An exhibition celebrating trees, ‘the most important organisms on the planet’ according to acclaimed nature writer Richard Mabey, opened in Norwich last night. And it couldn’t be more timely
During lockdown, trees suddenly became a surprising source of solace, continuity and hope in our lives. That’s the observation of Mary Mellor, the curator of a new Norwich exhibition, Celebrating Trees, which was postponed for a year because of the pandemic.
The opening of it last night, by acclaimed nature writer Richard Mabey, couldn’t be timely, as he says: ‘What serendipity that this exhibition is occurring at the same time as COP26. I can scarcely believe that it wasn’t actually arranged.
‘Trees at the moment do look like being the most important organisms on the planet. They capture carbon, they clean air, they provide – eventually – wildlife habitats and, if you believe some people they exhale gases that improve your mental health.’
Celebrating Trees will feature the work of around 40 artists, many Norfolk-based. It will feature paintings, sculpture, photography and digital works that celebrate the beauty and meaning of trees – and our link with them.
Artists exhibiting in the show include nationally known painter Derrick Greaves; and Ivy Smith, winner of several awards including the John Player Portrait award.
The exhibition also features Tor Falcon, who recently had a solo show about Norfolk countryside at the Castle Museum; four members of the nationally known Arborealist Group; plus many established painters, sculptors and photographers from Norfolk and elsewhere.
‘It would be wonderful if this exhibition encourages us to contemplate the trees around us that we often take for granted as we go about our busy lives,’ says artist Mary, who is curating the exhibition with Caroline Hoskin.
‘Trees are so important for our emotional and physical wellbeing that we hope to encourage people to look more carefully at the trees that surround them – especially those within our urban environment,’ says Mary.
She adds: ‘As the pace of life picks up again, it’s our hope that this exhibition will inspire us to continue to cherish nature and the trees that surround us.’
Richard hopes that the exhibition reveals to people how trees have autonomous and extraordinarily complex lives. ‘They grow regardless of whether we opt to put them in little plastic tubes in the ground or not.
‘I would hope that people begin to view trees as individuals not things that are simply there – planted by us, fostered by us, given intensive care by us.’
He suggests that when people look at the trees that surround them, they consider why a particular species of tree is in a particular place. A tree can be viewed as a community and entire ecosystem rather than an individual – used by other organisms such as birds, insects and lichen.
The exhibition will also include artwork from children to mark the importance of trees in their future lives. As future custodians of the planet, children are an integral part of the event’ says Caroline. There will also be poems to accompany the show, some by young people and one written especially for the event by acclaimed poet George Szirtes.
Organisers are compiling a tree trail of Norwich as part of the event – encouraging visitors to take time to look at some of the most important and historic trees in the city, such as the plane trees outside The Guildhall and in Elm Hill, the ancient oak in UEA park and the famous Kett’s Oak, near Hethersett.
Norwich is estimated to have around 750,000 trees growing in parks, woods, school grounds, hospitals, cemeteries, industrial and commercial zones and streets. It is hoped the exhibition will focus closer attention on some of them. Many of the city’s trees are hundreds of years old – old enough to have silently witnessed many events that have threatened or enlivened Norwich in years gone by.
‘Trees can be a much-loved local landmark, a joy to passers-by and a gathering place for communities. This new exhibition gives us a chance to really celebrate the special place of trees in our life – and especially in Norfolk and Norwich,’ says Mary.
‘Changing climate and threats to the environment mean that we need to plant and care for trees even more – not least those in Norwich that bring greenery into the city.’
The Celebrating Trees exhibition runs until November 13 and takes place at St Margaret’s Church of Art, St Benedict’s Street, Norwich, NR2 4AQ. Free entry. Also, find Celebrating Trees on Instagram and Facebook
Featured image: Richard Mabey, opening the Celebrating Trees exhibition (picture credit: Liz Hollis)