Introducing a Stunning New Sculpture at the All People’s Trail Entrance

Ashley Hall, Marketing Coordinator
January 31, 2021

At the Kohl Fund Gateway to the newly reconstructed All People’s Trail sits a glimmering, gleaming new sculpture created by local artist Erik Neff. This is the latest example of the Nature Center’s efforts to spotlight local artists and explore the convergence of nature and the arts. We spoke with Erik about his process, the meaning behind the sculpture, and how science and art were brought together to create this new Nature Center icon.

Since it’s beginning, the Nature Center has embraced art as a means of communicating the importance, beauty, and fragility of the natural world. Our Art On View series and collaborations with local artists such as Erik Neff and Matthew Parker, who designed our Rose Foundation Gazebo, show how nature inspires creativity and increases our sense of connection to the natural world. This focus on the arts is a reflection of the values of the communities we serve and the people who have helped advance our mission over the years.

Erik Neff

Headlands Series V, Erik Neff.

Erik Neff has a personality as beaming and excitable as his stunning, newly constructed sculpture. Originally from Coshocton, Ohio, Erik graduated with a master’s degree in Entomology from The Ohio State University, where he studied forestry, behavioral ecology, and the impact of leafhopper insects on agriculture. Instead of continuing on to get his PhD, Erik had a change of heart and made the decision to pursue art at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA). After graduation, he moved to New York City and then back to Newberry, Ohio, where he and his family now reside.

The stunning new sculpture created for the Nature Center is as multifaceted as Erik’s career background. From biologist to artist, Erik has created stunning oil paintings that have been exhibited in museum galleries from Cleveland to Chicago and New York City. Having learned about the opportunity to create a three dimensional piece for the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, he was hesitant but excited to take on a new challenge and a brand new medium – sculpture.

A recycling enthusiast, Erik worked as the sustainability point-person for the Great Lakes Brewing Company and has since been aware that many large, corporate recycling companies do not recycle glass. Seeing this as an opportunity for design, Erik collected bottles from his own home, family, and friends to create a recycled mosaic sculpture. Glass bottles, mason jars, jam jars, vases, and antique bottles were salvaged and crushed into pieces for the sculpture. The various colors of stained glass came from Azure Stained Glass Studio in Cleveland’s Waterloo district.

The sculpture is a great example of where science meets art. Since traditional Portland cement could not be used, Erik had to bring in a structural engineer and concrete specialist to find a type of cement that would withstand Ohio’s year-round temperature fluctuations. With Portland cement, temperature fluctuations would have caused the cement to buckle and the embedded glass to fall out over time. Instead, Erik used cement containing magnesium phosphate; an alternative that will withstand temperature fluctuations seen in our region through the seasons.

In its final form, the sculpture was formed from stainless steel beams and 420 pounds of recycled glass in a terrazzo mosaic style embedded in four inch cement slabs. Erik wanted the sculpture to blend with the surroundings of the Nature Center. Throughout each season, the glass will reflect the moods of the weather and sky, making for a dynamic art piece that changes with every visit. The sculpture’s colors reflect the green of the leaves, blue of the Doan Brook, and the auburn colors found in the grasses and reeds. The shape, which Erik refers to as “the tree”, is meant to mimic the organic shape of a tree or leaf.

Erik Neff

Erik Neff and Nature Center staff installing the new sculpture, December 2020. Photos: Rob Sikora.

Though experimenting with a new medium, Erik feels that working with glass was similar to working with his familiar medium of oil paints; working piece by piece with different colors to complete the bigger picture. The piece was created through the process of science, sustainability, and creativity, and he hopes to inspire all who see it.

Our All People’s Trail is open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. For directions to the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, visit:

Erik Neff has exhibited in galleries and museums in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, New York and Chicago, including MOCA Cleveland, Akron Art Museum, Rockford Art Museum, SPACES gallery, McDunnough Museum, Devening Projects + Editions, Bonfoey Gallery, Raw & Co gallery and Elizabeth Harris Gallery. Erik lives and works in Newbury, Ohio. For more information, visit: