May 312014

There are no trees, except for one, standing tall as a colorful sentinel in this vast expanse of white salt.  Karl Momen, an artist now living in Sweden, envisioned and created the Tree of Life.  He donated the 87 foot tall sculpture to our state and thus became The Tree of Utah.
Tree of Utah
Photo by randomfactor

Why would an artist from Europe donate a million dollar sculpture to Utah?  Let’s go back to when he was a 15 year old painter, living in Iran.  He was commissioned to paint a six foot high official portrait of Stalin.  Some years later when Communism was denounced and the Shah of Iran was returned to power, Momen watched as his portrait of Stalin was trampled underfoot.  Ironically, he was commissioned to paint a 12 foot high portrait of the Shah of Iran.  When the Shah was denounced, Momen watched on television as troop carriers rolled over this portrait in the street.

As a renegade in the art world, I believe he needed his own memorial that would withstand the test of time. When he stopped his car on the Bonneville Salt Flats to add a pinch of salt to his lunch of tomatoes, he saw what seemed like an alien panorama. That night he dreamt about “adding a focus of color in this endless expanse of featureless terrain.”
The Tree of Life
Photo by F. Tronchin

The concrete sculpture’s tree trunk holds up six spheres, coated with natural rock and minerals that were mined and cut in southern Utah.  Near the base are several hollow sphere segments that symbolize the changing of the seasons.

Not being very artistic, I keep seeing a pole with tennis balls stuck on top. What do you see? Recently, an ugly metal fence was reportedly added to protect people from falling leaves (aka corroding cement). I think it was meant to stop the graffiti artists from marring Karl Momen’s dream.
Coming up on Metaphor sculpturePhoto by c_nilsen

Parking on the shoulder of the Interstate is technically illegal, since there isn’t an exit ramp by the Tree of Utah. A visitor’s center was proposed by Karl Momen, but is waiting for donations to cover construction costs. Should you decide to stop, you probably won’t get a ticket. I wouldn’t know, since my law abiding husband refuses to take that chance every time we drive by.

Have you had any dreams about a creating something you would be proud of, no matter the cost?

  39 Responses to “Tree of Utah, One Man’s Dream”

  1. I like it from a distance, not as much up close. I really like the story behind it. I can’t imagine, as a creator, watching my creations destroyed because leaders changed. How awful.

    • It has had a lot of controversy and modern art isn’t always what we consider beautiful. I had to know the what and why of this tree and read the book.

  2. What an interesting and unusual sculpture. I can’t say I find it attractive, but I would be tempted to stop along the side of the freeway to look at it.

    • The first time it comes into view for the traveler is “what the hell is that.” This is why I had to research what I was looking at and why this artist felt compelled to not only build it, pay for it, and then donate it to the state.

  3. Interesting to see the Tree of Life rising out of the desert.

  4. Looks great 🙂

    • It is quite a monument to a dream a mad had and then created. Where else can you dream a metaphor to see it built.

  5. Thanks for the explanation! We saw it as we passed through Utah in January. And I remember saying to my hubby, what the hell was that?! We laughed. Now we know!

    • I think a lot of people say “what the hell is that” when driving by and I did too. I just had to find out the history of this man and what the hell it is.

  6. Thanks for the background to that awesome piece of art. I like it and see not just various balls. I hope the visitor center gets approved and hope to see this IRL someday!

    • I’m glad you can see the metaphor of leaves on a tree. I enjoy looking at it when we drive past, especially since there’s nothing else to look at in this expanse of salt landscape.

  7. Your comment, “I keep seeing a pole with tennis balls stuck on top” was my first thought exactly and I had to laugh! It’s not beautiful but it’s interesting and how terrific to be able to create your own memorial.

    • I have a problem with modernistic expression and metaphors. Show me what you mean and don’t make me guess at a picture or sculpture.

  8. What a great piece of whimsey! Love the story behind it~

    • I just had to find the book and read his life story. Strange objects like the Tree and metaphors intrigue me.

  9. Thanks, Neva. I wonder why it is exactly where it is, if it is not a place anyone can stop? Is it on land controlled by highway department? Private? Interesting background on the artist.

    • After building and donating the monument, the Utah department became the owner of the parcel of land and maintaining the area. This is why the decision was made to build the fence around it.

  10. What a strange sculpture! It looks like a tree of popsicles ..not a bad thing at all!

    • Finding a tree of popsicles would be amazing in this very hot and dry environment. A lesson from this parable is when driving on the salt flats, don’t wonder how to find some salt for your tomatoes.

  11. It is an unusual landmark, for sure. Artwork is subjective and, like others, I don’t get this one. His story is very interesting and I wonder what he was thinking when he came up with this design.

    • He called it a Metaphor and I had to look up the definition to get the reasoning. He makes everything round, square or straight lines, so leaves look like tennis balls.

  12. I like the quirkiness of it! It does look like a phone pole with tennis balls to me. I love the story behind it and someday I will dazzle someone with this bit of trivia. Thank you for sharing such an interesting story!

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed reading how one man dreams about a tree with leaves and then builds it. Unfortunately he dreams in metaphors and we see something quirky.

  13. I must say … I am not too fond of that sculpture!

    You ask about investing in something we believe it and would like to see come to fruition. I’ve done that with my chocolate travel book, Chocolatour. It’s upset my world financially, but I’m having one heck of a delicious ride!

    • You can relate to dreaming it and following it through and I applaud you for it. Modern art never was my forte either, since someone has to explain what I’m seeing.

  14. An interesting story. As far as the art goes, no comment 🙂

    • He is an interesting man that dreams in metaphors. I don’t usually don’t remember my dreams, so who knows if I’m dreaming about tennis balls too.

  15. I actually love modern art. But this… um, not so sure. Most interesting to get the background info, but personally I favor leaving the incredible natural vista of the salt flats unblemished by tennis balls.

    YMMV of course, that’s just me…

    • If it was in the middle of the area between Salt Lake and Wendover, it would break up the boringness. This is close to Wendover, so by then you don’t need a distraction.

  16. I wasn’t seeing tennis balls until you mentioned it. After I read that, I can’t NOT see tennis balls. Interesting sculpture and a story about why he wanted to do it. It must be so frustrating to see you work destroyed for symbolic reasons that I can understand why he picked something more universally liked. I was reading a book where part of the action is at Bonneville, so I’m so interested to find out that the highway takes you through the Salt Flats.

    • Sorry to have spoiled your image of leaves on a tree, instead of tennis balls on a pole. He dreamed in metaphors and perhaps that’s why I don’t remember any of my dreams.

  17. Utah is so overpowering with natural wonder, a man-made structure of indigenous materials and imagination in contrast is clever.
    I like your story and Mr. Momen’s work.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words cause you’re one of my favorite story tellers. Momen’s work is in the University and is amazing sculptures of spheres and modern different shapes.

  18. I must admit that I find the sculpture somewhat jarringly out of place. I think my first thought upon seeing it would be that it must be a cell phone tower. Along the New Jersey Turnpike, they try to make them look like trees—-fooling absolutely no one.

    • I had to read his book to find out the what and why of this sculpture. I found it ugly, yet interesting at the same time. His idea of leaves that look like tennis balls to me says I don’t see things as metaphors.

  19. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if I’m being honest, to me, this is not very aesthetically pleasing. Love the story behind it though, and for that reason I am glad it is there and standing tall 🙂

    • I agree that it seems very out of place in this landscape and yet belongs there too. Momen decided to follow his dream of building a sculpture and I hope it will not disappear because of the corroding salt.

  20. Yikes, I don’t know what happened…but I was typing and zippo on the screen! Anyhoo, I was saying it just doesn’t fit for me. I rode with my Dad along that I-80 route a gazillion times as a kid. Spent many hours on the salt flats as I had researched them for speed week. I was an illegal street racer in high school. I wanted to go there and race. Just recently I watched (and own) Anthony Hopkins’ “The World’s Fastest Indian”. Thank you for all of the wonderful memories you just brought back, Neva!! 🙂

    • We also own the movie “World’s Fastest Indian” and love it. Besides enjoying any movie that Anthony Hopkins is in, when your my age you forget the details and have no problem watching the same movie again.

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