24 Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau, 2001-2003
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published his book Walden: Life in the Woods; it has since remained a touchstone of American literature. Thoreau spent just over two years living an austere existence in the forest near Concord, Massachusetts. He built a modest cabin by hand, cleared land, and planted a vegetable garden. Thoreau avowed the virtues of chastity and abstinence. In an age of rapid urbanization, technological advances and the distractions offered by cultural entertainment in the city, he preferred the solitude and quiet experienced in his forest retreat.
While the Hudson River School of painters sought scenes of majestic grandeur of nature and the bombast of storms and sunsets, Thoreau preferred the understatement and introspection found in the contemplation of his beloved Walden Pond. His example inspired many to follow his lead. American artist Rockwell Kent left Maine in 1915-16 to replicate this ‘cleansing exercise’ of living ‘off-the-grid’ first at Brigus, Newfoundland and then at Fox Island, Alaska in 1918-19. Canada’s Group of Seven painters were also interested in this outlook, seeking images of sparse remote desolate northland wilderness. J.E. H. MacDonald even named his son Thoreau.
Renowned New Brunswick artist Thaddeus Holownia is one of those who turned his attention to re-experience Walden. His photographs capture the spirit of the place as a sanctuary and nature preserve and act as a pathway to recollect Thoreau’s inspiration. His black and white tree portraits reveal each tree trunk as a character, a personage whose bark, like skin, bears the memory of the accrual of time’s passage. Holownia is head of the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. His works have been exhibited internationally and are included in major private and public collections, among them the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
Produced and organized by Corkin Gallery, Toronto, presented in partnership with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.