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Suffolk Closeup: What is the most successful life form?

The enchanting and important “A Celebration of Trees,” an exhibit at the Southampton Arts Center, received its inspiration on Shelter Island.

It came from the experience of artist Laurie Dolphin at the height of the COVID pandemic at her home, amid trees, off Fresh Pond on the Island. “During COVID I was on Shelter Island surrounded by trees and I was isolated,” she relates. “The trees were talking to me. I would feel their interconnectivity.”

She had a “dream” of organizing an exhibit honoring and recognizing the significance of trees.

Knowing “I cannot do this alone,” she enlisted Daniela Kronemeyer of Southampton and Coco Myers of East Hampton to work with her in being co-curators of a possible exhibit. It is outstanding — and includes the work of 77 artists from 20 countries.

Dolphin explains that the aim was not only to present the “diversity” of trees from around the world but also to do it with a diversity of art: paintings, photography, sculpture, film, etchings and poetry.

Upon entering the exhibit, one encounters a narrative on a wall declaring: “A Celebration of Trees is an ecological multi-media exhibition created to expand thought and consciousness about the world’s vast network of trees, a critical resource to humanity’s survival … This exhibit showcases the beauty and mystery of trees while inspiring viewers to thoughtfully contemplate how to protect them.”

The eloquent narratives on the walls of the many rooms that the exhibit encompasses are the words of poets Megan and Scott Chaskey of Sag Harbor. Scott is also an author, a farmer and pioneer of the community farming movement. At the entrance, too, is a striking sculpture, in wood, done by Megan’s father, the late Bill King.

“Trees have been called the most successful form of life within the great wheel of nature,” says one of the narratives.

The exhibit includes photos by famed Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado of trees and Indigenous people in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, which is under extreme threat.

There are photos by Beth Moon who has traveled the world photographing trees, notably the Baobab tree in Africa which can live for more than 2,000 years. Information and art relating to the redwoods of California, which “can live as long as 3,000 years,” is noted and featured. Focusing on this area, there are presentations involving Indigenous people here and trees, notably the white pine with its medicinal values for them.

There is a series of nine etchings by master printmaker Dan Welden of Sag Harbor of evergreen trees, their limbs bedecked by snow. Photos of palm trees taken by Andy Warhol, long a resident of Montauk, are presented. It is explained: “Little known and rarely exhibited are Andy Warhol’s black and white silver gelatin photographs” and how Warhol “viewed trees and the natural landscape with just as much importance as the celebrity-filled arts and culture scenes for which he is most famous.”

There are “60,000 species of trees,” the exhibit points out. “For over 300 million years, trees have helped stabilize and improve environmental conditions for life on our planet,” it is noted.

A partner, too, in the exhibit is the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. As a flier available at the exhibit says about this Michigan-based organization, its “mission is to propagate the world’s most important old growth trees before they are gone … and reforest the Earth with the offspring of these trees to provide the myriad of beneficial ecosystem services essential for all life forms to thrive.”

There is a warning: “Even though the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive has made great strides, there is still much work to do. With over 8,000 tree species on the endangered species list and our world in ecological peril, AATA needs your help in attaining their goal.”

There is also a series of events, including workshops, connected to the exhibit.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I went to Vermont to witness the glorious burst of color of trees starting in early October. Now, trees here are also abounding in color — just one of the gifts they provide.

“A Celebration of Trees” will be running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December 18. The Southampton Art Museum is at 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. Admission is free. What you will get out of it is enormous.