Response to the Ice Storm: A Collaboration
What do two people, an ice storm, a gallon of primer, and four
cans of exterior paint have in common? Destruction and creation.
Devastation and joy. Gloom and laughter.
The ice storm that chewed through central Massachusetts on
the night of December 11, 2008 was a multi-sensory event. Cracking
limbs sounded like gunshots; families were herded onto a busy
firing range and held captive. Thuds that followed loud bangs
shook the ground with frightening authority. Our little house
is surrounded by 80 foot trees that I considered benign and
lovely, a canopy to keep us cool in the summer, nesting places
for the hawks. On December 11th , they became a menacing and
No one slept on that night, or several more. The power went
out. We shivered, layered clothes, and for days became accustomed
to the sound of chain saws conversing. We surprised ourselves
by hauling limbs bigger than we were to the curb. It was a way
to keep warm.
My studio looks out onto our back field, and this is what it
looked like. The Hawthorne and Newport plum were two victims.
They will be missed.
One day in April, my husband John Gaumond decided to have more
trees taken down. An arborist had told him that when a tree
was more than 30% damaged, it would not survive. John instructed
the workers to cut the woeful trees into 3 to 4 feet lengths.
Because of the Asian longhorn beetle quarantine in Worcester,
we couldn't give the wood away to anyone outside the city, even
though no beetles were found in our immediate area. Many of
the downed trees were in our field, and we would have had to
carry the debris over the two stone walls John has made.
A few weeks ago, John (stone wall builder, gardener extraordinaire)
and I decided to collaborate on a landscape sculpture, ala Andy
Goldsworthy. He is the English-born sculptor who works with
natural materials to make either ephemeral or more permanent
landscape installations. We fell in love with his work at Storm
King Sculpture Park in Newburg, NY, and he became our inspiration
to make lemonade out of lemons. John and I agreed that what
we were going to do was one way to mourn the loss of so many
John placed the stumps on end and created serpentine lines
and kooky groupings. The trees' rings told us that some were
over 60 years old, yielding logs as big as table tops. The sizes
varied from between 2 and 4 feet tall. There was music in the
way the bigger logs sidled up to their slimmer siblings. When
John finished arranging the stumps, I counted over 200.
Then I went to work. First, I primed the tops. I wanted the
paint to have the best surface to show off colors. The chainsaws
had left intriguing patterns and textures on each surface. I
saw the way bark attaches itself to the tree, making the stump
look like a jagged gear. The damaged trees offered up their
special beauty to me. Birds sang and a bumble bee the size of
a muffin introduced himself to me.
My plein air studio consisted of boards balanced on top of
two saw horses. My supplies were brushes, water buckets, plastic
take-out containers, and four cans of paint: blue, red, yellow
and white. I could make any color in the rainbow, and I did.
I couldn't help laughing while I was mixing the colors, then
running around painting the tops of the stumps where ever the
impulse struck me. It was way too much fun.
Today, May 14, I drove through Worcester and looked at the
piles of limbs and brush still lining many streets, ours included.
Trees with ragged limbs still dangling from their trunks break
my heart because they are juxtaposed with red and purple azaleas,
white and pink blossoming dogwood and apple trees, and banks
of daffodils and tulips.
In our yard, every hour and every day since we finished our
landscape sculpture, different light levels give us a Technicolor
show. Gloomy, rainy days make the colors more intense. Even
winter is sure to give us another kind of show.
The few people who have seen our work have all had the same
reaction: they either smile or laugh outright! John and I named
our installation Response to the Ice Storm, and it is an unadulterated
expression of whimsy.
We will never say that we were glad the ice storm happened
because it was a miserable time, but we will say that making
and seeing this artwork has been pure joy.