In the Fall of 2004, I was fortunate to visit the Brown campus in Providence,
Rhode Island and learn about work of Professor Richard Fishman and the study of
Elmo–the giant Elm that had been a mainstay of the Brown campus.
We helped arrange for Dr. Fishman to come to Chicago this past week to speak
to Friends of the Parks and to meet with a group of students at the Chicago High
School for Agriculture Sciences. Our relationship with Friends of the Parks
dates back to 1988 when Erma Tranter and FOTP were invaluable partners in
planning, fundraising and constructing Seneca Park & the Eli M. Schulman
Our relationship with CHSAS is a very exciting one as this is a school that
really set a national example of how beneficial to the community and its
students and urban agriculture highschool can be. It was great to come back one
week after Ground Hog Job Shadow Day for a totally different topic that could
Professor Fishman’s and his students work is beautiful. The great tie to
CHSAS is that everything flows from the tree and nature and is then taken
forward by the students at Brown. Dave Gilligan, the Principal, and Bob Bush,
the Ag Tech chair saw numerous applications that could enhance visual art
opportunities as well as helping developing the Farm.
We look forward to Dr. Fishman’s return to Chicago and to becoming an ongoing
partner at CHAS with the Elm Tree Project.
Elmo: a thing of beauty
About 15,000 pounds of Elmo, Brown
University’s famous elm tree, went through a Sheffield, Mass., sawmill in early
May. The lumber will serve as raw material for a variety of courses and projects
involving the tree’s campus legacy.
[Photo: Richard Fishman]
Brown Daily Herald (5/14/2004)
The Elm Tree Project
Brown’s once-mighty “Elmo” is preserved through artists’ project
“Elmo,” the majestic American elm
tree that once defined the Thayer Street entrance to the Watson Institute,
succumbed last year to an advanced case of Dutch elm disease and was taken down
to prevent the disease from spreading. Now, in an innovative exercise in
recycling and preservation, wood from the tree is providing inspiration for The
Elm Tree Project and a series of courses at Brown University and Rhode Island
School of Design.
R.I. — Preservation and recycling are reaching a new level at Brown
University, where students in visual art are turning what was once a campus icon
into works of art.
Wood from “Elmo,” the majestic American
elm tree that once defined the Thayer Street entrance to Brown’s new Watson
Institute for International Studies, is being used for The Elm Tree Project, a
collaborative effort between Brown and Rhode Island School of Design. The Elm
Tree Project is designed to “document, reflect upon and work to continue Elmo’s
legacy,” according to Richard Fishman, chair of the Department of Visual Art.
The project will encompass a series of courses, exhibitions, performances and
events inspired by Brown’s elm in particular and by the larger issues of nature,
ecology and the environment.
“The tree invokes ideas and feelings
that extend throughout history, culture, science and the arts,” said Fishman.
“This is an opportunity to examine these issues in a multidisciplinary approach
with a diverse group of students and faculty from the two
The first of several planned courses,
dubbed the Elm Tree Class, was offered at Brown this spring through the
Department of Visual Art. Using a former University storage facility on
Tockwotten Street as a studio, 17 students “explored the tree as material and
metaphor, within topics such as environmental studies, biology and the arts,”
Fishman said. Students in the class have used wood from Elmo to produce works in
varied mediums, ranging from sculpture and furniture-making, to photography,
video and even fashion projects. Two new courses will be offered next fall and
taught jointly by faculty from Brown and RISD; another course incorporating
environmental science is in the development stage at Brown. Fishman estimates
the elm tree yielded approximately 30,000 pounds of wood, enough to sustain
numerous related classes.
Elmo, which was thought to have been
between 80 and 100 years old, was taken down in December 2003 because it had
been ravaged by Dutch elm disease. Once the tree was divided into manageable
pieces, most of its wood was moved to the Providence Steel Mill for storage; the
remainder was transported to Berkshire Products Inc., a specialized sawmill in
Sheffield, Mass. On May 8, 2004, some 15,000 pounds was milled at the western
Massachusetts plant, where it will be stored and seasoned until next winter.
Fishman said his students will be able to confirm the tree’s precise age by
counting the tree’s rings once the milled wood is dried.
The elm tree was among the largest in
the University’s collection and was a dominant feature of the Watson Institute’s
new Thayer Street home, a dramatic building designed by Rafael Viñoly and
dedicated in May 2002. University grounds staff first noticed the tell-tale
symptoms of Dutch elm disease – yellowed and curling leaves in the crown – when
the tree leafed out in May 2003. The grounds staff immediately pruned out the
diseased areas, injected the tree with medication and sent samples to a lab for
testing, but found it could not be saved. The Providence city forester examined
the tree and agreed that it should be removed as soon as possible.
Dutch elm is a vascular disease carried
by the tree’s circulatory system; it moves rapidly and has no cure. Brown
University is home to more than 80 American elms, one of the largest
institutional collections left in North America. Each of the trees is treated
twice a year and monitored closely in the spring for any signs of disease in the
crown. Since Dutch elm disease is principally transmitted by a bark beetle, the
pruning of deadwood and careful removal of fallen branches are important parts
of the management program