Arts / Museums

Houston Botanic Garden Transformed By Giant Playful Sculptures That Channel the Natural World — Steve Tobin Keeps It Wild

Renowned 9/11 Artist Does Something Big in the Bayou City

BY // 04.14.23

World renowned sculptor Steve Tobin has transformed the Houston Botanic Garden into a wonderland of glass, steel and ceramic with his latest installation dubbed “Intertwined: Exploring Nature’s Networks.” Featuring 20 sculptures made from a variety of elements, this spectacle is inspired by the natural world as well as cultural and historical influences. 

Among the pieces is Dancing Steelroots, root-like shapes made from oil pipes that channel both dance movements and Japanese calligraphy. A two million pound shipment of angular steel pieces from a steel plant farm creates Bamboo, a structure that can move in the wind despite its imposing size. You can play amongst the Twisties, long, metallic spaghetti-like limbs made of repurposed pipes that twirl towards the sky.

Then, see yourself and the sky reflected in Head in the Clouds, round hammered steel cloud-like sculptures that sparkle and reflect the scenery around. 

“Intertwined” includes these and nine other distinct series of large-scale sculptures, some as tall as 30 feet. The collections are spread throughout the Houston Botanic Garden, inviting guests to explore both Intertwined and Houston’s diverse plant life simultaneously. 

Bronze Root_3_Houston Botanic Garden_Justin Lacey Photo
“Bronze Root” is made from wax poured into a mold of a root, then pieced together to recreate the original shape of the root. (Photo by Justin Lacey)

The Philadelphia-born Tobin does not come from a background in the arts. As a matter of fact, he studied theoretical mathematics at Tulane University. However, his education in math and physics translated seamlessly into his artistic career. It was through doing experiments in the physics department that he learned to work with metals, and through learning abstract math that he practiced thinking about and isolating variables.

“I don’t use any math beyond high school in (the art) I do,” Tobin tells PaperCity. “But I’ve learned how to think abstractly.”

"Head in the Clouds" at Houston Botanic Garden (Photo by Hung Truong)
“Head in the Clouds” at Houston Botanic Garden (Photo by Hung Truong)

Tobin has been shown in museums around the world and was featured on CNN for what is perhaps his best-known work: the 9/11 memorial Trinity Root. This is a 20-foot tall bronze sculpture created from the roots of the sycamore tree in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel that was destroyed during the attacks. However, he likes showing his work in gardens. 

“All of the pieces in this exhibition are distillations of nature — roots, clouds and sprouts,” Tobin says about the installation at Houston Botanic Garden. “Members and visitors of the Garden are already predisposed to the themes in my work, including the primary one: worshipping nature.”

“Steve Tobin’s Intertwined: Exploring Nature’s Networks” is included in the ticket price for admission to the Houston Botanic Garden (1 Botanic Lane). The installation will be on display through Sunday, August 13. For more information and tickets, go here

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