(Music by Marcy Hokama)
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see Nature at all. But, to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is imagination itself.” — William Blake, Letter to the Reverend John Trusler, August 23, 1799
Jason Tennant is grounded. He is rooted in his place with strength and dignity, not so distinct from the trees surrounding him.
Before my encounter with Jason, a sculptor and painter, I had a lot of ideas about his work. Meeting him washed these ideas away, and I was left with the raw emotion that lingers in his carvings. His sculptures are quiet, flowing in the grace of their motion, but also hard and complex, like the wilderness that is their subject. There was a lot of silence in our time together — silence that made louder the sound of the leaves and more obvious the wrinkles of the wood.
We met at his cabin, on a little hill amidst the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. The company of his wife Terri and their two dogs is where he finds inspiration and peace. He cooks with wild plants, creating a cuisine of the northeast woodlands with dishes like “acorn flour biscuits” and “fresh cattail roots.” In this lush environment, he hunts for old remains of American chestnut trees that he recycles into extraordinary sculptures. We sat on a pier by a little lake, where he opened up some of his secrets to the sounds of the bull frogs.
Jason’s parents moved their family frequently and he had to find ways to entertain himself. At the age of 12, living on an island at the mouth of Lake Erie, surrounded by swamps, he started to carve fish and birds and to compose oil paintings of natural scenes. Witnessing his mother’s successes and failures as an artist was intimidating, but did not ultimately discourage him from pursuing a fusion between nature and his artwork. “To embrace the challenge of being an artist, you must make a commitment,” he says with determination.
He also spent time as a child exploring the industrial surroundings of Detroit, his grandfather’s home. He recalls “a visually violent area with stark industrial buildings, cars with paint peeling off and a night sky lit up by the dumping of metal slag down in the Detroit River.” These visions had an impact on him and in his college years, led him to pursue a more industrial, abstract form. As he says, “I had to get it out of me!”
The movement and details in his sculptures today are precise, impressing one with their realism — the poetry of the closely observed. Perhaps he has found a way to listen to the whispered conversations between the inhabitants of his woodlands, trees and animals and nymphs. If Jason doesn’t tell us, his sculptures will.
Enter our sweepstakes! Comment below to enter to win an American Chestnut vase by Jason Tennant. At 11:59 p.m. ET Tuesday August 24, 2010 we will pick at random one commenter. (We apologize in advance that this sweepstakes is only open to U.S. folks over 18. Void where prohibited. Download a PDF of the full Rules and Regulations.)
Tweet this video URL or embed it on your blog!
If you don’t know how to embed a video on your blog — no worries, it’s simple. Here’s how:
- Click the symbol that looks like this on the video player at the top of this post.
- Copy the embed code from the “embed” tab.
- Paste the embed code into the HTML of your own blog post.