The hand that cradles the tree

… and the monster that guides the elderly. Both pieces of outdoor art in Switzerland, the first in the town of Glarus (in my ancestral canton of Glarus), the second in the city of Zürich.


(#1) The Caring Hand in Glarus


(#2) The Sihl-Ghüür in Zürich

The Caring Hand. It appeared in a Pinterest assortment: it’s public art (which I post about every so often), with a message that resonates for me (treasure your trees and other green growing things), and it’s not just from Switzerland, it’s from Glarus, in the canton of my Swiss forebears. All of that is wonderful. But it gets better.

As you can see from the photo, the sculpture has been allowed to become part of nature, to develop its own moss, just like the tree cupped in its hand. It’s not set apart in a special place, on a pedestal or in an enclosure, and there’s certainly no carpark for tourists who’ve come to view it; it’s just there in the middle of ordinary village life. Here it is in its larger context (in a Google street view):


(#3) A street in Glarus, with a path parallel to it; the sculpture, just an ordinary feature of the landscape, is in the background, in the middle of the picture, on the far side of the path

Still better: the town of Glarus is no Zürich-like metropolis; it’s a large Alpine village, with a 2018 population of 12,425 (about the same as the current population of my father’s home town, Wyomissing PA), and though it’s the capital of the Glarus canton — a canton is the Swiss equivalent of a province or state — the whole canton’s 2017 population was only 40,349 (about 2/3 the size of Palo Alto CA). So this moving artwork is tucked away modestly out in the Swiss equivalent of the boonies.

I think all of that is, well, sweet.

The Pinterest photo came with a link to a story on the House of Switzerland site, “Swiss outdoor art to put on your ‘must see’ list” by Kristīne Strazdiņa on 4/20/16, where it was #7 on a list of 9 . Her write-up:

This work by Eva Oertli and Beat Huber is grossly underestimated [no doubt because it’s in a tiny place in a river valley up in the Alps]. This original sculpture rising from the ground and gently wrapping its fingers around a tree sends a message of environmental responsibility and care.

The small yet stunningly beautiful region of Glarnerland where the Caring Hand is located is just one hour away by train from Zurich. [I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the significance of the railways in knitting together the pieces of Switzerland.] And do you think it [I think that her it refers to art for the common people, in unremarkable settings] is a coincidence that Glarus is one of the only two towns in Switzerland where direct democracy is still practiced – by raising a hand?

Switzerland is famously given to various forms of direct democracy; people are forever voting on every damn thing. But voting by hand in the village square, the purest form of direct democracy, survives only in small isolated places. Wikipedia on direct democracy in Switzerland: “The pure form of direct democracy [currently] exists only in the Swiss cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus” — specifically in the capital towns of Glarus and Appenzell. As far as I can tell, the towns of Glarus and Appenzell are merely the largest towns in those two cantons with voting by raising of hands. And, from what I read, one of the things people perennially get to raise their hands to vote on is whether raising their hands in the public square is the best scheme for voting.

(Some people read all this and think it’s charming. Others think it’s just crazy-making. Both is a viable option, and it’s what I vote for.)

Nine notable pieces of public art in Switzerland. Public artworks are strewn all over the place in Switzerland; Strazdiņa picked out nine that she viewed as remarkable in one way or another — and that you might not have known about. Her list:

1 A giant silver lady watches over Zurich’s West End

2 A bear balances above the former bear pit in Bern

3 A broken chair in Geneva stands as a symbol against land mines

4 There is a giant fork by Jean-Pierre Zaugg in Lake Geneva [see #2, the Fork of Vevey, in this posting of mine]

5 A Swiss bank has covered an entire district of St Gallen with a red carpet

6 The A16 freeway dinosaur by Hervé Bénard stands in Courtedoux

7 The Caring Hand of Glarus sends a strong message

8 The Sihl-Ghüür in Zurich is 72 metres long

9 This giant bench by Lilian Bourgeat in Neuchâtel makes you look tiny

The Dragon of the Quellenstrasse. I was much taken by the photo of the 8th item on this list, reproduced as #2 above. A playful fantasy dragon on a city street. Once again, there’s more to the story.

The dragon isn’t just ornamental; it’s also functional, designed to stand out ostentatiously and show elderly folk the way from the Quellenstrasse tram stop to the front door of their retirement home. What a lovely idea.

Two versions of the story, on a Geocaching site, in German and in English:

 [Gm] Der Drache “Sihl-Ghüür” wurde im Jahr 1986 vom Künstler Peter Meister (1934-1999) geschaffen. Es ist eines von diversen Kunstwerken des Künstlers im öffentlichen Raum Zürich. Meister erarbeitete ebenso den Rosenhof-Brunnen, den Othmar-Schoeck-Brunnen an der Ecke Bellaria-/Mutschellenstrasse, die Brunnenskulptur “Baum” beim Alterszentrum Oberstrass und das “Brunnenwibli” an der Linth-Escher-Gasse.

“Sihl-Ghüür” wurde für die neue Wohnsiedlung Limmat entworfen und ist ein funktionales Kunstwerk. Der Schwanz des Drachens geht am Boden entlang und wird so zu einer Wegmarkierung bis zum Eingang des Alterszentrum Limmat. Er dient so als eine Orientierung für die Besucher und für die Pensionäre, so dass sie von der Tramhaltestelle “Quellenstrasse” sicher ans Ziel kommen.

[Engl] The white dragon “Sihl-Ghüür” (a portmanteau word of the creek name “Sihl” and the Swiss German word “Unghüür” for a monster [Standard German Ungeheuer]) was created 1986 by the artist Peter Meister (1934-1999). He made several sculptures which are located in the city of Zurich. There are the Rosenhof fountain, the Othmar-Schock-Fountain on the corner Bellaria-/Mutschellenstrasse, the tree sculpture by the fountain of the retirement home Oberstass and the fountain sculpture “Brunnenwibli” in the Linth-Escher-Gasse.

“Sihl-Ghüür” was created for the housing complex “Limmat” and is functional artwork. The tail of the dragon ends by the entry of the retirement home. The dragon works as a marker from the tram stop “Quellenstrasse” to the entry of the retirement home. It can be used for visitors and [for] the retirees to find [their way] back.

The English gives the portmanteau derivation of the name Sihl-Ghüür. I was irrationally proud of myself for having seen than SwGm Unghüür corresponded to standard Gm Ungeheuer (neut. N ‘monster’, Adj ungeheuer ‘enormous, immense, prodigious, monstrous’).

I don’t recall the context in which I first encountered the noun, but I vividly recall being impressed with what a fine word das Ungeheuer was for ‘monster’, so much creepier and more dangerous than English monster.

It would have been a natural word for the comic poet Christian Morgenstern (roughly, the German Lewis Carroll; on his poem “Der Werwolf”, see this posting of mine) — but I can find no evidence that he rose to the challenge. However, Robert Scott deployed the word skillfully in his 1872 translation “Der Jammerwoch” of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”, from English nonsense verse into German nonsense verse (“The Jabberwock Traced to Its True Source”, MacMillan’s Magazine, Feb 1872).

The first two lines of the original, plus the relevant verse:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe

… And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

Becoming, in Scott’s German version:

Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben

… Als stand er tief in Andacht auf,
Des Jammerwochen’s Augen-feuer
Durch tulgen Wald mit Wiffek kam
Ein burbelnd Ungeheuer!

Ungeheuer strikes me as an inspired rhyme for Augen-feuer ‘eye fire, eyes of flame’.

7 Responses to “The hand that cradles the tree”

  1. John Baker Says:

    The Caring Hand reminds me of The Awakening, a public artwork in the DC area, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Awakening_(sculpture).

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I can’t help wondering how deep into the ground the hand goes, and whether it’s at risk of damage or disturbance by the growing roots of the tree.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Never follow a metaphor all the way; it will only lead to grief.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I wasn’t thinking of the metaphorical rest of the hand; I’m actually wondering about how much of the sculpture is underground, and thinking about the generally disruptive effects of tree growth.

  3. Robert Coren Says:

    Ungeheuer is indeed a wonderfully expressive word. I think in general usage it’s like a few English words with negative prefixes (such as disgruntled) but no corresponding non-negated version, but I do know of a counter-example in this case: The third line of Eduard Mörike’s poem Der Feuerreiter reads “Nichts geheuer muss es sein“, which I’ve seen translated as “Strange uncanny goings-on”.

  4. [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky shares some photos of notable public art in Switzerland, starting with The Caring Hand in his ancestral […]

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