Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A poem lovely as a tree

"I think that I shall never see
 A poem lovely as a tree....

.....Poems are made by fools like me,
  But only God can make a tree."

- American poet, Joyce Kilmer, in 1913.

The artist Sam Van Aken did have a hand however, in creating a very special tree. Van Aken is a Professor of Sculpture at Syracuse University, and wanted to "sculpt a tree", that would have multi-coloured blossoms.

Because of a childhood interest in 'stone fruits', Van Aken collected plant varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries. He grafted branches from these donor trees, on the same tree, in 2008. Van Aken had hoped to get a few multi-coloured blossoms. What emerged was beyond his wildest imagination. The tree actually grew 40 kinds of blossoms and later 40 kinds of fruits!

By 2014, Van Aken had grown and installed 16 'trees-of-forty-fruit' in public spaces, gardens and museums. Each tree was unique. Each one, a unique 'living sculpture'!

Van Aken's project has grown over time. He now uses 250 varieties of stone fruits. His interest in the fruits has grown, and along with that, another mission. He wants to sustain the diversity of fruits in nature, and has gone about collecting local varieties and heirloom specimens from all over the world.

As he explains, the supermarkets stock as per the urban tastes, and many of the local varieties did not make it to the vegetable markets at all, leading to less farmers growing them.

Van Aken's project has become a three-in-one botany-art-conservation project. Years of planning, grafting, and observing have made him confident to prune a multi-fruit tree just right, for multiple and continuous blossoms. He has painstakingly collected rare varieties, and created these wonder-trees.

Van Aken makes sure to visit his trees twice a year, adding more grafts, and pruning the branches here and there. It takes nine years for each 'tree-sculpture' to reach its full form. Five years for the grafts to get nurtured, and another four years before the trees bear fruit.

His tree-sculptures draw gaping crowds wherever they are installed, and the incredible sights of multi-coloured fruits hanging from different branches are specially loved by children.