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The View From Below

Posted on 09/25/2020 at 10:00 AM by Adrienne Gennett

The current exhibition Who Am I? was an opportunity to invite unique perspectives and interpretations of works of art in the University Museums’ permanent collection. There is one work of art in the exhibition that always inspires not only highly personal interpretations, but has the ability to transport the viewer to a place and a perspective with just one glance. The D.H. Lawrence Tree by Ellen Wagener has been one of my favorites since I came to Iowa State. The unique perspective of a ponderosa tree was not Wagener’s own creation, but an inspiration from Georgia O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree, however, that is where the similarity ends. 

Both works of art examine the enormity of these beautiful pine trees from underneath the branches. Both artists laid beneath this majestic tree on a New Mexico ranch feeling its power and marveling at its beauty. Both artists examine the vastness of nature through this one amazing tree. When I stand in front of Wagener’s pastel painting in the exhibition, I am immediately drawn into the perspective, remembering how as child I would lay on the ground under a tree staring up into the gently rippling leaves in the middle of a summer day, mesmerized by the movement and sense of serenity I felt. It’s a position that as an adult I don’t seem to find often enough, but Wagener’s tree always reminds me that I need to get back on the ground more often and stare up into the massive trees in my backyard, basking in the calm beauty of nature.

ABOVE: D.H. Lawrence Tree, 2011 by Ellen Wagener (American, b. 1964) Pastel on paper. Purchased by University Museums. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2015.90

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