Art Prize Tree Provides Biblical Connection

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Trees Will ClapThere's at least one entry in this year's Art Prize in Grand Rapids that brings a scripture verse to life.

It's a large, tree-like sculpture that actually gives forth the sounds of applause, echoing the refrain of Isaiah 55:12, "....the trees of the field will clap their hands."

"That verse has always been a favorite of mine," said Dave Vander Molen of Grandville, creator of the wood, metal and plexiglass work.

"I love that image of a has spoken to me for a number of years."

Towering more than 20 feet high, the tree features leaves - prompted by a gentle breeze – to generate a clapping sound as the movement of air brings them together.

Some of the leaves are made of metal. And if you look closely they're actually a silhouette of two hands holding the leaves, as if clapping within them. "It's really quite incredible – a great and strong image," said the artist.

"Trees Will Clap!" is on display from Sept. 20 to Oct. 8 outside of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 134 N. Division Ave., one of eight churches among more than 170 venues for this year's Art Prize competition.


Art Prize is in its ninth year, and includes roughly 1,500 art entries displayed in various public places, mostly in the downtown area. It has drawn as many as 25,000 persons per day during its 19-day run. More than a half million dollars in prizes are awarded, through a combination of public vote and a jury of art experts (for more information visit

This is the first year for Vander Molen as an Art Prize artist.

"For years I've wanted to do (Art Prize)," said the former art teacher who holds a Master's in Art and Sculpture. "Sometimes you have to bide your time and decide what will work and what won't. But it seemed to be the right time to do this."

Vander Molen's first task in his year-long project was to locate his basic material – slabs of wood to form the large trunk and lower branches. He moved them into his son-in-law's pole barn for assembly, adding the copper, fabricated metal and other materials, making sure of the work's structural integrity.

He applied to several venues to exhibit his creation and St. Mark's requested it, according to the artist. "They liked the theme and its visibility and felt it would be an asset to their total display," he said.


There's additional audio to the clapping sounds. "Trees Will Clap!" has a theme song, of sorts, titled "Artist's Hymn," which will be audible in the background. It's a composition written by singer-songwriter Ken Medema, a Grand Rapids native whom Dave and his wife Bev VanderMolen have worked with through most of his career.

"Come you travelers in the city," invites the lyric. "Stand beside this mighty tree....May the mountains sing within you, and the trees all clap their hands."

"Ken also selected other background songs and nature sounds that go beautifully with the sculpture," Vander Molen said of the "soundscape" which will be played in rotation during display hours.

The artist is well aware of the competitive aspects of Art Prize. With prize money at stake as well as artistic reputation to bolster, some artists go out of their way to make sure they can maximize their on-site voting totals.

"We did publish some brochures for people to take with them," said VanderMolen of a flier with background and voting information. "That's so that later people can reflect on what they've seen and understand it a bit better."

But his prime motivation remains. The beginning of the Isaiah verse is: "You will go out with joy..."(NIV)

"In a world where there is hopelessness, I wanted to bring hope and joy," he said.


Crossroads Bible Church, 800 Scribner Ave. NW also is an Art Prize venue for 2017. Area artist Joel School Tanis is back with a multiple-canvas painting "Peaceful Pyramid." It's a whimsical work picking up on the scriptural theme of predators and prey living together in a peaceful kingdom.

Monroe Community Church on Monroe Ave. NW returns with its "Meet the Artist Sundays" in worship with personal reflections on various pieces in its art exhibit. For example, at 10:30am Sun. Oct. 8 artist Joel Niles comments on his allegorical work "Continuum of Decision" based on the parables of Jesus.

Among other churches with Art Prize displays: Central Reformed, Cornerstone Church – Heritage Hill, First United Methodist, Fountain Street, and Park Congregational. Two Christian ministries on South Division Ave. - Degage and Division St. Fellowship ¬- also are hosting exhibits.

Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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