Nature, it turns out, actually adores a vacuum. So, early in the pandemic, when stay-at-home orders forced Coloradans to retreat inside, flora and fauna filled the city streets. Birdsong grew more distinct. Coyotes ran through neighborhoods. Car traffic stopped (or at least thinned). “For the first time human noise was low enough that researchers could hear the inner machinations of the Earth,” Denver artist Kalliopi Monoyios says. “I thought: This is incredible.

Inspired, Monoyios and fellow local artist Anna Kaye began planning what would become LandMark, an outdoor exhibition opening in Arvada and Lakewood this month. The show celebrates and investigates different aspects of the natural world with nature-themed work from two dozen local sculptors, photographers, and mixed-media artists in parks in the two suburbs.

“Shelter” (pictured above), for example, is a 10-foot-tall, nestlike structure composed of thousands of woven willow branches. While its maker, Denver artist Eileen Roscina, started work on the piece before the pandemic, she became intrigued by the concept of home as both comforting and constrictive during COVID-19. The light emanating from within, combined with its inviting natural material, elicits a feeling of safety. At the same time, the monolith’s hulking size and unwieldy shape are forbidding. “Like it’s a cage,” Roscina says.

Eileen Roscina. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

The six-month-long Lakewood portion of LandMark begins April 18, and will include a totemlike structure, by Jaime Molina, that conveys nostalgia at Bear Creek Greenbelt Park; 3D ceramic ice chunks modeled from a disappearing glacier, by Mia Mulvey, at Coyote Gulch Park; and a “tree” built from wood charred by this past summer’s Colorado wildfires, by Tobias Fike, at Chester-Portsmouth Park. The Arvada exhibition starts on April 22, Earth Day (though some of its artists won’t unveil their pieces until June), and will remain in place for three years.

“Shelter” will reside at Kendrick Lake Park in Lakewood, where Roscina hopes passersby will mark its incongruity among the trees and xeriscaped garden and consider its meaning. After that, she’s curious to witness the ultimate muse, Mother Earth, respond to the piece. “I wonder if nature will start to take over,” Roscina says, “or if a bird might be tempted to move in.”