Bridging Earth and Sky

March 31 - July 8, 2012

The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky.

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Trees against the winter sky are nature’s perfect drawing. Their trunks form strong verticals, bridging the earth and the sky. Their branches, a tracery of lines, embellish the scene before us. It is no wonder that artists, professional and amateur, hone their drafting skills by rendering trees.

Gabrielle Senza holds finely ground graphite in the palm of one hand as she makes marks directly on a wall — each touch building form and texture; each touch an act of mindfulness; each tree she creates a transient experience for the artist and viewers. After the exhibition period the wall will be repainted, erasing all trace of the tree. Powdered graphite is perhaps the closest material to pure carbon — nature’s basic building block to which most living things are reduced after life. Senza’s choice of this material, along with the temporal nature of the drawing itself, allude to the life cycle of living things. They also call attention to the premature destruction of the environment by slash-and-burn deforestation. Viewers are invited to return to the museum on July 8 for Senza’s performance/lecture as she paints out her tree.

In Jackie Reeves’s installation we encounter an asymmetrical grouping of rectangular canvases stretching floor to ceiling. The dozen or more canvases are not enough to contain the scale and amplitude of the tree and its branches as they stretch out across the wall. A muscular tree trunk, sinewy branches, and a tracery of twigs create the deftly painted core of the work. Leaves and the sky are fashioned by delicate, mosaic-like passages of paint, imbuing the scene with dappled light. Reeves’s piece resonates with the sensations of the forest—light and dark, near and far, trunk and branch, leaf and sky.

Sandra Allen focuses our attention on the tree’s trunk and bark. Presented with a segmented view of a tree, the viewer is left to conceptualize the size and heft of the tree. It is a giant. Even as a fragment, it possesses the majesty of a Sequoia. The topography of the drawing is mesmerizing. Pencil marks accumulate, forming runnels of bark, capturing or reflecting light gliding rhythmically across the tree’s skin. Each tiny pencil mark contrasts with the monumental scale of the trunk, linking Allen’s creative process with the growth process of millennia-old trees.

Trees are perhaps the most common representation of family connectivity throughout the world. Traditionally, family trees are meticulously rendered maps of branching bloodlines. Their purpose is to capture and convey exact information of familial ties in a condensed, graphic form. Jill Reynolds’s Family Tree II departs significantly from this tradition. Instead of a flat map, we are confronted with a large-scale sculpture, its core a massive tree trunk. There are no branches articulating the names of ancestors; nor are there dates of marriages, births, and deaths. Instead, a helix of Petri dishes containing portraits and filled with yeast, swirls around the tree’s trunk. With this evocative work, we are free to draw our own maps connecting families, communities, and cultures, regardless of bloodlines.

Isaac Witkin created Untitled (Tree of Life for a Child)* as a memorial after the death of the young son of a friend in Bennington. The trunk and canopy of the tree are fashioned from a series of simple geometric shapes. Stylized versions of a child’s toys perch atop its branches, their precarious balance hinting at the fragility of life.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

* on loan from Nadine Witkin, in memory of Isaac Witkin’s cat, Tuey (1993-2012)

Bridging Earth and Sky is one of six concurrent exhibits that explore our physical and metaphorical relationship with trees — seen for millennia as botanical analogues for human life, spiritual touchstones, and expressions of family connectivity.


March 31 – Members’ Opening Reception & Champagne Brunch
June 1 – Art Film After Gallery Walk: Climbing Redwood Giants
June 17 – Brattleboro Tree Walk
July 8 – Terra Temporalis (info coming soon)

Sandra Allen website
Jackie Reeves website
Jill Reynolds at TENWILLOW studio
Gabrielle Senza website
Isaac Witkin New York Times obituary