The Artists’ Tree

by Carl Strang

In this blog I have emphasized the natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve, but to most people Mayslake’s identity is as the cultural center for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. In addition to the art shows and performances that punctuate Mayslake’s calendar, there are classes across the range of the arts. In one of the painting classes, the teacher selected a tree on the Mayslake Peabody Estate grounds to be one of the subjects of her students’ work this year. Little did she know when she selected it in the spring that the tree would be ripped apart in summer storms.

Here is the tree as it stands today, diminished by the loss of some of its major branches.

She asked me for some context on this tree. I was able to identify it as a Norway maple, which resembles our native sugar maple but is readily distinguished by milky sap in the leaves. Not being native, it had to have been planted, and it was pretty big so it may have dated back to the mansion’s construction in the early 1920’s. I resorted to the series of aerial photos of DuPage County taken in 1939.

The tree appears in the photo, marked by the red circle. It was about the size one would expect for a tree planted around the time the mansion was built.

The size of the maple, and the width of the growth rings where branches have been removed, indicate that it grew relatively fast. Like the weeping willows that likewise were damaged in this year’s storms, the downside of such rapid growth is structural weakness. Such damaging losses, while stressful to the tree, enhance its potential as a subject for artistic work, and I look forward to seeing the students’ paintings.

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1 Comment

  1. November 7, 2011 at 7:09 am

    […] month ago I posted a description of a Norway maple on the Mayslake mansion grounds that had been selected as the subject of an art class assignment. […]


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