Artist Sam Van Aken cultivates sculptures that ask us to consider the larger implications of contemporary fruit production. Current trends in industrialized farming favor orchards composed of a single species of fruit tree. Increasingly absent from these large farms are heirloom and antique varieties that have been nurtured for hundreds—if not thousands—of years. This shift from diversified fruit propagation to monoculture farming methods has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of traditional fruit tree species.

Sculpting by way of grafting, where a branch from one tree is cut and inserted into the branch of another tree, Van Aken seeks to reclaim biodiversity through the preservation of disappearing heirloom stone fruit trees. Working with community members in a series of grafting workshops, the artist transforms the Alan and Rebecca Ross Education Wing into a conservatory housing a grove of hybridized trees. Exhibited as part of the Tree of 40 Fruit series, these living sculptures mature to grow over 40 different varieties of stone fruit including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and cherries. In The Michigan Trees, the artist collects species traditionally grown and developed throughout the state of Michigan. The resulting grove, where entire orchards are grafted onto one tree, becomes an agricultural history of the state, serving as both archive and index, source and resource.

Tree of 40 Fruit: The Michigan Trees is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University as part of the MSU Federal Credit Union Artist Studio Series, which invites artists to interact with the community through site-specific installations presented alongside educational encounters that offer insight into the artists' creative processes, and curated by Michelle Word, Director of Education. Generous support is provided by MSU Federal Credit Union.