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Where Scent Meets Art: A Forest Bath in an Urban Gallery

Posted on March 02, 2023 0

Where Scent Meets Art: A Forest Bath in an Urban Gallery

By Ginger Andro and Raghda Maksoud


Walking in the woods has long been considered therapeutic by many people, naturopaths and grandmothers included. Taking advantage of nature’s simple remedy gets you moving, relaxes you, allows you to think more clearly and sort out solutions to life’s issues. This is what shinrin-yoku (forest- bath) is and does. The technique was developed in Japan in the 1980’s and in 1982 became part of its natural health program.


This practice is not about hiking through the woods, cell phone in hand but truly experiencing the feel, look, sound and scent of the forest in a personal, intimate way. The psychological and spiritual benefits of this connection with the earth, trees, air, animals, flowers, streams, and bird song are easily imagined and the many physical changes including lower blood pressure, pulse rate and cortisol levels are well documented by Dr. Qing Li 1 whose book “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness” was published in 2018. We will discuss more about the health benefits later.


Henry Street in Chinatown, NYC is about as far as could be imagined from a forest. It is at this location in 2021 that Olfactory Art Keller, a space once used as a barber shop became the first commercial scent art gallery in the US. The gallery owner, Andreas Keller, who holds PhD degrees both in Neurogenetics and Philosophy, declares in the mission statement “By presenting scented objects, olfactory experiences, and smell performances as well as works of multisensory art in which odor is essential, we hope to normalize the use of scents in contemporary art. Our ultimate goal is to preserve olfactory aesthetic experiences in our visuocentric digital world.”2 A unique idea at a unique time as the pandemic was still in full swing in the city. He told Abigail Tucker in a recent interview for Smithsonian, “The gallery had always been a fantasy, but the pandemic brought it into focus.”3 So, in February 2021 artist M. Dougherty installed the inaugural exhibition “Forest Bath.”


M. Dougherty, a nonbinary, multidisciplinary artist, and researcher offered this multi-sensory gift to a city that had, like most of the country, been experiencing tremendous loss, stress, and apprehension about the future. As faithfully as possible, they recreated and pumped the scent of the forest into the street. It was intended to help heal in much the same way as shinrin-yoku does but in this urban setting. The scent of the forest, close to its floor in spring when things are beginning to heat up and all life is stirring, was also offered in small vials to take home so that a person could experience it in one-to-one privacy.


Inside the gallery small sculptures containing specific fragments of the forest scent were encountered. These were layered blocks ranging from 2” to 8” constructed from wax to hold the scent and mycelium with resin to preserve the delicate natural material. Mycelium is the thread-like underground system that fruits as a mushroom. Mycelium form the “mycorrhizal network,” which Peter Wolhlleben, author of “The Hidden Life of Trees,” refers to as the “woodwide web” because it connects individual plants together transferring water and nutrients allowing trees to share these resources.4


This important forest life is being explored and used to manufacture many goods from clothing to building material. Each cube, a true collaboration with nature, is individually scented with only a part of the overall forest scent.


The complete olfactory experience includes the ground, the leaves, greenery, moss, “funk,” bark, air, etc. but each unique individually scented piece held a fragment of the composition. This is because M. Dougherty intentionally decided that no one person would own the forest, but each scented sculpture would play a part, resulting in the olfactory experience inside the gallery being different from the street or vial experience.


The artist first conceived of this installation after moving to upstate New York due to the illness of a family member. Once there, he was able experience, observe, and analyze the forest’s scents in an intimate, personal way. To recreate the healing aspects of shinrin-yoku was very important. The greatest physical benefits come from the volatile organic compounds such as α-pinene and limonene or phytoncides (found in wood essential oils) emitted from trees and which help them to fight harmful insects and pathogens. In the human body these phytoncides increase the natural killer (NK) cell activity that boosts the immune system. NK cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cells effective against bacteria, viruses, and tumors.5 As explained on Dougherty’s website, “The chemical components of phytoncides have been identified with gas chromatography- mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME). This analysis was then combined with subjective experience to create the forest scent in this piece.”6 Both naturals, some distilled by the artist, and synthetics were used in the composition. See the information box on Natural and Synthetic Scent Materials Used in Forest Bath Art Exhibition.


During the months of February to March 2021, most people were still uneasy about any type of public gatherings, in particular those indoors. It is at this time of fear and anxiety that M. Dougherty installed her piece in downtown NYC. The work was not only intentionally healing in concept and execution but was sensitive to gallery visitors as they were given the choice of staying outdoors in the street, entering the gallery or both to experience the artwork. Forest Bath was a wonderful offering in an uncertain time and an exciting first exhibition for long overdue olfactory gallery.


The activity of forest bathing is still gaining in popularity and inspiring research that supports and validates work with essential oils. It is satisfying that as the title to a Bloomberg article “The Smell of Nature Is Almost As Good As the Real Thing, As Far As Our Brains Are Concerned” has the subtitle “Hard science is finally backing up centuries of aromatherapy wisdom.” The article cites Dr. Qing Li’s continuing work with phytoncides extracted from the forest and bringing the plant’s essential oils and aerosols indoors to work with subjects. He found “significant drops in stress hormones and boosted immune cell activity” without the added benefits of walking among the trees.8 Most of the scents used were evergreens, often choosing a cypress.


One beautiful cypress, with a scent perfume worthy, and not well known (this is commonly known, so what does ‘not well known’ mean?) is the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.) a strong, evergreen, and glorious tree. The "Mediterranean" or "common" cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.) is a tall tree (up to 30 m in height), belonging to the genus Cupressus. It is native to Egypt, Northern Persia, as well as Syria, Turkey, Cyprus, and several Greek islands.8 The most valuable wood of the world is produced by the cypress tree, which is known to have the highest durability with minimum weight that makes it an ideal building material.9


Cupressus sempervirens L. has a long history of use in folk medicine, primarily for cough and flu treatment. The plant's biological activities are strongly linked to its phytochemical content. It is rich in phenolic constituents and essential oils, which may be responsible for the majority of its anti-inflammatory properties.9 One of its main components is sabinene with 30%, a monoterpene with a pleasant odor. It is a great essential oil while traveling in close spaces, especially on airplanes. It’s clean, fresh, woody scent seems to relax breathing, giving the experience of being in the open air. This makes it a wonderful essential oil to use while traveling in close spaces, especially on airplanes. We have a special recipe below!

The cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.) tree represents immortality, its amazing, vivid evergreen color branches pointed to the sky, and its golden cones which reflect the sun rays with its majestic powers. A natural canvas well painted.


Global Wellness Summit website, Forest Bathing 2.0: The Art and Science of Shinrin-Yoku, Dr. Qing Li, 2019, accessed from:


Olfactory Art Keller website, Mission Statement, https://www.olfactoryartkeller.com/thegallery

Tucker, Abigail, October 2022, Scents and Sensibility, Smithsonian, p.66.

National Forest Foundation website, Underground Networking: The Amazing Connections Beneath Your Feet, Britt Holewinski, accessed from: https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/underground-mycorrhizal-network

National Library of Medicine website, Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function, March 25, 2009, accessed from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/

M-Dougherty website, Forest Bath, accessed from: https://www.m-dougherty.com/forest-bath

M-Dougherty website, Forest Bath, accessed from: https://www.m-dougherty.com/forest-bath

Bloomberg website, The Smell of Nature Is Almost As Good As the Real Thing, As Far As Our Brains Are Concerned, March 7, 2013, accessed from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-03-07/the-smell-of-nature-is-almost-as-good-as-the-real-thing-as-far-as-our-brains-are-concerned

Giovanelli, A., Carlo, A.D. 2007. Micropropagation of Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.). In: Jain, S.M., Häggman, H. (eds) Protocols for Micropropagation of Woody Trees and Fruits. Springer, Dordrecht. Accessed from: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6352-7_9

Asma Shaheen, Muhammad Asif Hanif, Rafia Rehman, Asma Hanif, Chapter 15 - Cypress, Editor(s): Muhammad Asif Hanif, Haq Nawaz, Muhammad Mumtaz Khan, Hugh J. Byrne, Medicinal Plants of South Asia, Elsevier, 2020, Pages 191-205, ISBN 9780081026595, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102659-5.00015-X.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978008102659500015X ).

Ilkay Erdogan Orhan, Ibrahim Tumen, Chapter 57 - Potential of Cupressus sempervirens (Mediterranean Cypress) in Health, Editor(s): Victor R. Preedy, Ronald Ross Watson, The Mediterranean Diet, Academic Press, 2015, Pages 639-647, ISBN 9780124078499, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-407849-9.00057-9


For Further Information:

M. Dougherty, Forest Bath: https://www.m-dougherty.com

Olfactory Art Keller: https://www.olfactoryartkeller.com/


About Ginger Andro:

Ginger Andro has a BA degree in Fine Arts, with certifications in aromatherapy, natural perfumery, and animal aromatherapy. She is a lead teacher for Ebers School of Aromatherapy and a S.P.E. Diplomat and teacher. Ginger is the Co-President of The American Herbalist Guild/Lower Hudson Valley Chapter and a partner in Kiki and Friends Aromatics, LLC. As part of the artist team Andro & Glicksman, she uses scent in their multi-sensory installations. Ginger’s passion for science and art is merged by using essential oils as a medium for healing, expression, and communication. Ginger is the NAHA Regional Director for New Jersey. To learn more about Ginger, visit www.kikisfriends.com and/or www.androglicksman.com


About Raghda Maksoud:

Raghda Abdelmaksoud is a certified clinical aromatherapist and an expert with 23 years of experience in global business development and supply chain in the aromatic and medicinal herbs, fragrance, and essential oils industries.


Raghda traveled to 21 countries with the most outstanding medicinal plants growing regions. She believes that plants represent a universal language that connects us all, they are the agents of nature for our healing journey and a living example of hope.


In 2016, she founded Ebers Aromatherapy and Consulting – a women owned business dedicated to aromatherapy education, essential oils ethical sourcing, business development and supply chain.

Raghda is teaching aromatherapy globally through her NAHA approved Ebers School of Aromatherapy as well as arranging educational study tours to Egypt for aromatherapists and plant lovers to visit farms, distillers and learn about aromatherapy and herbal medicine in a real-life experience.


She is a member of the Aromatic Research Quality Appraisal Task Force (ARQAT) for standard in aromatherapy research practice, Airmid Institute Egypt Ambassador, and a technical member of WFFC “Women for flavors and Fragrance North America.”

Her mission is to develop aromatherapy globally, particularly in the Middle East, as well as support the development of women-owned small businesses, and research. Raghda is the NAHA International Director for Egypt and the International Relations Committee Chair. To learn more about Raghda, visit: https://ebersaromaschool.com/


KELLY P note Photos courtesy of Olfactory Art Keller (Photos in photo folder with photo list descriptors.


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