Solar Sculptures Put Artful Emphasis on Renewable Energy

Solar Forma's new designs integrate art, heart, and data

Eric Christenson

These solar trees are the vision of Greg Johnson, the owner of Artisan Forge Metalworks in Eau Claire. The idea is to combine art with renewable solar energy.
These solar trees are the vision of Greg Johnson, the owner of Artisan Forge Metalworks in Eau Claire. The idea is to combine art with renewable solar energy.

Art, heart, and data: That’s somewhat of a mantra for Greg Johnson, the owner of Artisan Forge Metalworks in Eau Claire. It’s a vision he’s carrying into his new company, Solar Forma Design, which looks to combine large-scale sculpture (the art) with renewable solar energy (the data) to inspire communities all over the world to make course-altering solar investments in unique, artful, beautiful, and intentional ways (that’s the heart).

While Solar Forma is still in its very early stages, already there’s some serious traction behind Johnson’s big idea, which is to move beyond simple utilitarian solar arrays toward artful solar-generating sculptures that actually enhance their surroundings.

“Solar arrays, they’re a primary generator, but they’re space-taking. They take space, right? What we want to do is create solar products that are place-making,” Johnson said. “To me, that’s pressing the limits of design and moving in a direction that the world is moving in. And I think we got something here.”

One of the main projects Solar Forma is focused on are 22-foot tall solar “trees,” a design they acquired from London-based industrial designer Sam Wilkinson. Inspired by acacia trees of the African savannah, the trees are capable of producing 4.5 kilowatts of power. Johnson says three of these solar trees could take two houses off the grid. And aesthetically, they look and feel much more futuristic and artistic than a field full of panels.

While a prototype has yet to be built – that’s coming in early fall, Johnson says – the last two years have found Solar Forma (which includes Johnson, business manager Brian Graff, and consultant/liaison Patrick Ritchie) spreading the word, making connections around the globe, and building hype for what could be the next big evolution in solar. They’ve met with landscape architects, city officials, energy companies, and secured some big investments. A company in Dubai even expressed interest in building a whole forest of these things.

“We can put 'em in a bazillion other places.” –Greg Johnson, owner of Artisan Forge Metalworks

Public spaces, private homes, parking lots, schools, ski resorts, boat landings, parks, golf courses, crosswalks, bus stops, trails, malls, roundabouts … the possibilities of what kind of spaces could benefit from a solar tree are endless.

“We can put ’em in a bazillion other places,” Johnson said.

A particularly cool thing about this project is its collaboration with Johnson’s other company, Artisan Forge Metalworks. With the space and talent of his metalworking crew, they can design, manufacture, and fabricate the trees top-to-bottom right here in Eau Claire. And Johnson’s projections show that if things go according to plan, he could add roughly 30 jobs here in the next 12-18 months.

“Let’s do some wild stuff,” he said. “Let’s have fun. Let’s push the envelope. Let’s build products that nobody else is building, and let’s do it right here in Eau Claire.”

It’s not just trees, either. There could be car ports, solar pods, even building wraps that generate solar energy. Johnson’s vision is to get creative with the way we harness renewable energy, build beautiful things, make aesthetically pleasing spaces, and save the planet at the same time.

But there’s another message that Solar Forma hopes to send with its designs: When and if you see a solar tree, Johnson hopes it makes a visual impact.

“Our products are meant to stand out and really make a statement about the investment that a community is making in the future. That’s really exciting,” he said. “You put one of these out in a park, that’s a statement that says this community is committed to a renewable future. It’s an indicator of its intentions, goals, and promises.”

You’ll be hearing more about Solar Forma in the coming years as the company starts to really get going. The possibilities are endless, the opportunity is huge, and the future is now.

“We’ll be making a splash this year yet,” Johnson said. “I hope the city embraces it.”

To learn more about Solar Forma Design, visit

Go Green is sponsored by:

Xcel Energy
Eau Claire

Go Green is sponsored by:

Xcel Energy
Eau Claire