The Story of the Maple Seeds at the 2015 Princeton Parklet

The Maple Seed sculptures at the Princeton Parklet. (60″x20″, birch plywood and glass with LEDs – Soderman, LeMasney, Brown, and Kuster)

Princeton Parklet Maple Seeds cc-by lemasney

Princeton Parklet Maple Seeds cc-by lemasney

The story of the maple seed hanging sculptures that are a part of the 2015 Princeton Parklet is a very interesting one, and I thought I’d share it as a way of thanking everyone involved in their creation. But first, some definitions.

belief is nothing but - david hume cc-by lemasney

belief is nothing but – david hume cc-by lemasney

What is a parklet?

“A parklet is a sidewalk extension that provides more space and amenities for people using the street. Usually parklets are installed on parking lanes and use several parking spaces. Parklets typically extend out from the sidewalk at the level of the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space.” – Parklet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

What is a CNC mill?

“Numerical control (NC) is the automation of machine tools that are operated by precisely programmed commands encoded on a storage medium, as opposed to controlled manually via hand wheels or levers, or mechanically automated via cams alone. Most NC today is computer (or computerized) numerical control (CNC),[1] in which computers play an integral part of the control.” – Numerical control – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

With that out-of-the-way, let’s talk about Peter.

How I met Peter Soderman.

I was teaching a class at Princeton Public Library on Branding, one of my favorite topics, and Peter happened to be in the audience. Afterwards, he came up and introduced himself, and promised he’d contact me about a project. I said that I’d love that and we ended up meeting for coffee to talk about the project, which happened to be the Princeton Parklet.

We walked around the city of Princeton and he showed me several of his pieces installed in restaurants and other places. He talked about the Quark Park project (, and I realized that I had followed his work for years, having visited and enjoyed that installation so much that we featured it on Technology and the Arts:

“This past fall, Princeton served as home for a venue called Quark Park that brought the idea of technology and art to life in an exciting way. Brought into existence by Kevin Wilkes, Alan Goodheart and Peter Soderman–and a host of corporate and civic donors who financed its construction, Quark Park opened in September 2006 and remained a free, public garden through the following November.” – Why Technology & the Arts? | T&A: Technology and the Arts,

So when I put two and two together, I was in awe of who I was working with. I continue to be astounded that I have had the opportunity to work with this group of talented artists and craftsmen. So, after recovering from the realization, I agreed to work with Peter, and we met with the Arts Council to decide on our plan.

Working with Maria Evans and the Arts Council

Peter and I met with Maria Evans, who has a great story about the origins of the project:

“When the idea of a Parklet was first proposed, I had to search Google images to see what the word meant. I had a vague idea based on last fall’s ‘National Takeover a Parking Space Day’ that popped up in front of small world coffee on Witherspoon Street. Passersby were thrilled and seats were filled all day. But… it came down 12 hours later and like most public art, it left us all wanting more.” – A Parklet? A Whatlet? | Arts Council of Princeton,

I had worked with Maria before to hang a show of 365Sketches at Princeton Public Library. This time we were working with Peter to make seeds, sculptures for the parklet. Peter produced a huge book of macro shots of seeds that we were flipping through, and we were closing in on the idea of using maple seeds, the helicopter wings that many people remember putting on their noses. The possibilities for design, the familiarity with the seeds, and the opportunity for visual linear activity made them perfect candidates. Special thanks to the township of Princeton and Mayor Liz Lempert for their dedication and support for the project. We agreed to move forward with the maple seeds. I made a few maquettes to work out the idea sculpturally.

Working in Inkscape for CNC cutting

My part in the project was the design and coördination of the pieces. Since I did not have access to a workshop or makerspace capable of these large pieces, we would need some help with cutting wood and working with other materials. But before that, we needed something to cut. So I jumped into Inkscape, grabbed a line art image of a maple seed, and traced it, then worked into it to make lines that would work with a CNC mill. This was the workspace of the design, then the final design for cutting:

maple seed heliciopter workspace cc-by lemasney

maple seed heliciopter workspace cc-by lemasney

maple seed heliciopter made in Inkscape cc-by lemasney

maple seed helicopter made in Inkscape cc-by lemasney

These were meant to be cut by Ned Brown, be about 5 feet tall, and have lights enclosed in a glass pocket blown by Robert Kuster, be finished and hung with the Princeton Parklet. So, this file went to Ned.

Working with Ned Brown and CadCode LLC.

I met Ned with Peter at Ned’s Country Cabinet Shop (aka CadCode, LLC) in Hillsboro. Outside of the shop is an amazing bus that he’s restoring, and I felt like I was in the right place. Given that he has a Weatherstation I figured that was an appropriate way to find out more about Ned’s Shop:

Ned Brown's Flxible bus cc-by lemasney

Ned Brown’s Flxible bus cc-by lemasney

Ned and I had a great introductory conversation about life, music, wood, and lots of other topics. We hit it off in a grand way. After Ned and I worked to change the SVG from Inkscape to be used in his CNC Mill with his CNC software used around the world called CadCode, we cut some tests, and with satisfaction, cut the rest. We used Birch plywood sheets, and the pieces are just under 5 feet tall.

After the seeds were cut, we brought them to Bob to discuss the glass elements.

Working with Robert Kuster

Robert Kuster is a phenomenon. He’s made a lot of the amazing glass installations you find in expensive lobbies and public spaces, and does work on par with Dale Chihuly, but here in New Jersey at Belle Mead Hot Glass along with some talented craftspeople. They make glass dance, as shown in this piece from their studio:

Belle Mead Hot Glass Hospitality Sconces (Copyright, Robert Kuster)

Belle Mead Hot Glass Hospitality Sconces (Copyright, Robert Kuster)

The fact that his work and my work are in the same piece still kind of amazes me. We talked about the concept, and I only asked that some red be added to the pocket in a drizzled fashion. His glass pockets, filled with LEDs, would fill the circle at the bottom of the seed, and when they were finished they looked like this:

Robert Kuster's blown glass for the maple seeds cc-by lemasney

Robert Kuster’s blown glass for the maple seeds cc-by lemasney

The pieces were then sanded and shellacked at Hot Glass Belle Mead, and Bob delivered and installed them shortly after. Bob appears in these shots.


Some shots of the finished, installed maple seeds at the Princeton Parklet are below. When we ask people what they are we get a variety of answers, but seldom maple seeds. We hear fish most often, followed by butterfly wings, and when they hear what they are, they see it and they get it with a gasp.

What’s next for the seeds project?

First up is a metal version of the maple seed that is a floor lamp, and so far we have the first cut, pictured below. Stay tuned to for further images of that project. Also, there are other seeds coming up: A sweetgum seed and a pinecone! Images below. All of the images in this post are cc-by lemasney on Instagram, so feel free to use them, some rights reserved.


This content is published under the Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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