|Posted by Sam Valentine on September 30, 2016 at 5:20 PM|
Image: Wes Hanson
My previous posts have covered trees that look like sculpture, sculptures that look like trees, and sculpture woven from twigs and branches. Somehow I seem to have danced around a the clearest overlap: sculpture made from living, breathing trees.
Beginning in 1925, a Swedish-American farmer by the name of Axel Erlandson began a project at his California home. His "tree shaping" all started as a hobby, but by 1947 he had trained a veritable freak show of trees. Calling his project "The Tree Circus," Erlandson attracted local visitors and national publicity by growing trees into surprising forms.
Images: Axel & Wilma Erlandson and Wes Hanson
Tree shaping, a close relative of "pleaching," was by no means invented by Erlandson, but it is he who exposed generations of Americans to the sculptural, acrobatic forms that average trees can be forced into. With archways, basketweaves, picture frames, and what seem like extraterrestrial forms, Erlandson blurred the lines of classic gardens, creating works that were both plant and architectural folly.
Images: Wes Hanson
Some of Erlandson's sculptured trees still exist today. Thirty years ago, the pieces were moved -- or, more accurately, transplanted -- to form the central attraction at Gilroy Gardens an amusement park near San Jose, California.
Images: Peter Cook and Becky Northey
If not the works of Erlandson himself, the concept of tree shaping has influenced artists to create interesting works over the last few years. Both artists and furniture builders are employing methods similar to Erlandson's. Pooktre Tree Shapers uses a "gradual shaping method" to grow trees into predetermined sculptural forms. Another operation is using tree-shaping methods to make unique, sustainable furniture; formed like concrete or plastic but made of wood. Growing young saplings over mold-like forms means no toxic glues or binders are necessary, just pruning, training, and a massive amount of patience. Photos of their operation depict an outdoor, organic, but somehow still industrial chair factory.
Images: Full Grown
One artist, Richard Reames, may have found the best word for what he creates: "arborsculpture." If you are considering experimenting with this art in your own landscape, Reames warns that using the "artistic medium of a living tree" has "taught me even more about patience and acceptance than grafting and pruning."
Image: Heinz-Peter Bader