Gnarled Trees   Colby Rucker
  Aug 12, 2002 09:55 PDT 

Your comments on an old gnarled maple create a vision much like, and likely
produced by, scenes from certain Currier and Ives lithographs. The work of
G. H. Durrie (1820-1863) was particularly gifted, and deserves some study
concerning what remnants of ancient forest he drew from, and the extent to
which his work influences what catches our attention today.

I've mentioned the importance of Bierstadt, Warren and Bodine in influencing
how we see reality, and that what we see is preconditioned by art, both
visual and the written word, even if Longfellow's "forest primeval" was
second growth. Durrie (George Henry Durrie) was a resident of New Haven,
Connecticut, but his work suggests short trips to the north and west. His
treatment of old trees is, perhaps, the best I've seen - or it may be that
he simply meets my expectations, already influenced by his and other works.

That said, I've seen old trees that display such a much-twigged,
heavy-limbed, greatly-gnarled structure. Such trees are quite unlike the
fast-growing upright second growth that runs through an entire life cycle
without showing any picturesque character of outline. It sems that such is
left to a more diverse forest of sour gum, beech, maple and oaks, growing
more deliberately, drawing on whatever resources are not already bound up,
to produce a woodland of groves within stands. The transition from second
growth back to old growth is more than waiting for second growth to get old;
the vertical lines must be supplanted by more complex structures.

Perhaps the best of Durrie's work is "The Blacksmith Shop in Winter."
Others, not unsimilar, include Winter-time at Jones Inn, A Cold Morning, A
Mid-winter Day, Returning to the Farm, The Old Homestead in Winter, The
Village Church, The Old Grist Mill, Returning to the Farm, Journey Resumed,
and Getting Ice. In many cases, it appears that new paintings were simply a
new arrangement of elements from previous works, rather than drawing from
new sites, and new trees. No matter; this suggests that Durrie was, like
us, influenced by a few trees - perhaps a single tree, that represented an
element being lost even then. However quaint or picturesque, it represented
his vision of reality.

And, it may be that our vision, our sense of reality, is so influenced.