Sunday, May 14, 2017

Local Art Seen: Birch Trees at Lakeside Gallery

Lakeside Gallery on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier this spring the call went out for artists to paint birch trees for a show at Lakeside Gallery. As anyone who has followed Aaron Kloss, proprietor of the Lakeside Gallery, knows birch tree is a favorite theme of his. Though I desired to attend the opening last weekend I was detained by other commitments.

One of my early memories of the birch is how when our family moved to New Jersey in 1964 my father planted a copse of birch trees in front of our house out near the road. I don't recall his precise words but I do recall the sentiments he held toward the white birch, sentiments I have shared over the years.

Birch Trunks by Val Berkely
The birch are plentiful here in Northern Minnesota where I now reside. The very back of my property is lined with white birch. Numerous clusters of birch also huddle along the roads this way and that.

Robert Frost wrote a poem about birches as have many others who have taken inspiration from our silent, white-robed sentinels. These lines were penned by priest and novelist Andrew Greeley:

When I can go just where I want to go,
There is a copse of birch trees that I know;
And, as in Eden Adam walked with God,
When in that quiet aisle my feet have trod
I have found peace among the silver trees,
Known comfort in the cool kiss of the breeze
Heard music in its whisper, and have known
Most certainly that I was not alone!

* * * *
In the back of my mind it seems like I recall a tree disease that was striking down birches, so I Googled to see if I could find it, but found something far more disturbing, an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune regarding the reprehensible behavior of criminals taking advantage of the public's admiration of the white birch. The article, titled Birch Tree Bandits Cut and Run, is about a form of tree poaching that has sprung up recently. Knowing that people are willing to pay money for birch logs that can be used for decoration, thieves have been chopping down trees, cutting them up
and selling them in pieces.

Birch trees by Nikki Johnson
The matter is a problem not because they don't have permits, rather it's because they are not the owners of the trees they are taking. They see birches on a rural road and they cut them down. The property might be yours or government land, or private tree farms, they do not care.

* * * *
When I think of birch trees one of the first images that comes to mind is of the birch-bark canoes that Native Americans constructed. The bark peels off in great leaves and is quite pliable, making it an easy to manage canoe-skin.

Big Ole Birch in the Spring, also by Val Berkely

Summer Birch Tree by Samantha Nielsen
If you go, you'll find numerous paintings and watercolors of birches by a dozen area artists including Aaron Kloss and the ubiquitous Adam Swanson. The gallery is located in Lakeside at 45th Avenue East and Superior Street. Next time you're heading that direction for a weekend drive, be sure to make it one of your stops, especially now during the birch show.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it. 

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