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Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio and received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com
As Seen by Two Artists
By Victoria Chick, Artist and 19th / 20th Century
Wilderness exploration and science converged with the assistance of art in the 19th century to spread the fame of that giant among trees, the Sequoia.
Reports of fantastic landscapes in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range of California induced a number of East Coast painters to take sailing ships around South America and up the coast to San Francisco. Some took the dangerous route, coming overland to San Francisco by stage coach. They then journeyed inland by wagon and horseback from San Francisco to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where they were awed by wonders such as the Canyon of Yosemite, Bridal Veil Falls, and the giant Sequoia trees. Most of the artists did sketches and watercolors they took back to their East Coast studios to use as resource material for large oil paintings.
Notable among the early painters was Albert Bierstadt, a German – born artist from
He was associated with painters of the Hudson River School, a group with an aesthetic lineage tracing to the Barbizon School in France. However, the subject matter he found in the Western United States put his paintings on the spectacular level rather than merely picturesque or realistic, or even quietly romantic, terms often used to describe the Hudson River School painters. His paintings were among those most influential in showing political leaders that unique lands needed to be preserved, with Congress initially making the Yosemite area a California State Park (See Artists of Yosemite for more information). It would later become part of the National Park System. While this was going on, logging began to take place in the Sequoia groves. John Muir and others were active in persuading Congress that the Sequoia groves needed protection and eventually grove areas were set aside. Paintings were useful visual aids in their arguments.
In the 1850’s, as fine artists, like Bierstadt, painted the Sequoias with an aesthetic
view in mind, botanists were at work gathering seeds and recording the Sequoias from
a scientific framework.
John Matthew from Scotland got seed during a trip to California’s Calaveras Grove and planted that seed in Scotland. William Lobb of England brought seed from California that was distributed to botanical gardens in numerous European countries. The Sequoias did quite well in the British Isles where rainfall is plentiful. One tree in Scotland grew to 177 feet tall in 150 years. There are Sequoias in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London as well as in Serbia, Italy, Germany, Poland, and in Argentina! These trees are still dwarfed by the massive Sequoias of the Sierra Nevada in Central California, some of which are well over 300’ tall. William Richardson, an English lithographer who did botanical studies, produced hand-
From a painting by an unknown artist in the Folk Art Museum at Cooperstown, New York as well as from early engravings, we see the story of the BIG TREE. In 1851, an amazing building in London called the Crystal Palace was constructed of iron and glass to house what was essentially the first World’s Fair. An exhibitor had the idea of covering the walls of his exhibit area with bark from the Big Tree, a Sequoia reported to have had a diameter of 25 feet. The bark was removed around the tree to a height of 33 feet and the girdling killed it. Four years later, it was felled, taking 5 men 22 days to cut it through. The Cooperstown painting shows a dance taking place afterwards on the stump. Tree rings indicated the Big Tree was 1300 years old according to an 1888 publication called Heart of the Sierras.
The senseless vandalism of this ancient tree can make us grateful for early artists
like Bierstadt and Richardson who contributed to appreciation and preservation of
1. The Great Trees, Mariposa Grove by Albert Bierstadt 1876
2. Forest Park Lithograph by William Richardson
3. Sequoia Stump, unknown engraver.
4. Sequoia Stump, unknown folk artist