A Poetic Tribute to Sheryl L. White on Her Retirement from the Arnold Arboretum

Sheryl L. White assists a young visitor in creating a cyanotype print at a public event in 2019. Regina Mission

“Art,” French painter Paul Cezanne opined, “is a harmony parallel with nature.” For the past quarter century at the Arnold Arboretum, creating harmony between the Arnold Arboretum and art inspired by its plants and landscape has been championed by Sheryl L. White, who retired this spring as coordinator of visitor engagement and exhibitions. If you have viewed an exhibition on display in the Hunnewell Building or encountered an installation, play, music performance, or dance piece in the landscape, then you have connected with Sheryl’s sensitivity, hard work, and vision. Since Sheryl’s long tenure at the Arboretum includes so many other facets—including training and coordinating Arboretum volunteers, shaping and scheduling guided tours, and helping facilitate myriad public events like poetry readings and the Caterpillar Lab—it’s likely your experience of the Arboretum has been enriched and enhanced by Sheryl and her incredible knack for depth and detail.

To honor Sheryl and commemorate her many accomplishments, we asked staff and volunteers who worked closely with her over the years to contribute to a community-written poem illuminating her impact on the aesthetic life of the Arnold Arboretum. In the lines that follow, readers may recognize some of the events, exhibitions, and performances that Sheryl championed at the Arboretum in recent years, from our annual woodturning weekends in fall, to Fujiko Nakaya’s fog installation in 2018, to outdoor theater collaborations mounted with Actors’ Shakespeare Project. However, the poem also remarks on some of the characteristics and qualities that made Sheryl so successful and appreciated in her role—including her leadership skills, endless energy, generosity of spirit, and sense of humor—and touches on her myriad talents as a painter, garden designer, and published poet and author. We salute you, Sheryl, for making the Arboretum a place where art continuously blossoms and inspires.


A community poem of lines shared by many and woven into one.

Did you see? Did you hear?
Sheryl is retiring after many a year!
So many in fact,
there’s not enough time,
or space,
or memory,
to recount the sublime
ways she created a place
of healing, health, and harmony
for so many.
A community of volunteers, artists, and colleagues
that now offer humble words to a Manager, a Friend, and Leader.

A tenacious professional embracing risk-taking,
a No Nonsense, Get-it-Done mentality all in with MassQ making.
Caterpillar Lab, Abilities Dance, and Haiku―
a pioneer in crafting visual science anew.
Art exhibits, virtual exhibits, “Redux” exhibits,
Woodturning art she exhibits,
yet inhabits,
with Nature’s eye towards beauty,
creative, outside-the-box thinking, multifaceted spheres,
that are no match even for Shakespeare!
Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Sheryl swirls Nakaya’s Fog x FLO x Macbeth
to craft her inspired vision, wrapped in illusion and inclusion,
to bring free, live events and theater to a mass diversity.
The audacity
to re-imagine the mission of this institution.

An avid gardener, passionate about green spaces,
blending eclectic plant tastes to create oases,
filled with color, texture, and pattern.
She brought this same interpretation
to every celebrated installation,
showcasing Arboretum trees through their
roots and fruits, seeds and rings, bark and wood.
Whether in quilts, ceramics, or paintings,
hand-made books, photography, or printmaking,
Sheryl fused Art, Nature, and Science
to inspire,
and delight,
and remind us,
what Visitor Engagement and Public Programs
should be all about.

A fierce defender of front-line staff,
creative collaborator and compassionate sounding board,
with quiet strength she makes her decisions,
forms her opinions, yet holds her tongue,
until she must make a stand, and delivers,
firm and fair.
Every undertaking thoughtfully curated,
triple checked, revised, rehearsed, and documented.
Hours upon hours of work and sacrifice,
she leaves behind the history of years,
but carries forth the respect of her peers.

Kicking and screaming, she dragged docents
to the magical world of Zoom,
encouraging connection and knowledge
woven in optical bonds;
though they soon realized
that slides were not ready until Sherylized:
she looked for alignment, italics, right font,
with credence and humor, as is her wont.
Beloved instructor and interpreter trainer,
treasured, insightful, compassionate mentor.
Providing tools – plant knowledge and wisdom – for themed tours,
connecting casual visitors with research, horticulture, and history.
How she found time for all this is a mystery!

Yet time she conjures, plucking and painting, out of thin air.
A talented wordsmith putting pen to paper,
perfecting poetry, pushing boundaries,
though they pushed back.
Undaunted by pandemic, to publish, not perish,
to find a voice, an embrace, a return to normalcy.
A deeply moving choreography,
nurturing volunteers, artists, and colleagues.
You once wrote “Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’ is evidence of nature’s endurance
and humanity’s desire to be remembered. It is a witness.”
We witness you.

Composed by staff and volunteers of the Arnold Arboretum, coordinated by Ana Maria Caballero, Outdoor Educator