Sam Van Aken is an Associate Professor of Sculpture at Syracuse University in New York. Sam Van Aken’s art combines sophisticated technology with traditional modes of art-making. Van Aken’s projects cross boundaries between artistic genres, including performance, installation, video, photography, and sculpture.
His works go beyond traditional art-making. He develops new perspective art projects in communication, botany, and agriculture. In 2008, while looking for specimens to create a multicolored blossom tree as an art project, Van Aken acquired the 3-acre orchard of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which was closing due to funding cuts. He later began to graft buds from some of the over 250 heritage varieties grown there, some unique, onto a stock tree. Over the course of about five years, the tree accumulated branches from forty different “donor” trees, each with a different fruit, including almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, and plum varieties.
The result of Van Aken’s creation is “Tree of 40 Fruit,” a single tree that can produce 40 different stone fruits, or fruit with pits, including peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, and nectarines.
“I look at the Tree of 40 Fruit as an artwork, a research project and a form of conservation,” Van Aken said in a 2014 TEDxManhattan talk.
His “Tree of 40 Fruit” is one of a series of fruit trees he created using the technique of grafting. Each tree produces forty types of stone fruit, of the genus Prunus, ripening sequentially from July to October in the United States. Prof. Van Aken uses chip grafting to create the “Tree of 40 Fruit.”
The process involves cutting the buds off a fruit tree and having them heal to the lateral branches of a rootstock tree. Branches from the different fruit trees grow off of the rootstock, which is typically a tree variety natural to the area’s climate and soil. This allows the fruit to be grown in areas that might not otherwise support that type of tree. Van Aken has planted 16 trees in seven states across the country.
As of 2014, Van Aken had produced 16 Trees of 40 Fruit, installed in a variety of private and public locations, including community gardens, museums, and private collections. Locations include Newton, Massachusetts; Pound Ridge, New York; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bentonville, Arkansas; and San Jose, California. He has plans to populate a city orchard with the trees.
Born in Reading Pennsylvania, Prof. Sam Van Aken received his undergraduate education in Communication Theory and Art. Immediately following his studies he lived and worked in Poland under the auspices of the Andy Warhol Foundation and the United States Information Agency.
Below is a 5-minute video of Prof. Sam Van Aken in telling the TEDxManhattan audience about the “Tree of 40 Fruit.”