Tell it to the Trees
Ancient woodlands, a mysterious picturesque valley, an intimate walled garden and a Gothic Castle are the setting for Tell it to the trees, a year long exhibition of contemporary sculptural installations and paintings at the National Trust’s Croft Castle in Herefordshire, from July 2009.
Nine artists have been invited to make or show work that is inspired by man’s relationship to trees. They are Mariele Neudecker, Philippa Lawrence, Brass Art, Laura Ford, Juneau / projects and Clare Woods.
The works are installed in the Croft parkland, the walled garden, the early 19th century stables and the Castle itself - a highly romantic building constructed in the early 17th Century in medieval revival style, Croft lies on a beautiful hillside on the Welsh border, where ancient woodland and magnificent beech woods meet modern forestry plantations and an iron-age hill-fort.
Croft’s parkland contains more than 300 veteran trees, some still growing and some dying but still standing. In particular it contains an extraordinary group of 'Spanish' sweet chestnuts and English oak planted in the mid 17th century, reputedly to commemorate Britain’s victory over the Spanish Armada. The parkland is at the centre of an in-depth debate about replanting and managing ancient and newer woods and the art works themselves will highlight the conservation challenges faced by the National Trust and other organisations such as the Woodland Trust.
The importance of trees and woodland remains high on the environmental agenda decades after alarms were first raised about the impact of global deforestation - a process that began centuries ago, motivated amongst other causes by the need for shelter and fuel, agricultural development, naval trade and warfare.
Despite this now familiar story of use, misuse and destruction, we retain a powerful connection to trees. In legend, folklore, art, poetry, literature and song they are symbols of knowledge, shelter, stability and life. The sight of magnificent ancient trees invariably moves us with pragmatic admiration and almost subconscious attraction. The exhibition asks us to question what this strong bond between man and trees is: is it an ancient, elemental recognition or is it related to purely cultural and emotional associations?
Inside the Castle Claire Woods has added an additional ‘ancestor’ to the portrait gallery and the collective Brass Art display strange morphing figurines in the Gothic niches of the ante room to the library. In the parkland, a huge dead tree is bound in bright red thin cotton strips by Philippa Lawrence and in the picturesque Fishpool Valley Juneau / projects have erected a mossy folly celebrating ‘woodsmanship’. Near the famous avenue of ancient Spanish sweet chestnut Mariele Neudecker raises a ghostly structure to evoke the legions of ships, built from sturdy trees, which have vanished beneath the waves. In the productive walled garden Brass Art grow a bizarre new tree cultivar fashioned in their image while Laura Ford’s Espaliered Girl extends her growing limbs on the walls. Further works by these artists are shown in the stable block which has been converted into a temporary exhibition space.