A Forest for the Trees
The Black Hills

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Work on A Forest for the Trees was begun in 2005, the most recent painting for this series was completed in winter 2010. A small catalog and book are available.
On the left are the paintings from this series. The initial work includes travel, hiking and camping and photography while searching for suitably artistic scenes to paint. Some of the resulting photography is on the right.
"A Forest for the Trees #01":
 The Harney Peak Trail"
Acrylic 24x48


Scene near Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, SD.
"A Forest for the Trees #01

Harney Peak is the highest point in the Black Hills. It is also the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. A trail leads up to the peak from Sylvan Lake, one of the most beautiful spots in the Black Hills. The trees here are mostly Ponderosa Pine.

Shooting Star

"A Forest for the Trees #02:
Little Devil's Tower Trail"
Custer State Park, SD
Acrylic 24x48 inches


Custer State Park, SD
"A Forest for the Trees #02

The Little Devil's Tower is a massive stone formation that actually is near the Harney Peak Trail. At the lower level the Little Devil's Tower Trail is a mixed aspen and spruce forest.

Aspen is an important colonizer, the first to come up in areas destroyed by fire or logging. It is also a nurse tree and provides shelter for pines and spruce that grow more slowly in its shadows.

Kinnikinnik (Bear Berry)

"A Forest for the Trees, #03:
The Aspen Grove"
Acrylic 24x48"

"A Forest for the Trees #03

Aspen groves are found though out the Black Hills. They are often along the forest edges or transition zones. There are natural stone "sculptures" everywhere. During a gentle summer breeze the trees keep up a constant forest conversation as their leaves wiggle back and forth; because of this they are called quaking or trembling aspen. The movement is due to the way the leaf blade is attached to the stem. Aspen are members of the poplar family and as such are related to the cottonwood, another common tree of the Black Hills but one generally found at lower elevations. In the hills the aspen are often associated with pine and spruce and during the winter its white bark stands in beautiful contrast to those dark evergreens.

Found along streams and creeks aspen becomes a favorite food of beaver who also use the wood to construct their dams. 

"A Forest for the Trees, #04:
Grand Old Cottonwood
Acrylic 24x48

"A Forest for the Trees #04

At the lowest edges of the hills are cottonwood groves. They are generally found along river and stream beds. The trees were often transplanted to locations along roads, this set here is along a farm road in the southern hills.

They are a sturdier for of the poplars, a group that includes the aspen. In the hotter lower elevations they are an important source of shade and under them many children and animals shelter from the summer sun. They are often found mixed with green ash, another important tree along creeks and streams. Both trees blaze with yellow in the autumn.

A Forest for the Trees #05
Fall in a Mixed Birch and Aspen Forest
Custer State Park, SD
Acrylic 24x48"

"A Forest for the Trees #05

Where there is plenty of moisture paper birch and aspen grow together. They look similar, the most apparent difference is the birch tend to grow as with multiple trunks, the aspen tend to be single.

In their shade may be found many shrubs, most commonly chokecherry, roses and raspberries.

"A Forest for the Trees #06:
Country Wood with Cottonwoods, Winter"
Acrylic 24x48"

"A Forest for the Trees #06

This is just a few yards from the cottonwoods shown in the summer grouping in #4. It's along the southern edge of the Black Hills along a country road. There along the Cheyenne River cottonwoods are the dominant tree. This scene I caught by surprise while camping. I got up one morning just as it was starting to snow. In a few hours everything had a five inch layer of wet snow from an early spring snowstorm. I have visited this site many times and hope to do additional paintings showing the various moods.

"A Forest for the Trees #07:
Sunrise, Ponderosa Forest"
Acrylic 24x48

I was never quite satisfied with the above version. In January 2010 I made many changes to the painting and ended up with what is below. I reduced the contrast, decreased the size of the figure and increased the size of the large tree on the left. I toned down the yellow and redid the sunlit areas using more cadmium yellow dark instead of cadmium yellow light as on the top.


"A Forest for the Trees #07

The drier regions of the Black Hills are dominated by the Ponderosa Pine. Where they grow close together they tend to be straight and tall. As the space between the trees opens up the trees grow larger and become more pyramidal in shape. When they first come up the seedlings can form dense masses of small trees called dog hair. In the competition for light most will die out and the forest will open up again.

"Forest for the Trees #08:
At The Edge of the Deep Wood"
Acrylic 24x48 inches

"A Forest for the Trees #08

A transition zone, in the open area is a grove of aspen. Behind the viewer would be a dense spruce forest. The aspen grove is inviting whereas the spruce grove, especially the denser stands, is quite foreboding. The transition zone, where forest gives way to grassy meadows is a wonderful place to find deer and wildflowers.


"Forest for the Trees #09:
Blessing the Trees"
Acrylic 24x48 inches

"A Forest for the Trees #09

Walking at night through a ponderosa forest, a peaceful experience. A walk on a moonlit night with a snowy reflective ground can be a beautiful experience.

As for the blessing, well, all living things deserve a blessing. It is far too easy for us to forget that trees are living things and in the Black Hills the Ponderosa Pine and the White spruce are the largest living creatures to be found.

This painting has been modified and is now used as one of the Christmas paintings. A painting is never "finished" until it is sold.

"A Forest for the Trees #10:
The Deep Woods"
Acrylic 24x48"

"A Forest for the Trees #10:

"The Deep Woods"

The wetter areas of the hills have many spruce trees. They often have mossy material hanging down from them. The spruce can form dense stands where almost nothing else grows. along the edge of their groves the spruce are intermixed with other trees, most often aspen. The ground will have oregon grape, snowberry and occasionally even orchids.

Violet (above)
Striped Coral Root Orchid (right)

"A Forest for the Trees #11:
High Country Evening"
Acrylic 24x48"

"A Forest for the Trees #11:

Northern Black Hills southwest of Lead (pr: leed), SD. An old gold mining town next door to the much more famous Deadwood, SD. A high altitude area. The name of the town of Lead refers to a gold mining term.

Blue Flag Iris

"A Forest for the Trees #12:
Recovery Zone, Jewel Cave National Monument"
Acrylic 24x48"


"A Forest for the Trees #12"
Wildflowers benefit substantially from forest fires that remove material (such as leaves and pine needles) from the ground and reduce the number of trees shading the ground.


"Cottonwood Nursery, Wild Horse Sanctuary"
Acrylic 24x48"


This was an extra painting included with the original show.

The Cheyenne River runs across the southern end of the Black Hills. Cottonwood seedlings often sprout up in its sand and gravel areas and surrounding flood plain. Those at the higher levels will eventually grow into beautiful trees but the lower area of the nursery is "scrubbed" clean by the higher waters that come with regional downpours.

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