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.
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.
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.
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.