I am pleased to share these written reflections on my SculptureFest piece, “The Forest Within,” by friend and author Peter Heller. A former Upper Valley resident, Peter wrote the bestselling novel The Dog Stars in 2012. – Jay
The Tree Artist
Jay Mead at SculptureFest
A Tribute to an Oldest Friend
Take a beat up old farm shed. Prop it up, true the posts, re-roof it. Give it back its humble life. Then reach for the medium you have loved since you were a kid: trees.
Trees are everything to you. You grew up on a tree farm in New Hampshire. You tapped trees to make syrup as a teenager, cut and bucked and split them for firewood. You walked and skied among them for inspiration and solace in high school. And after you moved to the Bay Area you went to the sequoias and redwoods whenever you could. The giants were your cathedral. Those forests did something to the light and the air that changed the way you saw yourself in the world. When you lost two younger sisters and a father that is where you prayed, and when you had children of your own it is where you gave thanks. They gave you back your smallness, which every person needs. Your awe. Your oxygen. They rooted you to your life and reminded you that those that walk and sway on earth are myriad, are your brothers and sisters, and that we are entrusted with certain souls.
In San Francisco, your first big installation was a giant redwood stump, the kind they used to drive cars through, erected in the middle of the city and built of discarded redwood lumber. I helped you build it. Remember? The crowds that stopped, the mouths that fell open? It was a sensation, an organic monument to nature and loss.
So, trees. Back here in Vermont you cut twenty saplings—the field edge needed to be cut back–and you painted them white and planted them inside the dark shed on a ground of soft red mulch. The old pavilion suddenly looked like it would burst its seams with pride. Because it was now a shadow box that held a forest. A ghost forest. A forest of birch at night, or aspen. It was a little church, and inside danced the rows of slender luminous trees, and it was sepulcher also, and the forest was skeletal, a photographic negative of the living world, of what it may become. You called it The Forest Within. And you planted it on the King Farm* where we can all see it and wonder why it resonates with some green thing that moves inside, that sways against our own bones.
* King Farm is in Woodstock, Vermont and hosts the annual SculptureFest.