Comprised of works from our community of gifted artists whose connections to and love for the Friedman family knows no bounds, Ela’s Forest was one of the most important and impactful exhibitions presented in recent memory at the Polk Museum of Art. Aspirational and elegiac, the show grounded itself in hope and joyful remembrance more than in sorrow. Ela’s Forest — and the works created for it — drew inspiration from one amazing little girl’s precious and too-abbreviated life. Our village of creative minds came together to celebrate Ela, her indomitable spirit, her memory, and, yes, her love of trees in an exhibition like no other. Much as the trees that have sprouted worldwide in her honor, via Ela’s Forest we have grown a symbolic forest made up of touching and masterful works that celebrate her life. Now, these works are available to be purchased for a (literally) larger cause.
Indeed, we are grateful to the artists who contributed to the exhibition and who have now donated these works to raise funds for a permanent collection sculpture dedicated to Ela. We are grateful to the Friedman family who allowed us to honor Ela in an extraordinary way and to Claire Orologas, former Executive Director, who curated the show. We are grateful, too, to the Graces, a team of women dedicated to the Museum and its mission, and who have graciously taken the reins of planning this auction so that we can house a new sculpture that will be held in perpetuity at the Museum, displayed in its outdoor spaces, and cast an essential eye on the social and domestic injustices faced by children and their families each day.
There was no one who visited Ela’s Forest who did not come away moved by its underlying story, who did not feel the resilient spirit in its art, and who did not grasp the symbolism in the global forest that has been seeded in Ela’s memory. With this auction, we strive for a profound and more long lasting statement: every work bid upon helps us imagine a better world where this exhibition would never have been necessitated in the first place. In the meantime, as we dream — truly dream — of a kinder tomorrow, let’s come together now to raise the funds we need to purchase a memorial sculpture that will honor Ela in a permanent way for generations to come.
H. Alexander Rich, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Chief Curator
Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College
Ela’s Forest is a real forest of trees planted in locations around the world. It bears the name of a little girl who loved nature and whose short, beautiful life was radiant. The forest continues to grow as her community plants more trees to honor her memory and keep her light bright. As a member of that community, the Polk Museum of Art adds to Ela’s Forest through this exhibition featuring works by artists close to Ela and her family. It is meant to be an expression of love, support, and comfort to the family as well as a poignant reminder of the importance and power of community.
— Claire Orologas, Executive Director Emerita and curator of Ela’s Forest