Artist shares tree-ring images started in 1995 and completed in France in 2013
by Susie P. Gonzalez
SAN ANTONIO – Consider the daunting task of reversing the action of cutting down a stately oak, or any species of an established tree. Only in the imagination of award-winning poet W.S. Merwin would it be possible to perform the act of Unchopping a Tree.
Merwin, poet laureate of the United States in 2010 and Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 1971 and 2009, assembled thoughts of re-attaching leaves, twigs, and trunks into a book published in March by the Trinity University Press. It’s enough to imagine the undertaking in prose – what about images to respond to the act?
To accompany Merwin’s essay, Barbara Ras, director of the Press, turned to Trinity artist Liz Ward, professor and chair of art and art history, who is known for her paintings, drawings, and prints of natural history and the environment.
Ward, who for years had hung a Merwin poem clipped from an old New Yorker on her studio wall “like a talisman,” said she was astonished that she would be asked to respond to Merwin’s latest work. “The project was meant to be,” she said.
Ward’s silverpoint drawings depicting the cellular life of trees are on exhibit through Saturday, April 5, in the Michael and Noémi Neidorff Art Gallery on the Trinity campus. She had begun exploring the imagery of tree rings in 1995 and continued the theme in 10 drawings from The Interior Life of a Tree, completed between 2005 and 2013.
Ward had begun the Interior Life project when she received Ras’ invitation for the Merwin volume and was able to complete the drawings during an artist-in-residence supported by the Brown Foundation at the Dora Maar House in Ménerbes, France, in May 2013. Ironically, the region of Provence had inspired Merwin in his poems and prose. Ward said she, too, incorporated aspects of the area into her final tree drawings, such as ochre pigment mined in a nearby village and linen rag paper from an ancient French mill.
Susie P. Gonzalez is director of public and media relations at Trinity University and can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at] trinity.edu