick Gallery to explore an expanded definition of contemporary craft and new technologies. It was first shown at MadArt Studio in Seattle from January to March 2018.


Reforestation of the Imagination is organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by Kim and Jon Shirley Foundation, and Myra and Harold Weiss.