36" x 24"
I first experienced the sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) as a teenager, when I visited my aunt and uncle in Arkansas. A large sycamore grew in their back yard. More accurately, it grew “over” their back yard, because its canopy covered most of the yard. I was fascinated with it at first because it was so massive.
Later I learned that the sycamore is the most massive deciduous tree east of the Rocky Mountains, typically reaching up to 130 ft (40 m) and over 6 ft. (51 m) in diameter. And its bark is extraordinary. Its bark flakes off in irregular patches like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, revealing, under each flake, colors ranging from creamy white, yellow and reddish-brown to grey. Moreover, the structure of the Sycamore rivals the southern and west coast live oaks in its branches that curve in unpredictable twists. I thought the tree was beautiful. I was shocked when they told me they had decided to take it down.
After this experience, whenever I told the story about this wonderful tree, I found that people who knew sycamores firsthand, asked if I were joking. They would tell me how much trouble it was to rake up bark flakes and cut down seedlings. A typical tree produces 10,000 seeds that sprout into fast growing seedlings, reaching as much as 10 ft. (about 3 m) in a year. One gardener told me you can’t kill them. If you cut one down, several shoots will appear from the stump like the Hydra. And, he added, the wood holds so much water that it isn’t good for firewood. As if that weren’t a sufficient condemnation, he told me that even the wildlife don’t benefit from the seeds, which have no nutritional value.
But from my point of view, sycamores are beautiful. How can an artist reveal this beauty in paint to those who see little good in the tree? I teamed up with my daughter, Kiry, with whom I share a studio, to paint this Sycamore in Menden Ponds Park, New York. We decided on a close-up view of the central canopy to display its massiveness. As it turns out, our painting knives are well suited to making sharp-edged patches on the tree trunk. And, by the way, although wildlife doesn’t eat the seeds, they do live in the hollowed-out trunk.