24" x 18"
Southern Ontario, Canada
Beeches are the trees I imagined in the deep, dark forest of my childhood fairy tales. My association of the American Beech with these old tales may not be a coincidence. The Fairy tales set down by the Brothers Grimm were of central European origin, a people who had plenty of experience with the European Beech, which is very similar to the American Beech. Donald Peattie, in his marvelous book A Natural History of Eastern Trees, cites a report written by a German prince, Maximilian of Wied, traveling in the mid western states:
“We came to a tall, gloomy forest, consisting almost wholly of large Beech trees, which afforded a most refreshing shade. The forest continued without intermission…the lofty crowns of the trees shut out the sky from our view. They were the most splendid forests I had yet seen in America…The dense Beech forests constantly reminded us of the scenery of Germany”
Apparently such forests covered large parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and central Michigan. Beech trees favor this area for the deep, rich soil over a limestone base. Such soils give the shallow rooted Beeches an advantage over Oaks and other acid loving competitors whose tap roots are harmed by the limestone. Because of this rich soil most of the Beech forests have been cleared for farms. I remember walking in a pure stand of Beech trees once many years ago. It was an awesome experience. I would like to return to paint that forest but I don’t remember where it was. The Beeches in this painting are part of a forest of mixed hardwoods, maple, oak and beech.
This was one of my earlier paintings. The date “1975” appears in the lower right hand corner of the painting. I used a technique that I seldom use today. To create the fine twigs of the Beech tree I first painted the background with a dark color, waited for it to dry, and then scratched out the dark paint with the tip of a pointed painting knife, exposing the white primer layer beneath. It worked well for Beech twigs because they are almost white like the paint I use to prime the panel. I don’t think the technique would work as well for twigs of other colors. To create a reddish brown twig I would have to underpaint first with that reddish brown and then overpaint with the dark color and then be very careful when scraping that I scrape away the dark layer only, otherwise I would penetrate into the white layer again.
The Beech (Fagus grandifolia) grows in eastern North America in southern Canada and most of the States east of the Mississippi. The Beeches in this painting live in Southern Ontario.