30" x 40"
Minnesota, United States
In North America the Rowan tree is called a Mountain Ash but it’s not actually an Ash. It is in the Rose family, producing the characteristic fruit of that family, looking like clusters of bright red rose hips. Early Americans called them Ash Trees because they had compound leaves like the Ash. A compound leaf has a main stem with little leaflets coming off of it. This was good news for my daughter who wanted to plant one in her yard but was concerned about the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle. I told her not to worry about the Emerald Borer. Beetles know their trees.
I was disappointed when I first sketched the drawing for this painting. The panel was too small to allow individual leaflets to show. Each leaf became nothing but a streak of paint while the clusters of berries became red blobs. So I sketched another drawing on a larger panel. On the larger panel I could paint individual leaflets and berries, but it was very time consuming. The painting took over 100 hours to complete. It was time consuming but satisfying; one of my interests in painting is the celebration of details like these compound leaves. At least I didn’t have to count the leaflets! Rowan Trees are rather forgiving about the number. Anywhere from seven to seventeen leaflets are allowed.
By luck I encountered this tree at a most interesting time in the development of its fall color. About half of the leaves had turned color. They ranged from deep summer green to a spectrum of yellow, orange and red. Even more surprising were the variations within a single leaf. Leaflets at the end of the leaf were often a different color from leaflets nearer the twig. Sometimes there were even variations within a single leaflet. A leaflet might be dark orange where it attaches to the leaf and grow progressively more yellow toward the tip. To execute a single leaf could take 20 applications of paint with the tip of a knife.
I prefer the name “Rowan” because it avoids confusion with the Ashes but especially for this painting since Rowan is derived from Old Norse raun, and ultimately from a proto-Germanic word raudnian meaning “getting red”.
The Rowan is clearly a Northern tree, ranging across Eastern Canada and the most northerly states. Isolated patches grow as far south as North Carolina but only at the coldest heights of the Appalachian Mountains. If you bought a Rowan tree from a nursery for your garden it likely was the “Showy Mountain Ash” (Sorbus decora) preferred by gardeners because of its brighter fall color rather than its cousin, “The American Mountain Ash” (Sorbus Americana). By the way, if you are curious about the pink flowers in the foreground they are the dried remnants of Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium).