Living in the Washington DC area offers interesting opportunities to find little pieces of history that often go unnoticed. These seemingly-common remnants of the people and events that shaped our past fit into the scenery, dwarfed and shadowed by the obvious destinations of monuments and government buildings and museums. But when noticed, they add color and character to the big events of our past. Occasionally I will stumble upon a little gem of history after talking to some generous historian or visiting a garden or park that dots this region. It was in one of these moments, standing in the shade of a giant tree that dates back to the beginning of our country, a souvenir from early explorations, a gift between presidents, that I knew I wanted to create this painting.
The Osage Orange tree growing at River Farm was given as a seedling to Thomas Jefferson by Lewis and Clark from their journey west. Jefferson in turn gave it as a gift to George Washington's family, who planted it on a piece of his farm, now called River Farm and managed by the American Horticulture Society. This over-200 year old tree has lived through the growth of our nation, provided cool shade on hot humid summer days for generations under her reaching arms, and survived storms and wars and drought and industrialization through the chapters of our history.
As I stood painting this tree one late-spring day, picnickers lounged on blankets in her shade, children ran around laughing and playing, and visitors to the River Farm walked by on the path through the garden. I am sure that most did not know the historical significance of the tree for whose shade they were grateful. Similar silent witnesses to human events cover our planet, with no voice to speak up for their own existence, nothing but arms waving at the whim of the wind and roots holding strong to the Earth's surface.
This is a gift that has lasted generations, out-living those who collected the seeds, out-living the gifter and the recipients and the ones who placed it in the soil. Generations have watered this tree, planted flowers in its shade, watched it grow. May generations continue to know the beauty and comfort of this grand tree and pause to contemplate the lasting impact we leave on this earth.