Children who visit the sprawling Angel Oak tree on Johns Island are encouraged to look but not climb.

Now, thanks to a new exhibit at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, children can learn more about the giant live oak. The tree is reportedly the oldest living thing east of the Rocky Mountains. Children can climb on a child-friendly version of it that includes a slide and a play space underneath.

TREEscape, a 700-square-foot exhibit that opened Friday, is the creation of the museum's first artist-in-residence, Jennifer Van Winkle.

Van Winkle is an installation artist, community arts choreographer and arts activist from Charlottesville, Va., whose project was selected through a regional competition last year. She also worked with a group of third- and fourth-graders from Charleston Progressive Academy every week after school as part of her residency.

Before coming to the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, Van Winkle completed a similar project titled eXpedition, an interactive installation featuring recycled textiles and clothing for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

TREEscape is an activity center and hands-on ecology lab that includes games, climbing and sliding, puzzles and special activities led by museum employees and the College of Charleston's Lowcountry Hall of Science and Math.

A giant tree designed to be hands-on dominates the center of the room, with a large mural on one wall, felt boards on another and rolled-paper artwork on another. An ecology corner is the location for programs on topics such as rocks, and another table offers a learning game similar to the children's game Operation.

"This is an opportunity for children and their families to climb, explore and discover the grandeur and magic of an ancient live oak," says Van Winkle. "It is my hope that TREEscape will also plant the seeds of environmental stewardship. At the conclusion of TREEscape, as many of the materials as possible will be put back into the recycling system or nature to have another life beyond this contemporary art exhibit and installation."

The exhibit, which will be on display until September, takes the place of the Raceways exhibit, which will return in the fall with some updates, according to museum director Denis Chirles.

The museum's summer hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays and, for members only, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Mondays. Admission is $7 for ages 12 months and up. Children under 12 months are free. For more information, visit

Brenda Rindge can be reached at 937-5713 or at