A Witness Tree is a very old tree that has “witnessed” great events in history. There are such trees all over the world, which are treasured by those who know them. One example is a honeylocust tree in Gettysburg, which is the only tree still standing that was there when Abraham Lincoln dedicated the battlefield cemetery in 1863. Witness trees are living links to the past, yet they don’t last forever, and it’s always sad when we lose one to storms or disease.
In 2009, two professors at the Rhode Island School of Design, in collaboration with the Hampton National Historic Site, created what would become the Witness Tree Project, now in its third year. Professors Dale Broholm (Furniture) and Daniel Cavicchi (History) and the National Parks Service designed a program where students study and produce artworks from witness trees that have recently fallen. It is interdisciplinary learning at its best, as students study the history and culture surrounding the tree, and use that to inform their work.
As their website explains: “In addition to classroom study, the Project variously involves field trips, guest lectures, exhibitions of students’ objects, and other events that highlight the significance of material culture, landscape, and design in learning about American history.”
The first tree used in the program was a pecan tree that had lived for over 150 years at the Hampton National Historic Site, a former plantation near Baltimore (see photo above). In 2010, they worked with trees from both the George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Sagamore Hill (the homestead of Theodore Roosevelt). This year, students are working with an historic Elm from the Olmsted site.
Below are just a few of the pieces created by students from 2010, and you can see many more amazing pieces here. Artwork from the current year’s project will be posted to their website later this year.
What exactly is an untended garden? The phrase often has a negative connotation, like Shakespeare’s “unweeded garden” overrun with foul things. We tend to think of nature as something that needs taming, otherwise it will take over and devour us.
But today in our shrinking world, it’s more important for us to understand and get along with the flora and fauna around us, for we’re all in this together – we need each other, whether we like it or not. If they die, we die, it’s as simple as that.
The mission of this blog is to explore how artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and designers explore nature in their work. And I don’t mean simply how artists depict the beauty of nature, but how they plumb the depths and seek out its essence.
To draw something is to understand it better. Same with writing. I hope by highlighting artists with interesting and unique perspectives on nature, I can bring readers closer to the world around them, and inspire more artists to do the same. The world is an untended garden, but we must tend it carefully lest we kill it in the process.
Summer is here, and for the next six weeks or so, I am going to devote this blog to one of our greatest and most inspiring natural resources, the ocean.
Since ancient history, the ocean has inspired art, poetry and storytelling in every culture. In fact there are so many great works of art and literature about the ocean, I think we’ve taken it for granted as one of those eternal things in life that will always be there, impervious to anything. The ocean is always described as “mighty” and “powerful”, something that humans must battle and which always has the upper hand.
Anyone who has witnessed a storm at sea knows how powerful it is, yet it is not invulnerable, as we’ve learned in recent months. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is only the latest and most visible blow to a living ecosystem that is slowly dying. So in the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some famous and not so famous art, books and films inspired by the ocean, to help us all gain a better understanding and appreciation of why it is so unique.
I’d like to start by highlighting a wonderful blog called Ripple started by artist Kelly Light to help animals harmed by the recent oil spill. The images in this post are all from that site, and I encourage you to check it out.
Also, the Smithsonian Institution has a new website called Ocean Portal, which has many cool features about the ocean’s history and ecology, definitely worth taking a peek.
It has been exactly three months since I started this blog, and I want to thank all my readers for their feedback and support. I have lots of ideas for the new year, and here’s just a peek at what’s coming up.
January will be “snow month” at The Untended Garden — all the posts will involve snow and winter. Snow has always inspired art and writing, not just for its visual beauty, but how it changes the way we see nature, making everything seem new. It has also been used as a metaphor in countless ways, as something that both hides and reveals, that protects and threatens.
Another theme that I will delve into next year is the ocean, which is a huge part of our planet (two thirds of it!) and also has inspired writers and artists for centuries.
I will also feature a wide variety of media, including novels, poetry, picture books, drawings, paintings and films that deal with nature. I hope you can join the conversation, as we continue on our voyage of discovery!