Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Art of Lovin' Trees --- Featuring Joel Tauber

The Art of Lovin’ Trees-- 
Featuring Artist Joel Tauber
Story dedicated to Joel and Alison
in celebration of their joyous engagement on November 9th,

Written and Researched by Enilde Van Hook
Story Consult and Editing by Luke Van Hook

 America is having a love affair with trees and California is second to none in leading its appreciation of trees. Digging deep into the roots of this story, I have followed and researched the tree culture specifically in Los Angeles where our love of trees has spawned a unique pop tree culture relating to art. Our popular tree culture today includes but is not limited to tree sculptures, tree paintings, tree photographs, tree videos, tree poetry, tree songs, tree jewelry, tree movies and even tree love affairs. 

Tree Earing created by Joel Tauber for his Sick-Amour Tree in Pasadena, California.
Additional Tree Jewelry created by Joel Tauber to adorn the Sick-Amour Tree includes leaf jewelry, as well as the male earing and the female earing that hang from the tree below.  
Photos of tree jewelry courtesy of  Susanne Vielmetter Gallery 5795 West Washington Blvd., Culver City, California 90232 (323-933-2117)

Sick-Amour Tree in the parkinglot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl, protected by barriers installed by Joel Tauber in his quest to save his beloved tree. Tree wearing the earings looks hot!  Photo courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Gallery.
Leaf sculpture by Joel Tauber
Female tree earing by Joel Tauber.
Male tree earing created by Joel Tauber, photo courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Gallery, 2008

For the record, our love of trees goes way back to the dawn of time when we were swinging in the trees, however, our love has grown and matured since then. The Greek and Roman heritage of literature and art bestows us with intoxicating stories of their Gods having entanglements with humans. Some of their deities were known as protectors of trees and nature such as Dionysus the Greek god of agriculture, fertility, wine and merriment. He was later renamed Bacchus by the Romans and reported to be the Tree God. Back in the day when artists carved trees into stone and marble relief sculptures to worship in the temples of their mythological gods, people celebrated the sacredness of trees, grapevines and sometimes the unions of gods and mortals. There was Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees who married Vertumnus, the god of fruits and gardens. Digging deep enough, one is sure to find stories of deities mating with trees and spawning children of the harvest for instance.

In modern literary circles there are a number of great imaginative family favorites written about trees, like “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. Then there’s the infamous story of how Robinson Crusoe lived in a tree-house, and of utmost importance to our American history of trees, we propagate the very memorable legend of ‘Johnny Appleseed’.

In our contemporary times we have a legend in the making too. I have been fortunate to witness the emergence of a new ‘Johnny Appleseed’ and interestingly enough, the story involves a recent romantic love affair between one special tree and a mortal that is well worth pursuing the story. Sometime in the fall of in 2007, I met Joel Tauber. This is the artist who I believe was struck by a mythological bolt of lighting, so to speak, pertaining to one of the Greek or Roman deities’. Joel Tauber is said to have fallen head over heels in love with one particular Sycamore Tree in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. My chance meeting with this now famous mortal under the influence of an enchanted mystical spell, has led me to research the mysteries intrinsic in the charms of trees. I too have been struck with the frailty of trees, their vulnerabilities, and their enormous strengths and inspiration. This together with my own personal experiences with trees has prompted me to come out of my shell and discuss the subject in all seriousness.

My own personal background is not in trees. I am simply a tree-lover from childhood. For a little over ten years, my professional background was in radio as a disc jockey and on-air personality. I listened to music, reviewed songs and kept tabs on the pop music culture. I worked in the Los Angeles market as well as Santa Barbara, California; Eventually I moved to expand my work experience in neighboring radio markets like Reno, Carson City, Lake Tahoe and Gardnerville/Minden, Nevada. It was through traveling that I saw some of the most beautiful trees along the routes through Northern California and Northern Nevada!
While I drove from one radio market to another over the years, I watched the trees go by at the various speed limits along the highways of my life’s journeys. Thus you will understand when I tell you that often I see art and life, for that matter, through a series of moving images in my head which include a music bed. 
I was eleven years old when in 1970, Joni Mitchell wrote and released a song called ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ whose lyrics surpassed the test of time and is currently in airplay by a glut of new groups. The lyrics began with “…They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.” One of the barometers I use to gage the influence of any particular song, music or artwork that I come into contact with is if it will surpass the test of time, among other important criteria. This song became one of my favorite songs of all time. The lyrics made so much sense to me.
When I met Joel Tauber, I was introduced to the enormous scope of his Sick-Amour Tree-Baby Project. It was then that I suddenly started hearing Joni Mitchell’s song in my mind again, only this time, as I got in my car, Counting Crows was performing the song. When I started doing more research on the song that I could not get out of my head, I was struck by how many artists had re-recorded the song and barely changed anything about the words. There is Amy Grant, who upgraded the dollar amount from $1.50 to $25 when singing about how much the museums charged people to enter. Additionally there is Green Day, Sarah McLachlan, Charlie Barker, Bob Dylan, Moya Brennan, Ireen Sheer, Donnie Eidt and a host of so many others that have recorded ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ it was simply overwhelming!
I think the importance of the lyrics to this one particular song is that it reveals the fact that people love trees and hate parking lots. The message is that if it weren’t for our trees, we could be living in a frying pan! The impact of this single song is that it reveals what is really going on in people’s minds. There is a reason why so many artists are flocking to re-record the lyrics in their own way.

Not only are trees involved in the music arena, trees as subjects, are very involved in politics as well. Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin at the time, took a leading role in developing the celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd 1970 as a way to commemorate our environmental concerns. Arbor Day is presently celebrated as well with the first ceremonial tree planting in Washington D.C. on April 27th in 2001, all evidence that goes to prove the people of our planet do care about what happens to our trees.

Trees stand as a testiment and memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. Martin Luther King is memorialized with trees along Expositon Blvd. across from the Los Angeles Coliseum and down the street from the University of Southern California.
Photo by Ginger Van Hook

Online sources on the subject of trees are rich in number. For instance, eighteen years ago, here in Los Angeles, a multi racial group of volunteers planted 400 Canary Island Pine trees along seven miles of road on Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s life. Today, this living homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to thrive and keep the dream alive for his followers. The founder and President of is Mr. Andy Lipkis and he keeps tabs on the trees to make sure all 400 trees stay healthy.

Mayor Antonio Villarigosa is the person to thank for the ‘Million Trees Initiative’ he signed into effect in May of 2006 and Los Angeles residents can learn how they too can receive up to 7 free trees to plant on their property. Visit the website at to learn the details.   Also in Portland, Oregon there is and in Bellingham Washington you will find There is also the International Society of Arboriculture called ISA and can be accessed by visiting You will also find a great deal of valuable advise on the growth and care of trees at and check out Tree Care Industry Association TCIA as well.

Mark Dion created an art piece titled "Library for the Birds of Antwerp" which is also a good example of how art is vitally connected with our tree culture and how it connects Mark Dion to his PBS special where he removed a dead tree from the forest and recreated its living components in a city scape in Washington.  From the "20th Century Artbook Phaidon Press 1996", the caption reads: "Using props from the natural and man-made world, Dion has constructed an installation that explores contemporary attitudes to science and the environment. He has created a fictional and hybridized situation in which the trappings associated with knowledge, learning and classification--such as books and photographs--are juxtaposed with natural elements including birds and wood.   The representation of nature is a fundamental subject in Dion's art, and here he takes on the role of sociologist/anthropologist and blurring the boundaries between authentic and fake, representation and parody. By adopting the persona of a scientist and by satirizing man's obsession with categorization, Dion questions the values of the Western world.  His subject matter is heavily influence by popular culture.  In Dion's world we might witness Mickey Mouse as an explorer, or Clark Kent interviewing Dr. Frankenstein." (Photo and contents are used in this story for purposes of artistic review.)

In the art world, an artist named Mark Dion was featured in a documentary film report that aired in 2007. To view the video one may visit on the Internet by going to and find Mark Dion as he took the subject of trees and made an art piece that explored what would happen if one were to take a tree after its death, take it out of its familial context of natural forest, and re-create the ecosystem in an environment that would otherwise be a hostile urban setting, needless to say, a cityscape. Just outside of Seattle Washington, he states, a Hemlock fell on February 8th, 1996…and so begins an elaborate experiment that pits optimism against reality." The PBS special is very detailed and you will enjoy the depth of research and work that Mark Dion went to to take a tree out of the forest and recreate the setting in the city.  The difference between the artwork presented by Mark Dion and  the artwork presented by Joel Tauber is in the nature of the life of the tree. Mark Dion works with a dead tree and its living components, and Joel Tauber creates life out of a tree seed and duplicates it all over his community.

Thus I’ve discovered for myself that when I researched the subject of trees, I discovered Joel Tauber wasn’t alone! However, instead of creating an experiment in ecology, Joel Tauber goes further than Mark Dion does with this concept of eco-systems and their frailties. Joel Tauber begins a journey that could eventually repair the eco-systems that man has destroyed. This is where Joel Tauber takes the lead in the art world and becomes not only the realist but the optimistic hope for trees in desecrated forests all over the country.
Joel Tauber’s work as a living project of art in 2008 has resonance and his story is well worth telling again and again. He is certainly not the first, nor the last to get involved in the love of trees, but he is the first in contemporary times to have been associated with a mythological and mystical occurrence of reproducing tree babies out of just hugging one lonely tree.

The last time I saw a man hugging a tree, he was hugging the tree for all the wrong reasons. At the MOCA, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, some years back I was viewing an exhibition that was in town by the Utah born artist now working in Los Angeles, Paul McCarthy. While this work of art depicted a very raw and unsettling sculpture of ‘tree-lovin’ it had nothing whatsoever to do with the love of any tree. The work displayed a timely political statement about our government rather than the love for trees, but bear in mind that the thought involved images from man’s intimate involvement with trees both in the biblical sense and in the sense of man’s raping of the planet. Joel Tauber’s work counteracts the devastation of many years of neglect for our trees with a very basic recipe for the renewal of our commitment to our green-leafed friends. Now, when I see the image of Joel Tauber hugging his Sycamore Tree in Pasadena, I get a whole new perspective for the love for our planet, our trees and our environment as a whole.

"The Garden" by Paul McCarthy from The 20th Century Art Book, 
Phaidon Press Limited, page 280. Photo is used for purposes of artistic review.
The caption in the book reads as follows: " 'The Garden'  is a full-scale tableau of an outdoor, woodland scene, complete with leafy trees, shrubs and rocks.  This tranquil picture of nature is rudely interrupted by the presence of a middle-aged, balding man with his trousers round his ankles, engaged in a wholly unnatural act. From one side of the installation, his actions are not immediately apparent, being partially hidden by the tree trunks and foliage, but the sound of mechanical activity draws the viewer in to discover the shocking sight of a man copulating with a tree.  This robotic figure, with its endlessly repetitive movements, is both comical and crude, and is intended by McCarthy to question notions of acceptable public behavior and sexual morality.  McCarthy is a lecturer at UCLA as well as an artist. His sculptural installations evolved out of his earlier performance work which focused on his own body engaged in extreme and disturbing acts."

To further explain this romantic entanglement between a tree and a mortal, I cite some important historical facts. Back in 2005, Joel Tauber was in the parking lot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl, when he spotted a particularly lonely and neglected Sycamore Tree. There are hundreds of thousands of trees in Pasadena, and a great number of them thrive very well on the grounds of the Rose Bowl, should you ever drive through this luscious community of tree and rose-lovers, you will see. But Joel Tauber focused his attention on one specific lonely tree. He started to note more and more how cars would hit the bark of the tree and scrape it, injuring the tree repeatedly. Joel Tauber became a witness to this tree’s life. Taking compassion and friendship upon this particular tree, Tauber began to film the area of the parking lot where the tree was growing. He got the idea to put up solid barriers to protect it from cars and also carried water in large plastic bags to irrigate the tree. Soon, Tauber found himself as a one-man band, orchestrating a symphony of activities leading to editing mass quantities of tree footage, fighting City Hall, and embarking on a quest to save this tree from infertility using tried and true guerilla tactics that would make tree-huggers stand and salute. To personally view the Sick-Amour project, along with the giant scale tree sculpture installation exhibited at Susanne Vielmetter Gallery in 2007, you may visit

               Recently, I had the privilege and opportunity to discuss Joel Tauber’s work with Susanne Vielmetter and she was delighted to tell me what a wonderful sense of humor that Tauber exhibits in all of his works of art. Susanne Vielmetter reviewed the Underwater project with me as well as the Flying Project which Tauber presented.
She explained how deep down, she feels Tauber is on a quest for meaning in his work and that he has a keen sense of humor that unifies and makes his ideas successful. She states that he uses the comical and the tragic in the Tree-Baby project to address the issues of urban living in our time and very subtly pokes fun at the problems innate in urban planning. The real irony of a small Sycamore tree dying of thirst in a parking lot of a beautiful park in a paradise-like valley, alongside the 110 Pasadena Freeway where 80% of the territory is plastered with concrete and the water below runs along asphalt channels of the Los Angeles River is not lost on Tauber, she explained. To contrast, Susanne Vielmetter cited that parks in Europe allow for weeds to grow naturally on landscapes that are not covered with concrete. Joel Tauber’s projects were initially presented at the Susanne Vielmetter Gallery located at 5795 Washington Blvd., in Culver City, California. The response Susanne Vielmetter’s Gallery received was incredibly exciting, even though at first, some folks thought Joel Tauber was a nut; he went on to prove just how serious he really is about changing the landscape of our environment, one tree at a time.

Joel Tauber has a large body of video artwork, photographs and developing tree babies, (the children of a mortal and a Charmed Sycamore Tree) and one may also visit
As I learned more and more about Joel Tauber’s project, I realized how blessed we all are that tree-lovin’ is not a singular act of love or even a fleeting love of art. I realized how connected we all are to our environment and how the idea of having a special friend ‘the tree’, any tree in any state, in any country for that matter is a beautiful connection to have. The connection that Joel Tauber has to his Sycamore Tree is in synch with the love that the country is experiencing during our new millennium. We have all become acutely aware of the fragility of life; we realize now more than ever that we must respect our dependence on our environment and value our trees.

The first thing that struck me about Joel Tauber was that we had the love of trees in common. He seemed a bit shy, unassuming and humble yet I was later to learn the enormous power he wielded for this one frail and neglected tree in the parking lot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl in California. I was truly inspired by the level of involvement and commitment he had demonstrated for his own beloved Sycamore Tree which he had turned into a full-blown art-project including video, photography and sculptured jewelry. (He did it all!) He named this work the Sick-Amour Project mainly because he said he felt this tree was ill from the lack of love and the inability to have tree babies to fulfill its legacy. I had never personally met someone with such an extreme love and dedication to one particular tree. In our local newscasts, I had heard stories of people who became very emotional when a land developer was about to cut down a tree they considered a relic of their community; in which case people got very nasty about the issue and would chain themselves to the trees or surround the location with demonstrators that would shut down the jobsite. That’s when the news crews would come in with their cameras and boom mikes and the news helicopters would hover in circles above the trees trying to capture the ‘event’ that was creating all the uproar. A very recent example of this type of community behavior is written about on the front pages of the Los Angeles Times where Eric Bailey, a Times Staff Writer, wrote an extensive story about the tree-issues pertaining to Scotia, California where activists are protesting the logging of the Great California REDWOODS! Read the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times, August 24th, 2008 or visit online to learn how the tree-sitters are doing today.

But Joel Tauber is a different type of activist. He doesn’t consider himself an activist at all. He merely states, humbly, just for the record, that he loves this one particular Sycamore Tree and it is an outrage to him to see how his new best friend is being suffocated under a six-inch blanket of black tar and asphalt. Better yet, Joel Tauber does something about it. Not with a crew of forty thousand demonstrators, not even with a crew of forty residents. He does this on his own, quietly challenging the laws of the city of Pasadena and humbly takes responsibility for the care and nurturing of his new best friend. I was touched. At once I began to marvel at his potent idea.

The art of loving our trees has grown roots in the higher levels of the art world as well. For instance, if one were to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum both at the Getty Villa which recently re-opened in Malibu and at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, you will find the love of trees has grown branches on all the hillsides surrounding both properties. There are lucky Sycamores and fortunate Pines; there are Pomegranate trees, Apple trees, Pear trees, Jacaranda trees and trees that just look good in a vista overlooking the ocean. Millions of dollars went into the development of artistic gardens which envelope the California landscape against a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean on one edge and the rolling hills of Malibu on the other.

Over in the area of the Miracle Mile, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is celebrating an enormous renovation of its facilities and you guessed it, there are aisles and isles of gigantic palm trees lining the walkways to the entrance of the museum in concert with a unique and flamboyant architecture that has drawn the attention of the art-world with the generosity of Eli and Edythe Broad of the Broad Foundation. The Broad Contemporary Art Museum is the new wing at the LACMA and is considered the largest space in the country devoted exclusively to contemporary art. With a ‘living art display’ dedicated to the iconic palm trees, not native to California, Robert Irwin has developed a plein-air walkway through ‘Palm Gardens’ as one makes their way to the entrances of the museum.

Lush green trees thrive all over Pasadena, California, home of the Rose Bowl where Joel Tauber fell in love with a Sycamore Tree.  Photo by Ginger Van Hook, 2008

 The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California  is also home to some of the most exquisite antiquities in its museum history which includes sculptures amid a forest like atmosphere. Currently at the Norton Simon Museum, among its many exhibitions, one may enjoy the artwork of Ruth Weisberg, Dean of the Gayle Garner Roski School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California. Opening on October 17, 2008 the Weisberg exhibition at the Norton Simon runs through March 2, 2009. Additionally a lecture by the artist is planned where Weisberg discusses: Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image on Sunday November 16, 2008.  The Norton Simon Museum of Art is located at 411 West Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, California. Ruth Weisberg was instrumental in selecting the work of Joel Tauber to be permanently planted on the Main University Campus of USC on January 24, 2008 where a tree planting ceremony was held and attended by numerous members of USC faculty, staff, students and guests. The location of the new tree-baby, child of the Sick-Amour Project, currently exists on the Exposition side of the campus between Gate one and the Fischer Gallery, across the street from the Museum of Natural History. 

In Pasadena, where lovers of trees line every street of the city as the landscapes are lush with all types of trees and where these wonderful healthy trees keep cool the throngs of tourists who visit the Rose Bowl every year, is also home to the Norton Simon Museum and the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Both locations are areas where tree-lovin’ may be experienced alongside some of California’s best-known artworks. Visit the NORTON SIMON MUSEUM at located at 411 West Colorado, Pasadena, California 91105 or visit the PASADENA MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA ART at at 490 East Union Street, Pasadena, California.

In San Marino, California, the art of trees, gardens and succulents has found a worthy haven at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens spanning an area of 120 acres dedicated to the fine arts founded by Henry E. Huntington in 1928 as the very first public art gallery in Southern California. Along with English portraits and French eighteenth-century furniture, one will delight in tours of the unique garden paradise established for the pure love of the botanical arts.

On the hillside along the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, one may also enjoy walking along the elegant landscapes of the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum grounds and witness the serenity of the trees as Weeping Willows slope their leaves to the ground, and gentle breezes sway the branches of Sycamores, Oaks and Birch trees. Visit the Skirball Museum online at, or enjoy a personal walk along the grounds and explore the tributes to culture at 2701 North Sepulveda, Los Angeles 90049.

Trees at the Skirball Museum and Cultural Center thrive and enjoy the mild California climate.

In San Diego, one enjoys walking through a vast museum complex housing 15 unique museums in Balboa Park, not to mention to the collection of rare cactus and enormous Eucalyptus trees (just to name one tree type out of numerous ones) which shade the paths leading from one museum to another.

Each of the locations I have mentioned or described here is where I personally walked through, witnessed, and or photographed sophisticated artistic tree landscapes of the California terrain.

The Roots of my personal anxieties: Why I care.

The impact of my meeting Joel Tauber coincided with an important event that took place for me way before I knew about his Sick-Amour Tree project and was what eventually led me to throw myself into this frenzied study of trees over this summer. Thus I do not necessarily consider myself struck by any of the Greek or Roman gods. I believe my influence came with a special awareness of the frailty of trees with this personal story:

A little over one year ago, on June 30th, 2007 I was walking our dog Sasha, around the block for one of our frequent walks. I rounded the corner to the next block when I was taken aback as I witnessed a set of ‘city’ crewmembers slaughtering what appeared to be a California Oak tree. I had grown quite fond of that particular Oak on my many walks while I was writing my first novel. As a matter of fact, I had used that model of tree to describe a forest of these trees in a chapter in my first fiction novel. I especially love the sculptured texture of the Mighty gnarly Oaks. This tree had been the one to rekindle my relationship with the trees of my imagination. My stomach got queasy when I saw how it was being destroyed. I would have thrown-up, but I got a hold of my emotions and took Sasha home. Not only did I return to the scene of the slaughter, but I brought my camera to document the death and dismemberment of this great oak; I was so distraught that I returned again to the site, without my camera this time, and begged the men to stop for a moment while I sought out the seeds for this tree. To my surprise, the men stopped and helped me search for the seeds.

When I got home, I had no idea what to do with the seeds. I called a couple of nurseries until a gentleman at a nursery in Marina del Rey explained to me that I had to wait until the pods dried up and slit to get at the seeds and plant them. So, I waited until the pods were black and wrinkled. I split them according to the directions I had gotten from this kind anonymous arborist. (He suggested a process much like that which squirrels have for cracking the pods.) I photographed the seeds and compared them with the larger seed of an apricot fruit tree and the seed of a maple tree.

Once properly documented, I planted them in a small brown pot. Two weeks later, the first seed came up. A few days later another seed appeared to take root. On the one-year anniversary of the re-birth day of this Great Knurly Oak tree, July 20th, 2008, I documented how large the great twin oaks had become. The highest little bitty branch was about fourteen inches tall. I estimated this tree had grown a little over an inch every month. A compassionate act of kindness yielded a new life on the impulse of grief. The impulse of grief affected not only me; there is an entire world of tree-lovers mourning the losses of their favorite tree friends in surrounding communities.

What about the subconscious feelings innate in developing a relationship with a tree? For instance, what draws people to want to save a particular tree? 

I can really only speak to my own experience in that my relationship with trees started when I was a child.

There used to be an enormous Maple tree in our front yard where we lived growing up in Duarte, California. My middle sister Else and I used to climb its large branches and hang out, swinging like little monkeys and scrambling up and down pretending to have a treehouse. One day, we came home from school and our mother was just sweeping up the sawdust in the driveway. The tree had been removed. She said it was for the best. She said she wanted a better view of the mountains and she said she was tired of raking the leaves. She said all these things, but when I look back, I realize she was afraid my sister and I would climb too high and fall off and break a bone or two. I now realize the maternal instinct my mother had for the safety of her children, being that we were such very active climbers…But as a child, my sister and I didn’t know that. My sister and I felt a great sadness for the loss of our playground friend.

Else Ingels, 1966 photo by Luis Ingels, (Senior). Else Ingels was the second daughter of Luis Ingels, Sr. of Duarte, California. Else Ingels was a victim of childhood Leukemia and was medically cared for through the generosity of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California. Born in Argentina, my lovely middle sister lived from April of 1964 when she came to the United States, through the age of 11 when she died in June of 1975. Else Ingels is buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello, beside a number of trees which memorializes our joy of running through our make-believe forest in Duarte, California when we were children.  My personal memories of the loss of trees has become undeniably tied to the loss of my sister Else. Each one of us has memories of a tree and an event that marks our existence, our happiness or our loss.  Everyone on the planet has a relationship to at least one tree in their lifetime. My relationship with trees has continued to evolve and I respect the life of trees in fond memory to the life of my sister Else. In her short life, Else Ingels became a child beauty queen in a contest in El Monte, California; she had a white and gray kitty named Angel, and she performed in tap-dance shows for the City of Duarte Parks and Recreation. She continues to be recognized as our family's little angel in heaven, climbing and swinging on all the trees in paradise.

Later on, as Else and I got old enough to ride our bikes down the street and several houses out of sight of my mother’s guarded watch, we would go about a block and enter a forest of trees that could have been the ones of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’s Forest’, or even the enchanted forest where princesses were awakened with a kiss. My sister Else, her best friend Susie and I would play hide-and-go-seek and have adventures that we envisioned from reading the books in the Duarte library. We often had fake wars and pretend camping trips with lots of our neighborhood friends and children. The forest of trees was thick. It had Knurly Great Oaks and Tall Pines and groves of Orange and Lemon trees too. The area was rich in a variety of trees.

I left home at the age of 18 in the tradition of going away to college at USC in Downtown Los Angeles where I would eventually earn my bachelor’s degree from the Annenberg School for Communication Arts. What happened after I left home is something that is hard to communicate no matter how much education I could ever achieve. When I returned home later on, I can’t recall the year, but I do recall with dismay that our forest was gone. It was gone in almost the same fashion as our ‘treehouse tree’ had disappeared from our front lawn. This time, not even the sawdust was left. The ground had been paved, black tar lined the street with pretty sidewalks made of cement. Our Forest of Adventures had been replaced! In its place was a retirement living condominium complex. I mourned not only the loss of our make-believe playtime Forest, I was mourning the loss of our childhood and our sisterhood all tied to the branches of these beloved trees that were no longer there. The discovery that the roots of these trees were intricately woven with my emotional memories of my middle sister Else was somewhat disconcerting to realize. Nonetheless, I bring this memory to bear as it conjures up an entire fabric of memories that we as a society have with the relationship to our trees and our tree culture in America and around the world.

Another current example of people’s love for trees is the outpouring of rage and the outcry of the residents of Santa Monica, California when they lost their beloved Ficus trees along Fourth Street and along Second Street this summer. You may read the story written by Lynne Bronstein, staff writer, of the Santa Monica Mirror and see the photo by Daniel Jansenson in the volume IX, issue 50 for May 22-28, 2008. The depiction of the slaughter of Ficus trees is documented after the California Court of Appeals vacated the temporary stay order it had previously issued. This is all part of the proof that trees are intimately involved with people and people are intimately involved with trees of all species, of all sizes, of all ages.

Ficus Tree Down in Santa Monica, photo by Scott Smith.

My simple-minded memories of my childhood playing in the dirt and posing for a picture with my mother and sister in the Sequoia National Forest beside a gargantuan Redwood is a relevant recollection that millions of people share across our planet. So too are my abundant memories of hiking in Yosemite, driving through Joshua Tree National Monument and recently camping with my husband in the Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California.

Bristlecone Pine Trees from the White Mountains in Northern California and Northern Nevada are upwards of 4500 to 5000years old; some Bristlecone trees compete in age with the Pyramids in Egypt.

 To get to the Bristlecone Pine Forest (The White Mountains), one must travel up Highway 395 where you will see some of the most incredible tree landscapes change from one terrain to another. The journey through this route takes you through small towns, dessert communities and communities by the river where climates can vary between dry and sandy to lush and forest green, as well as from wintery snowy landscapes to dry harsh cactus plains between Northern California and Northern Nevada.
 Camping is permitted in designated camping areas only; no campfires are permitted unless in designated firepits in order to protect the landscape from its very dry conditions.

These memories are valid and important in our culture because it ties us together as a people and a nation. The trees yield not only shelter and fruit and paper and books. The trees yield to our emotions in relevant ways. For some people the life of trees matters so much that it musters up their courage in numbers to protest and protect our wild-natured friends. As for falling in love with a Sycamore Tree in Pasadena, Joel Tauber shares his emotions and his passions with the Art-world and thus sparks an infectious love and respect of all trees and living eco-systems. By sharing the roots of his own anxieties for his newly planted Tree-Babies, the Sick-Amour tree project brings to life a whole new momentum to the “Art of Lovin’ Trees”.

On Jan 24th 2008, three years after Joel Tauber had fallen in love with his Charmed Sycamore Tree, he was preparing for a tree planting ceremony for one of the tree-babies he had grown with the assistance of the Theodore Payne Foundation. The Theodore Payne Foundation is dedicated to preserving the native plants of California. By this time, Tauber had already planted 200 tree-babies throughout the Los Angeles area. He was about to plant yet another tree-baby beside the Fine Arts building at the USC Gayle Garner-Roski School of Fine Arts where his new tree-baby would have a protected existence and grow for future USC Trojans to appreciate.

Ruth Weisberg, Dean of the USC Gayle Garner Roski School of Fine Arts gives opening remarks and welcomes guests, students, faculty and staff to the official tree planting ceremony on the USC Campus on Jan 24, 2008. Although the weather was rainy and cold, a large crowd turned out to support the planting of a special Tree-Baby nurtured by Joel Tauber, (from the original Sycamore Tree in the parking lot of the Pasadena Rose Bowl).

The birth process of a Charmed Sycamore Tree Baby, nurtured by Joel Tauber

“When you started this project in 2005, did you know then that this Tree Baby project would ever get to be so big?” I asked Joel Tauber when he was busy setting up the stone bolder with an engraved plaque to commemorate the planting of a Sick-Amore Tree Baby.
“I had no idea!” Tauber answered and repeated this to himself while he shook his head from side to side focusing his attentions on directing the forklift operator, artist Trevor Norris, to center the bolder a specific distance from where a new tree-baby was to be planted.
Boulder pictured below with special plaque.

A special plaque was installed upon a bolder commemorating the original Sycamore "Parent" tree in the Pasadena Rose Bowl which developed into Joel Tauber's Sick-Amour Project.  Special mention and recognition is also given to Caryl Levy, (Painting and Drawing Artist) and  Director of Special Projects at USC Roski School of Fine Arts. Caryl Levy helped plan and implement the USC tree ceremony event but was involved in an auto accident that injured her leg about a day or two before the event was to occur so she was not able to attend. 
Special thanks is extended to Caryl Levy for all her dedicated efforts in preparing a successful tree planting ceremony.

Students and Guests witness the Tree-Baby Planting Ceremony on the USC Main Campus. Photo by Ginger Van Hook

In an effort to save the life of one tree, Joel Tauber may have overshot his own good intentions and created a movement that could conceivably outlive him as well as provide shelter to future generations of humans. The importance of the Sick-Amour project must be viewed through two different paradigms. There is the Fine Arts paradigm of conceptual art and its impact on both private collectors and the exclusive inner art-world and there is the broader cultural-social paradigm, which operates on a grander scheme of things by affecting people in society on a day-to-day basis. The Sick-Amour project positively affects both sides of the artistic fence.    
In the matter of Fine Arts, there is no question Joel Tauber has fulfilled his duties as a serious artist taking an important cause and bringing artistic attention to bear fruit, so to speak. In his video work Tauber makes successful choices for his metaphors as well as applying the historical significance of the ancient Persian ruler Xerxes who loved a particular sycamore tree so much that he gave it a bodyguard and adorned the tree with golden ornaments. Tauber also developed his own golden ornaments for his Sick-Amour tree; gold leaves, golden seeds and given the enormous amount of attention he has been getting lately, Tauber may have succeeded in developing a new golden age of tree planting.

As an artist, Tauber uses the video medium as a vehicle to carry not only his message, but also a poignant portrayal of our society at large, searching for meaning. The American Heritage Dictionary defines art as the ‘human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature’. In this best case, Tauber supplements his tree with water, additional barriers to enforce protection from man-made vehicles, and ornamental jewelry to adorn his new ‘love’. But counteracting the work of nature seems a bit of a contradiction. The asphalt covering the parking lot is man-made. The efforts Tauber has made to overcome the Sick-Amour Tree’s infertility is above and beyond the call of duty both of nature and of man or woman. This is a true and loyal friendship for this Sycamore tree. This is a friendship that involves a personal commitment and has the momentum to involve a commitment from the masses as well.
For Tauber to bring this project into the realm of the fine art galleries, he has called attention to the concepts of environmental protections intersecting with the poetics of natural beauty. In his films, he discusses at length the ugliness of neglect and the beauty of the love that makes the tree get well again. This is a timely concept to explore when the world is in dire need of more compassion for the very planet that sustains our lives as humans. Touching upon the love of one tree, Tauber has hit a nerve that runs through America’s Tree Culture from coast to coast. Introducing the concept of a tree as an art piece in a video is one thing, but taking it upon himself to personally sustain the amount of energy and commitment needed to drive this project several years later is quite another artistic feat.
I believe the Sick-Amour project is successful on several layers. On the one hand, this has now become a project that may develop its own engine to drive itself. And there will be obstacles. The idea is quite attractive when the little trees are young and in that playful sapling kind of stage. But the economics of grown trees invading our man-made asphalt and choking off sewer pipes and entangling power lines is also a devastating reality that architects, landscapers and developers face which can stop the growth of trees cold in its tracks.
Art opens dialogue. With Tauber bringing the Sick-Amour project into the elite realm of Fine Arts, he has given his beloved tree a dignity unaffordable to the every day tree in the city or in the forest. Tauber has opened a door through which tree-lovin’ has become socially vogue. The Sick-Amour project lends legitimacy to having a pet tree in one’s own back yard and makes it socially acceptable to love the ‘object’ of ones desire especially when it makes sense for the planet.

The cultural and social paradigm through which the Sick-Amour Tree project must also be viewed is the potential for it to inspire people to imitate the compassion, if not the root cause. The Sick-Amour Tree project has been called everything from an obsession to a love story. The real story is that it both. From the get-go, Joel Tauber was enamored of a Sycamore tree that appeared forlorn and neglected, but he reveals that love is a difficult thing to understand, much less explain. An obsession is only part of the truth because while this project can properly be defined as a compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea, it could hardly be called an unreasonable idea at that.

In retrospect, the work of Joel Tauber’s Sick-Amour Tree-Babies project seems to refer to an eerie sense of déjà vu that we often experience in America. All over the world, global warming issues are breathing down our necks. As we see more and more streets and communities paved with asphalt and tar there remains less and less space for the trees, under the pavement. Thus the lines written in the song by Joni Mitchell have come full circle to become the ‘oracle’ of our current generation. Tree museums are now weaved into our permanent culture. The fact that a tree makes it to a museum show in this day and age often indicates our trees are fast becoming priceless pieces of artwork that are going extinct. This unique ‘obsession with a tree’ that Tauber expresses through his art has evolved, in my humble opinion, into a methodical research art project revealing the empowerment that can happen with a good idea. Whether it was through a divine act of love from the ancient gods that struck Tauber, or just Tauber, recently graduated from art school from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena looking for a good art project to get involved in; Tauber has inspired the growth of a minimum of 200 Sycamore Tree-Babies with the assistance of the Theodore Payne Foundation. Additional Tree-Babies are being planned for local elementary schools all over Los Angeles, each with an identifying plaque. Tauber’s art project has connected with a grassroots movement that has been spreading across America for a number of years now. The issue becomes larger than life as the word spreads. The art of Tree-lovin’ has reached a new level of awareness that is of utmost importance if our planet is to survive the heat of our future.

The impact that Tauber’s work has on the culture of our trees in California cannot be measured today. This work has life. It is growing, literally. It will be measured in future trees and future shade. The ‘future’ has always been a hard sell, especially for environmentalists. Trees have enemies as well. The best that we can hope for in a political climate such as this is to have a balance. It is important to have a balance between tree cutting and tree planting. It is important for our society to recognize the intrinsic value of the first step to achieving this balance is to take responsibility for the seeds from the trees. (Any tree will do.) This idea promotes the planting of trees individually into containers, at first, especially if you don’t own your own land. One may be inspired to grow a tree in a clay pot and invest in the future, or adopt a grown tree…This is really only a small part of what Joel Tauber’s message reveals with the Sick-Amour Tree Baby project.

In my opinion, Tauber is not obsessive about his love for one tree and the continued propagation of its life. If he was seduced at all it was a seduction by a mythical tree goddess whose time had come. As an artist, Tauber is both thorough and persistent and chances are he’s got much more to do! This project appears to connect people from every continent through an underground network of roots. People depend on trees and there are enormous communities of animals and birds that live in trees and depend on them for shelter and food as well. From the most heralded Trees in American Art dubbed the Sequoia Redwoods to the 5000 year old Methusala trees in the Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains in Northern California and the edges of Northern Nevada as well as the enticing and enchanting Yosemite Forest our trees are our greatest artistic treasures. The charms of one tree are the charms of all of the trees. The mythologies of yesterday come to haunt us in our present. One man’s love for one tree is beautiful, but a national epidemic of love for all of our trees that’s the best part of our culture, that’s the miracle of our humanity!

POST SCRIPT: When Joel Tauber first took it upon himself to end the loneliness of one frail and neglected Sycamore Tree, in a somewhat mysterious and inexplicable way, the Sycamore Tree responded with blessing Joel Tauber with happiness as well. On November 9, 2008, Joel Tauber announces his engagement to a lovely woman named Alison. The love story is complete. The kindness shown to a charmed tree has been repaid in love and kindness in return.  We take a moment to thank Joel Tauber for the kindness he has shown to his community, his environment and the tree babies he has nourished. We also wish him many generations of blessings and happiness to come for himself, Alison and the children of a charmed marriage.  
Best wishes to your family, Ginger E. Van Hook and Luke Van Hook.