For the past twenty years, the forest has become my studio, not as subject matter to draw or paint, but for discovery, observation and the collection of the materials that are the basis of my art. Each spring, I have knelt under the pines collecting the peeled twigs that Abert squirrels gnaw on and then drop as litter onto the forest floor below. I like to believe that the trees I work under remember who I am. I like to believe that they remember me as I enter their home, arms embracing acceptance to come listen and learn.
More recently, as I have begun collecting materials in burnt forests, my aesthetic has changed. I now find such forests to be more beautiful than the dark dense forests of monotonous green. Fire creates openings to see the contours of topography, of form and horizon, the hollowed-ground of what once stood. There is a beauty to the death and eventual resurrection to come.
What happens when a fire burns so fast, so hot, that trees have no time to talk to each other? When the mycorrhiza network in the soils below have not had time to send warning signals of an approaching fire, a fireball of destruction, whipped up by hot winds, their frangible needles left on the limbs flash-frozen in time, baked gray, but not incinerated? When trees are unable to draw vital waters from their roots in time to protect themselves from searing gases of heat? Years later, when I enter these flattened forests, I find the trees lying on the ground and smell both the soft-rot of decomposing wood and the sharp aroma of branch attachments made of hard dense axillary wood.
Catalina-Rincon Panorama is rendered with wildfire charcoal collected from wildfire sites on two adjacent mountains outside of Tucson, Arizona. The density of charcoal in the drawing reflects the relative frequency and severity of wildfires in recent history. The charcoal samples used to create the drawing are displayed in proximity to each wildfire site.
When we thin a forest, through fire or saw, to protect our communities, have we conscientiously considered the individual life of each tree? Do we honor and give respect to each body?
Scientifically, humans and trees are genetically related. Culturally, we both are spiritual beings. Is it possible that I will someday be reincarnated into a tree, to stand for decades as a sentinel witnessing the business of those below? Will my body someday stand in the form of a tree?
In trees, I sing.
Life Rings Tree-rings can tell us stories about a tree’s experiences, from its age to how many droughts it has weathered. Fabrics and textiles have personal significances and memories associated with them. Attendees at a unique workshop held at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, worked with Wyoming artist Georgia Roswell to create their own textile “Life Ring”. This workshop was sponsored in part by the Wyoming Arts Council.