18" x 24"
This artwork is not available for purchase as a giclee.
The Yellow Birch is an uncommon subject for a painter. White Birches are usually favored. White Birch trunks add sparkle to a summer scene by a lake or reflect the cool colors of winter. In addition White Birches usually live at the edge of a lake or clearing rather than in the deep woods, a location that enables artists to embellish their compositions with water or a field of flowers.
In contrast the Yellow Birch is a serious forest tree. Old ones are over 80 feet (25m) high and two feet (60 cm) in diameter. They thrive in the deep woods because they are the most shade tolerant of the birches. To most of us an old Yellow Birch doesn’t look like a birch because the bark, at least on the lower trunk, is not thin and papery. Instead, it breaks up into plates with ragged edges. In fact few people recognize them as birches unless they look at young branches which show the characteristic papery shredding bark. But no lumberman would miss them. My wife’s grandfather, who harvested mature Yellow Birch for furniture, flooring, and cabinetwork never missed one, even when his eyesight was failing.
So what is the attraction for an artist? The bark breaks into plates but unlike oaks or maples, the surface of the plates are shiny. In winter the plates reflect colours like jewels. I wanted these reflections to be noticed. The dramatic shadow of the small tree on the trunk of the Yellow Birch draws the viewer’s attention to the massiveness of the trunk and to the shiny trunk plates. It was fortunate that I came upon this scene at the right time of day when the shadow was in this place.
Also, there are plants in this winter scene that can compete with a lake or field of flowers for colour. The Maple leaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) in the foreground has huge ochre buds that are fuzzy to the touch. And on the opposite river bank the brilliant red-violet stems of the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) poke through the snow. Add the shadows on the snow that flow down the bank of the frozen river and up the other side and you have a lot to look at.
This Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) lives in Québec where it is celebrated as the provincial tree. Yellow Birches can be seen in Northeastern United States and the Canadian Bordering Provinces, but they don’t grow much higher or lower than the great lakes.