35.25" x 23.5"
I like my paintings to tell a story. The story of this painting is one of a forest in transition.
The Glover Archbold National Park has many mature trees including tulip, beech, oak, walnut, and hickory. Saplings grow under the canopy of these trees, but the distribution of species are not representative of their parents.
A close look at the forest will reveal that virtually all the young trees are beeches. The reason for the dominance of beech saplings is their high level of shade tolerance. Beech saplings can grow in the shade produced by their parents while many other trees cannot. As the older trees die off, the beech saplings will gradually inherit the forest. This process of succession is the normal history of a forest.
Beech trees are not the only trees to become what we call a “climax” tree, but they are the climax species in this forest. Other shade tolerant trees like hemlocks and white pine may become the climax tree in other forests, depending on other factors like soil and weather conditions. One of my objectives in this painting is to capture this early stage in the succession of the Glover Archbold Forest.
I tried to distinguish the trees from one another by their bark. Using the blade of a painting knife I sculpted the bark of the tulip and oak trees with deep furrows, but only the black oak bark was painted with long, flat ridges that look like ski runs. I used the flat part of my knives to create the smooth, grey trunks of the beeches.
Another striking aspect of this forest is the scarcity of plants on the forest floor. It looks unnaturally tidy as if it were groomed by park attendants. We tend to think of a forest as dense with undergrowth. Shade tolerant shrubs and trees like dogwood and red bud trees can grow under the canopy of the mature trees, but in some places, there is too little sunlight even for them, especially in the middle of the day. In evening and early morning when the sun is at a low angle to the earth, streaks of light stream through. They don’t provide the full sun that plants need but I love the way they reveal the contours of the land.