poaching the redwoods
Uitgever: Schilt Publishing B.V.
Auteur: Kirk Crippens & Gretchen LeMaistre
In 2013, an alarming number of National Park redwood trees were shorn of their knobby protrusions, called burls. The trees were disfigured by thieves aiming to sell distinctive burl wood to luxury furniture retailers. One team was bold enough to fell an entire tree for its burl. Kirk Crippens and Gretchen LeMaistre read about these trees in the news and were motivated to go and see them. Rangers from the Redwood National and State Parks assisted them in accessing and photographing each site. From 2013 to 2016, they made many visits to the National Park redwood forests of Humboldt County, California.
On their first trip to the region, they passed a tourist attraction called "Trees of Mystery". The entrance featured a 50-foot effigy of an American folklore lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, and a large souvenir store with a neon sign that read, "Live Burls". At first they laughed at the spectacle; but the sign brewed in the back of their minds as they began to explore the lure and the lore of giant redwoods.
While redwood trees are sensational for their size, their burls are unique for less obvious reasons.
Redwood burls contain stem cells that enable the trees to clone themselves. In a sense, a redwood tree may never truly die because the burls genetic codes maintain cycles of reproduction dating back nearly 200 million years when the species began. Only one percent of redwood seeds become trees; instead, burls generate the majority of trees. Redwood trees and their cousin sequoias sometimes exist for as long as three thousand years. For these reasons, they were given the species name "Semper Virens", or "Ever Living". Steinbeck once referred to them as "ambassadors of another time".
Out of respect for their ancient heritage and after an extended period of aggressive logging,
Theodore Roosevelt pioneered forest preservation efforts in the early 20th century. He is famously
quoted as saying, "A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral." Today less than five percent of old-growth coast redwood forest remains in
the Northern Hemisphere, most living in the Redwood National and State Parks. Yet even the
protected trees are subject to threat. Shorn trees are more vulnerable to disease, and their ability to reproduce is uncertain. Decades may pass before the full extent of poaching damage can be
Based in San Francisco, California, Kirk Crippens and Gretchen LeMaistre have worked
together for over 10 years and are also independent artists. Kirk's work is held in the collections of
Museé de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium, RayKo Photo Center, San Francisco, US, and the
Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, US, amongst others. In 2015, one of Kirk's portraits was included
in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition in London, UK. Gretchen's work is also held in the
collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and has been exhibited at SPMOMA, San
Francisco, US. In 2016, Live Burls was exhibited at Candela Gallery, Richmond (VA), USA and
Datz Museum of Art, Gwangju, South Korea.