Art Gallery

Artists interpret Sudden Oak Death

Susan Frankel, Pacific Southwest Research Station & Janice Alexander, University of California Cooperative Extension

Trees are powerful symbols of growth and longevity so sudden oak death, caused by the exotic pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, has evoked strong emotional reactions in the wake of destroyed tanoaks (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) and coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia).  The unusual tree mortality drew significant media attention, with images of hillsides littered with dead trees near residences caused by a mysterious new tree killer. People that viewed the tree disease first-hand and others that only read or heard about it, reacted with fear, loss, anger and shock at the destruction of nature.  The tree mortality has inspired musicians, photographers, painters and writers to create; sudden oak death has appeared on CD covers, in adult fiction, children’s literature, and performance pieces.  In these works, besides despair, the poignant response to the threatened and actual loss of trees has often prompted people to affirm their attachment to, and affection for, trees.

In 7000 Marks, Sara Black, Art Institute of Chicago, and Amber Ginsburg, University of Chicago, transformed a Sudden Oak Death-infected tanoak tree into 7,000 pencils. The dying tree was harvested from Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve in Big Sur, as part of the artists’  vision to explore global industrial trade, quarantines and boundaries. The artists ponder the tightening of boundaries, since quarantines, while an act of conservation, echo a rising tide of nationalism, xenophobia, and boundary reinforcement on a global scale.

The Pink Tree

The Pink Tree by Henry Brudenell-Bruce, at Delamore Estate in Cornwood, Devon, UK. 2012. Photo: The Herald, Western Morning News.

The Sudden Oak Death Piano

The Sudden Oak Death piano by Benjamin Christopher Martins, part of Sing for Hope placed at Park Avenue at Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, USA, 2011. Photo from

Sudden Oak Death, the band

Sudden oak death, the band. Davis, CA. A band that combines country western, punk and other musical styles.

O Oaks, OH

O Oaks OH. Performance Art. Montalvo Arts Center, August 13, 2009, Saratoga, CA. Created by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, O Oaks OH is a response to the health of Montalvo’s land and focuses on the sudden death of some of its ancient oak trees. A public Day of Gathering/Learn-In in Montalvo’s Historic Villa brought together scholars, spiritual leaders, experts and leaders to share their learning on both the perils of Sudden Oak Death and the ancient spiritual majesty of the oak. The work was commissioned by the Montalvo Arts Center,

Sudden Oak Death from the album Moon Colony Bloodbath by John Darnielle and John Vanderslice. 2011.