The Big Tree is coming to town. As part of Drawing the Motmot, An Artist’s View of Tropical Nature (please see the sidebar), it’s going up on the wall at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in all its gigantic glory and splendor.
The entire show goes up this week and next in the Brown Gallery at the Sam Noble, splitting the space with Darwin At The Museum, an exhibit in partnership with the University of Oklahoma’s awesome History of Science Collection. Both shows open together October 10.
I’ve spent hours drawing at the foot of The Big Tree on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, shaded under the canopy of those bountiful branches. Toucans, parrots and monkeys frequent the treetops and trogons and motmots haunt the understory. It’s a tree for the ages. The label caption says it better:
There is something irresistible about a great tree. We wonder at its great age, imposing shape and humbling size. We measure ourselves against the huge trunk, posing with it for a human scale we can grasp.
With greatness, however, come burdens. Big tropical trees become platforms for epiphytes, some trees nearly disappearing under their festive air-plant gardens. Smothered by bromeliad clusters, cascades of orchids, and winding lianas up to a kilometer long, a tree rids itself of hangers-on by dropping limbs or shedding bark. Eventually the top-heavy tree crashes to the ground with half a forest in its branches.
Trees are the life-support of the tropical rainforest. They provide food, housing, shade, protection and perches. They create highways for ants and monkeys and pathways to the sky for sun-loving vines. They make the very oxygen we breathe. Barro Colorado Island, 2009
Out in the BCI forest last May I fixed my camera to a tripod and took a series of “stitchable” photos of the Big Tree. Back at SNOMNH, the graphics department put the shots together and the results are spectacular. They printed out a test strip last week, inviting me over for the unveiling. The huge tree will stretch 17 feet from floor to ceiling and cover half of one wall of the gallery (we’re using just half the tree’s width to leave room for the artwork) Awesome. Totally awesome.