An unstoppable wood-boring beetle is devouring ash trees in Kansas and surrounding states, but some students and instructors in the University’s visual arts department are trying to help.

The ash trees face a 100 percent mortality rate once they are infected with the ravenous beetle, said Matthew Burke, an associate professor in the Department of Visual Art.

“We have a large population of ash trees in this area that may soon become extinct,” Burke said. “There’s very little that can be done about it.”

Despite the trees’ slim chances, Jim Rogers, a visiting artist from Massachusetts, has been teaching University students to construct information kiosks that aim to help inform Kansans about the issues of the ash and how they may be able to help.

“Once a tree is infected, it has to be cut down or the beetle can spread,” Rogers said. “We’ve been using a lot of that local lumber to construct the kiosks which will hopefully go back to help.”

Burke was approached last semester by Ryan Armbrust, an assistant forester in the Kansas Forest Service, who had a three-fold plan for how he wanted the kiosks made.

“He wanted the lumber to be locally sourced, built within a learning environment, locally, and to educate locals how they could help themselves,” Burke said.

Burke was more than happy to help and has even made the workshops a component of the sustainability class that he teaches every fall. Rogers was also able to help teach how to use repurposed lumber, something he has plenty of experience with.

“It’s always best when you can use local lumber,” Rogers said. “I prefer to use wood from trees that had to be removed regardless, whether they were in the way of a power line or other construction.”

Rogers said one of his clients in Massachusetts has to remove an old oak from his yard that he had spent the past 30 years looking at. When Rogers returns from Kansas, the tree will be cut down and repurposed into a kitchen table for the client.

While Rogers has been teaching the workshops, 75 students have volunteered their time to learn and help with the project and though Rogers’ visit is coming to a close, Burke will have scheduled time when students, regardless of major, will be allowed to continue to build the kiosks.

“We want to build six kiosks,” Rogers said. “If we get the same sort of participation that we’ve been seeing, they should be done in a little over a week.”

Though this year’s project is for a good cause, Burke said that the visiting artist program typically allows for more engaged students and a healthier learning environment.

“When the ash is cut down, a greater variety of vegetation is put in its place to diversify and strengthen the health of the ecosystem,” Burke said. “The same sort of concept can be applied to visiting artists.”

Burke said that the program allows for a diverse environment within the department that helps students to click with the concepts and grow as artists.

“Students will get used to the way I teach after a week and a few may not like it or recognize their ability because of how I instruct,” Burke said. “But when we bring in someone new, not only does it show how their education here can be used later in life, but it gives those students an opportunity to maybe connect with someone and experience the art in a new way.”

Rogers said that he hopes to come back to the University next year if possible. Any student who might want to help with the kiosks can contact Professor Burke or check the Department of Visual Art's available workshops for other projects.

—Edited by Chandler Boese

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