The big trees of Calaveras County
While roadside attractions, the tallest peaks, and the largest trees might illustrate ideas of American superiority, or the evolution of place from the sacred to the profane, they are also symbols that provoke preservation movements and celebrate community individuality. For this body of work, I'm interested in the Calaveras Grove of Big Trees.
I began a body of prints and drawings in 2013 to visually tell the story of this giant sequoia grove in northern California from the initial destruction of its largest trees in 1851 to the state of the grove today. As the first sequoia grove exploited by Euro-Americans, as a catalyst in the conservation movement, and today, as a grove celebrating the largest species on the planet, the Calaveras Grove of Big Trees conveys a gripping narrative. The exploitation, ignorance, destruction, and conservation efforts of this historic spot are emblematic of the westward expansion of European immigrants across this country.
This body of work chronicles the destruction of the Discovery Tree, the Mother of the Forest, and the Pioneer Cabin Tree. It also more broadly celebrates the giant sequoia as a species, its unique place in the Sierra, and the threats it has faced in the past / potential threats it may face in the future.
The work has culminated with a graphite rubbing of the Discovery Stump as it exists today (161 years after its felling). Its diameter is etched with carved names of tourists. The exterior contour of the stump is weathered and gnarly. The surface retains textured rings and burn scars of it age. Having acquired the appropriate permits, in the summer of 2014, I was able to complete the 24'x24' rubbing in 11 days. The finished print is a timeline of the tree's life and a document of the grove's history from a privately owned tourist attraction to a California State Park. As a photograph cannot provide a real understanding of these giants, the print may also serve as a direct link for those who have not made it to California themselves.