Today's blog post was written by Sharon McCawley, a current docent at the Museum who moved to Santa Fe three years ago from Los Angeles. She was an educational therapist and the Coordinator for the Arts Program for her school specializing in drama, opera, dance, playwriting, and visual arts.
Ken Rosenthal, Phantom (detail), 2013, pigment print, from the series The Forest. Gift of Edward Osowski in honor of the artist, 2016. Museum number 2016.28. © Ken Rosenthal
As you encounter the mythical and mystical photographs of Ken Rosenthal's The Forest, part of the Shots in the Dark exhibit opening this month, you might recall parallel poems, plays, and folk tales. Weaving together the picture and the print helps to highlight the mutual experience. Here are some signposts to help you find your way through tangled trails.
EVANGELINE A TALE OF ACADIE – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
WALDEN - Henry David Thoreau
It is worse than boorish, it is criminal to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us.
MACBETH AND RICHARD III – William Shakespeare
Macbeth, the murderous usurper of the throne of Scotland, is reassured or warned by the Three Witches : Macbeth shall never vanquished be till Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane, an affirmation of the power of natural right. Richard III, yet another murderous usurper, but this time of the throne of England, likens himself to someone lost in a thorny wood, tearing himself on the thorns and struggling in torment to find the open air, ironically prophesizing his violent end.
THE PAINTED DRUM – Louise Erdich
Here in a novel redolent of family secrets with stolen lives and stolen histories, is an extended metaphor for growth and decay:
In the woods, there is no right way to go, of course, no trail to follow but the law of growth. You must leave behind the notion that things are right. Just look around you. Here is the way things are. Twisted, fallen, split at the root. What grows best does so at the expense of what's beneath. A white birch feeds on the pulp of an old hemlock and supports the grapevine that will slowly throttle it. In the deadwood of another tree, fungi black as devil's hooves. Over us the canopy, tall pines that whistle and shudder and choke off light from their own lower branches.
Remember the dangers of the woods in traditional fairy tales such as the lost children in Hansel and Gretel, the blinding thorns in Rapunzel, the imprisoning brambles in Sleeping Beauty. Even Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz fears "Lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my!"
Writers of modern fairy tales harness the power of the forest to create wished for and unwished for transformations, making magic that is both cruel and healing.
THE FORTRESS UNVANQUISHABLE, SAVE FOR SACNOTH - Lord Dunsany
In a wood older than record , a foster-brother of the hills, stood the village of Allanthurion; and there was peace between the people of that village and all the folk who walked in the dark ways of the wood, whether they were human or of the tribes of the beasts or of the race of fairies and the elves and the little sacred spirits of trees and streams.....And still the dreams came flitting through the forest, and led men's souls into the plains of Hell.
THE FOREST FAIRY – Lord Brabourne
There was a large wood, full of very tall trees, so thick with their beautiful foliage that the rays of the sun could scarcely force their way through in the brightest summer day....and you felt as if you were in some sacred spot, where you were only inclined to speak in whispering tones, lest you should disturb the solemn silence of the place.
THE FOREST OF DREAMS - Lawrence Schimel
The trees got in his way; where was the end of this accursed forest? It must be just to the left; beyond the next copse. But Sean was running in the lands of the Sidhe and the forest never ended; the path he was on led right through the heart of the forest and from there no mortal ever returned....A branch caught on his sweater, and snapped as he plunged deeper into the forest, thinking the trees themselves were after him now.
THE NIGHT THE STARS WERE GONE – Joan Aiken
But the trees were not beautiful; the seemed like sad, stooped people, all twisted and knotted and gnarled; they looked as if they were not comfortable....
OLD PIPES AND THE DRYAD – Frank R. Stockton
When he had gone about halfway, the old man sat down to rest, leaning his back against a great oak tree. As he did so, he heard a sound like knocking inside the tree, and then a voice distinctly said "Let me out! Let me out!"
....a kiss from a dryad made a person ten years younger. The people of the village know this, and they were very careful not to let any child of ten years or younger go into the woods where the dryads were supposed to be; for, if they should chance to be kissed by one of these tree nymphs, they would be set back so far that they would cease to exist.
THE TREE'S WIFE - Jane Yolen
She looked around at the grove of birch trees by her house. "Why, I would sooner wed this tree," she said, touching a sturdy birch that stood to one side. " A tree would know when to bend and when to stand. I would sooner wed this tree than marry another man."
.... In the darkness, surrounded by the shadow of its brother, one tree seemed to shine. It was her tree, the one she had chosen. It was touched with a phosphorescent glow, and the vein of each leaf was a streak of pale fire.
The hills may be alive, but so are the thorns, brambles, birches, pines, hemlocks, and oaks of the forest. Are you afraid to fall under their spell?
(NOTE - You can find the modern stories in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF FAIRY TALES , edited by Mike Ashley)