Every morning while passing through the New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet U Metro station on my way downtown I see the tip of what appears to be a giant metal maple leaf stuck to the outside of the station. Is it a maple leaf, and if so, what in the world is it doing on the side of a Metro station?
Margaret Carrel, Silver Spring
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Answer Man understands the confusion. What you see from the Metro train is only the top of the leaf, the part that does look a little mapley. You can be forgiven for momentarily thinking you've somehow ended up outside a hockey rink in Alberta.
In fact, the sculpture is of a leaf from a scarlet oak, which the Virginia Tech Forestry Department Web site describes as a "medium-sized tree with generally poor form, irregular crown, and many dead branches. A butt-swell is often noticeable, and often is useful in identification."
Answer Man will ignore that crack about the butt-swell and merely point out that despite its apparent flaws the scarlet oak -- aka Quercus coccinea -- is the official tree of Washington. That's why it was chosen as a theme for the public art at the New York Avenue station.
The station, which opened in the fall, is the first in the system to have such a focus on art. The art goes beyond just the tip of the leaf that's visible from a southbound train and includes other elements by sculptor Barbara Grygutis and two poems by Dolores Kendrick, Washington's poet laureate.
Barbara lives in Tucson. She and Dolores collaborated over a two-year period, sending ideas back and forth and meeting occasionally. The result, said Dolores, is the only art-poetry combination by two women in Washington.
Why a leaf?
"One of the things that distinguishes Washington, D.C., for me as an outsider is that Washington is a city that has a lot of trees," said Barbara. "Washington is very proud of its trees."
In addition to the 27-foot-tall leaf, she designed a wavy sort of fence outside the station that's studded with huge glass leaves of various hues.
Because the leaf sculpture's aluminum skin is perforated with hundreds of little holes, sunlight filters through it in different ways at different times of day. "The sun creates a dynamic environment, and the sculpture reflects that," Barbara said. "It takes a stationary sculpture, and it almost seems like there's movement to it."
Movement is the theme of the installation, appropriate for a subway. Dolores's poem "Journeys" is engraved on both sides of the leaf. It begins: