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Woodcut Opens…

And You'll Never Look at Trees the Same Way Again

Karen Z. —  January 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

In the Woodcut video of artist Bryan Nash Gill at work, there’s a moment that made me gasp: as Gill peels back and lifts the paper from a tree’s cross section that he’s printing on, three dimensions seem suddenly distilled into two, revealing the internal life of the tree. That first peek is profoundly intimate and thought-provoking — check it out here.

It took 1,022 wood "cookies," 3 people, and 3 blisters to install the exhibition's title.

It took 1,022 wood “cookies,” three people, and three blisters to install the exhibition’s title.

Woodcut opened this weekend, with 25 of Gill’s prints presented in Joutras Gallery. Each of the AV (artist variation) prints is made by hand: Gill sands and burns a crosscut of a tree, inks it, then presses paper onto the ridges and edges of the surface. Most of the salvaged wood—fallen trees, a telephone pole, a tree hit by lightning—was collected near his Connecticut studio.

Yes, you can count the tree rings in his prints—but look closely and you’ll also see the good-weather years and the bad…the scars and damage from age and insects…the patterns of growth and the checks of disintegration. The largest print (nearly five feet high) documents an aged ash tree—an especially poignant piece for us at the Garden, where emerald ash borers were discovered in 2011, and where we expect to lose hundreds of native ash trees in the next few years.

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The theme of salvaged wood influenced the design of the exhibition itself. In the entry hall, the show’s title is formed by 1,022 wood “cookies” cut from branches pruned at the Garden, then glued into place on the wall. The gallery benches were made especially for this show, milled by an on-site sawyer on World Environment Day (June 3, 2012). After curing, the boards were sanded, sealed, and mounted as bench tops by our carpenters.

Now available at the Garden Shop, Woodcut: Prints by Brian Nash Gill

Now available at the Garden Shop,
Woodcut: Prints by Bryan Nash Gill.

Mr. Gill honors the Garden with a print called English Oak, on exhibit with the cross section of the tree from which it’s made. The tree stood as one of a pair along the outer road here; it was removed after it grew into its neighbor, threatening the health of both. (The second tree regained its vigor after the removal.) Gill made just 18 original prints from the cross section; the prints can be purchased at the Garden Shop

January is a splendid month to learn about trees at the Garden. In conjunction with Woodcut, the School of the Botanic Garden has a terrific lineup of tree-related classes and workshops.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Garden Turns 40

Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future

Leora Siegel —  January 5, 2013 — 3 Comments

Chicago Botanic Garden visitors know that the Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. In looking back over the Garden’s growth since 1972, Garden staff, members, and visitors appreciated the remarkable changes that had taken place. The 40th anniversary website includes a timeline of significant events, historical photos, and opportunities for community members to share their experiences at the Garden.

Fewer Garden visitors are aware of the early years of the Chicago Horticultural Society, which dates back to 1890. At a free talk about The Garden Turns 40: Documenting our Past, Planning for the Future exhibition last week, I shared some of this history with those who attended.

In 1890, the goal of the Horticultural Society of Chicago was “the encouragement and promotion of the practice of horticulture in all its branches and the fostering of an increased love of it among the people.” This is in perfect alignment with the City of Chicago’s motto of Urbs in Horto (Latin for city in a garden). The Society shared this message through flower shows. Currently on exhibition in the Lenhardt Library are a poster from a 1900 flower show and a pamphlet from the 1914 flower show.  Seeing the original, primary source documents from the Garden’s early history is inspiring.

PHOTO: The Garden Turns 40 Exhibition

Also on display as a part of the Garden Turns 40 exhibition is an original record book from 1890–1904. It includes all types of documents including board minutes (many of which were hand scribed), by-laws, financial records, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, meeting notifications, and other materials that were of interest to Society members. This is the only original document from the early period in the archives of the Chicago Horticultural Society.

The record book is open to the first page, which has a list of officers. You can see some names crossed off and others added. This is because it was a working document. As board members changed each year, the names were updated on the list. One civic leader who was involved with the Horticultural Society of Chicago and listed as an officer is Andrew McNally (from the Rand McNally family of maps and atlases).

See these items and more at the Lenhardt Library.  Feel free to ask library staff questions. If you have any family stories about how this Garden got started please share them with us; we’d love to hear from you.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org