Tree Thoughts

"The Waning Years", by Carl Brenner, 1888. Gift of Miss Mary M. Doyle, on display at the Filson.

Oil painting, "The Waning Years", by Carl Brenner, 1888. Gift of Miss Mary M. Doyle, on display at the Filson. This is considered to be a spiritual self-portrait of Brenner.

I’ve been lucky enough to live in a few different states, each with their own particular beauty. Rhode Island, the smallest state we have, has 400 miles of coastline. You don’t have to travel very far in any direction to find a glittering ocean vista or tranquil bay. The Bay Area in California is a cornucopia of natural delights, including Crissy Field, where you can walk by San Francisco Bay and view the Golden Gate Bridge, and Golden Gate Park, where seemingly endless trails await you.

But for me, the state whose beauty I keep returning to is Kentucky. And what embodies Kentucky’s natural beauty for me are trees. Their lush greenness in the spring soothes, and their rare fall colors dazzle. Simply watching branches dance in the air can refresh the soul.

I was reminded of Kentucky’s tree power by two things recently. The first is a book called The Tree Show, on a body of work by the “Lowbrow” artist Mark Ryden. These paintings and carvings celebrate arboreal grandeur, and throw into the mix references to Celtic gods, the Kabbalah Tree of Life, the Madonna, and Lincoln. In “Allegory of the Four Elements,” four seated girls play at tea in the woods, totem animals perched on their heads. In “The Apology,” another girl in a bright yellow dress regards a floating stump, her arm extended. The floating stump gazes back at her with one hazel eye. Each leaf and plant in these paintings is technical perfection, evoking landscape painters such as John James Audubon (who is, of course, represented at The Filson). You can view Ryden’s Tree Show work online at

The spirits of trees were also conjured for me by the first Henry D. Ormsby III lecture, “Kentucky and the Environment: History, Legacy and Future Conflicts.” Ronald R. Van Stockum, Jr. spoke on this topic on Monday evening. Van Stockum utilized helicopter footage of Blanton Forest on Pine Mountain, which played throughout his dynamic presentation. This footage provided a continuous panorama of lush greenery, while Van Stockum touched on Kentucky’s environmental issues, ranging from coal energy to water contamination. The section on geology was particularly fascinating. Van Stockum pointed out that the minerals in Kentucky’s soil are an important component of our vibrant plants, as well as our strong horses.

For more information on the Ormsby series, contact the Filson at 502-635-5083. The Filson is also holding many other great events in the coming weeks. Check out our Events page at for further information.

Filson Historical

One comment for “Tree Thoughts

  1. David Meeks

    Enjoyed your blog Amy


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