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Tom Zetterstrom with Elm tree in background

Tom Zetterstrom with Elm tree

Tom Zetterstrom: Portraits of American Trees

The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery at the College of the Holy Cross presents Tom Zetterstrom: Portraits of American Trees. The exhibition will be on view from Aug. 25 – Oct. 9, 2010. An opening reception will take place on Thursday, Sept. 16 from 4 – 6:30 p.m.

Tom Zetterstrom’s photographic career spans more than 40 years, beginning after his graduation from Colorado College and studies at the Pratt Institute. He taught photography in the late 1960s in Washington, D.C. and worked as a freelance photojournalist in the 70s and 80s for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times op-ed pages, and A Day in the Life of America.

Portraits of Trees represents the diversity and beauty of America's forest resources. In his 30-year quest across the breadth of the United States, Zetterstrom has gathered images of innumerable species from a wide range of topographies and ecosystems. He places himself in the midst of the natural forest, the trees’ original context where the eternal and silent business of photosynthesis takes place. His singular dedication to trees imbues this endeavor with a unified artistic vision, sharpened by his very personal commitment to issues of local and global sustainability.

In his text for the catalogue that accompanies the show, John Elder, professor emeritus of Middlebury College, writes, “Snow, in Portraits of Trees, is an element that can isolate, illuminate, and dramatize the life and history of a tree.  Limber Pine, 2005 depicts a battered and broken tree clinging to existence on a blizzard-swept ridge above Donner Pass.  Such persistence at this stringent edge feels emblematic of life’s remarkable adaptability.  This ancient tree’s singularity and strength illustrates Wordsworth’s central insight in his Ode:  Intimations of Immortality.  A single, vividly observed natural fact can assume almost mythic power, enduring for the whole of an observer’s life:  “But there’s a Tree, of many, one,/A Single field which I have looked upon.”  Wordsworth’s next line captures the elegiac character of many of the photographs in this collection:  “Both of them speak of something that is gone.”  But the Ode’s conclusion circles back around to the miracle of endurance, both of organic life itself and of the web of aesthetic and emotional connections that binds

our hearts to the natural world:
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be.

Zetterstrom’s photography expresses a parallel sense of deep affiliation with the beautiful, transient, and memorable lives of trees.”

According to Zetterstrom, “I work with trees constantly: photographing, propagating, planting and pruning. I anticipate their beauty by day, breath their air throughout the night, and presume to speak for them.”

Zetterstrom’s work is included in 37 museum collections throughout the United States. He is also a recognized lecturer and advocate for the preservation and reintroduction of the American elm and has designed and planted hundreds of public trees. In 1999 he founded Elm Watch, a regional community forestry organization active.

Gallery Events

A series of lectures and events will be held at Holy Cross in conjunction with the gallery exhibition.  All events are free and open to the public. 

  • Thursday, Sept. 16, 4 – 6:30 p.m., opening reception with remarks by the artist at 5:30 p.m., Cantor Art Gallery
  • Thursday, Sept. 16, 7:30 – 8:30 p.m., lecture by Tom Zetterstrom, Seelos Theatre

Gallery Information

Founded in 1983 through the generosity of Iris & B. Gerald Cantor, the Cantor Art Gallery serves both as a venue for a changing series of historical and contemporary public exhibitions, as well as a vital resource for Holy Cross faculty and students, linking exhibitions to the broader liberal arts curriculum. 

The hours for the Cantor Art Gallery are Monday - Friday 10 a.m. - 5p.m., Saturdays 2 - 5p.m. Located in O’Kane Hall, 1st Floor, College of the Holy Cross, 1 College Street, Worcester, MA, 01610.  Admission to the gallery, reception and lecture is free.