Twenty-Four Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau, 2001-2003

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Thaddeus Holownia

Twenty-Four Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau


Thaddeus Holownia has earned an important place in the world of art and scholarship.  For over thirty years he has approached his art form with a gentle but persistent nudge to be mindful of our imprint on the land. Walden Revisited is the artist’s homage to the American author, poet, philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau.  In 1854 Walden or Life in the Woods was published from Thoreau’s daily journal of natural observations.


In a society full of fast-paced pedestrians, flashing lights and blinking signs, Holownia has slowed us down.  In his nod to the beauty of our land, “Twenty-Four Tree Studies” invites you to sit down, ponder and reflect.


Twenty-Four Tree Studies for David Henry Thoreau as a project and installation was exhibited in its entirety for the first time at the Armory Show in New York in March 2011. It was a sublime installation, contained within 20 x 25’, consisting of a forest created by Thaddeus Holownia to commemorate the publication of Walden.


Enter through one of two doorways, one passes a quote by Thoreau – “We cannot see anything until we are possessed with the idea of it, take it into our heads, and then we can hardly see anything else.”


Surrounded by 24 larger-than-life portraits of trees, one is immediately calmed.  Standing within the artist’s visual metaphor for forest, the portraits of the trees include thick bark-encrusted trunks; a birch struck by lightning; one with growths; another with scars; a sapling; one with furry friends burrowing inside; one without insides, and one with her branches tickling the sun.


Funded with a Fulbright Fellowship, 150 years after the publication of Walden, Professor Holownia made this work in Concord, Massachusetts, the very place where Thoreau lived and worked for over two years. The artist mirrored the time Thoreau lived there and produced a body of work with characteristic candour and authenticity.


Standing in Holownia’s forest we become engaged in exploring the spiritual and intellectual sides of human growth through visual language. 


Thaddeus Holownia explores the intersections of nature and humanity. Specifically, he deals with how humanity changes landscape, how the forces of nature mould human structures, and how the two coexist. His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues that are of growing concern. Holownia's practice uses altered landscapes to convey the precarious relationship between man and nature. To expose these landscapes he returns to a place over years, even decades, and creates a photographic catalogue of the transformation.

As a young artist, Holownia was part of Toronto’s hip and burgeoning art scene. He left Toronto in 1977 for a two-year teaching job at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Professor Holownia became Head of the Photography Department and is now Head of the Fine Arts Department. Enchanted by his surroundings, Holownia remained there and has never returned to living in an urban environment. His move to the Maritimes served to heighten his awareness of deeper moral and spiritual issues that are now the foundations of his ecologically conscious work.