Charter Oak, CN


In an e-mail of June 10th, you mentioned the Connecticut state quarter, with the Charter Oak on the reverse. At first, I thought the Conn artist who drew the design used a crabapple or a white mulberry for a model since it doesn't look anything like an oak, much less the Charter Oak. However, that wouldn't be fair to Malus or Morus, so I upended the coin, and concluded that the subject was simply the root system of some invasive plant species, which isn't fair to Therestofus.

The famous painting of the Charter oak was done by Charles Dewolf Brownell shortly before it was blown down in August 1856. The treatment of limbs and trunk appears to have been a true rendering, showing an ancient tree with a massive trunk, and a sweep of great angular limbs. The foliage seems a bit too soft, and detracts from the otherwise strong character of the tree.

The 1935 postage stamp commemorating the Connecticut Tercentenary was quite faithfully taken from Brownell's painting, but without the clutter of a few inconsequential small trees. The treatment of twigs was much improved, resulting in a structure which is true to ancient white oaks. Unlike the two-bit coin, there is no pretense of symmetry; the tree has a dramatic sweep of old limbs to the right, somewhat reminiscent of Maryland's Richards Oak, but even more identifiable as an individual specimen.

The commemorative half dollar of 1935 has an image of the Charter Oak which is identifiable, although more a swollen caricature than an actual depiction. Actually, considering the stylicized eagle on the obverse, it appears that the whole was influenced by art deco design, and the futuristic ideas leading up to the the World's Fair of 1939.

At least both 1935 images are identifiable as the Charter Oak, without the drift to forced anonymity afflicting the present. The "tree" on the 1999 quarter is a bit reminiscent of the air mail stamps of 1941-1944, which showed a transport plane which is said to have been drawn from a variety of actual planes so as to avoid endorsing any of them. Engineers claimed the thing wouldn't have been capable of flight.

So, the 1999 tree may have been influenced by some board of artistic censorship that didn't want to endorse any particular species of tree, lest the nurserymen hawking Bradford pears and other arboreal mediocrities claim their patented selections were being upstaged. The result is arboreal pap, and like the plane, just doesn't fly.