Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - May 4, 2012

Tree tales

Art center seeks public's photos and mini-stories about favorite Palo Alto trees

by Rebecca Wallace

Through boom and bust, as Palo Alto photographer Angela Buenning Filo chronicles the scenes of Silicon Valley, she retains a special fondness for a small piece of land in San Jose. One of the last orchards in what used to be the Valley of Heart's Delight is barely hanging on, near an IBM building.

Over three winters, Filo photographed every tree. Her pictures, now on permanent display at San Jose City Hall, have proved more lasting than the walnuts and prunes. "It's not been watered or maintained for many years," she said of the orchard. "It's just surviving of its own accord in a slow decline."

This experience may account for some of Filo's enthusiasm about her new project, Palo Alto Forest. Fortunately, Palo Alto's trees seem to have a more evergreen spirit.

Filo is spearheading the project, in which members of the public are invited to submit their photographs of trees they find meaningful. They're also sending in six-word stories about what the trees mean to them. The people don't have to live in Palo Alto, as long as their leafy subjects do.

In October, when the Palo Alto Art Center on Newell Road is scheduled to reopen after more than a year of extensive renovations, the tree photos and stories will go up there as part of a new display.

"The exhibition will be called 'Community Creates' and will feature approximately eight Bay Area contemporary artists working with key community groups to create installations," center director Karen Kienzle said. So far, Palo Alto artist Mel Day has also signed on to do a new-media piece with Lytton Gardens.

Filo said she hasn't decided exactly what shape Palo Alto Forest will take. It could be a straightforward two-dimensional piece, with people's photos and stories, or perhaps something three-dimensional, "with the sense of walking among the trees," she said.

Meanwhile, she's gathering and enjoying the pictures and stories as they come in. As of last week, she had received about 50 submissions.

"It's not a photo contest," Filo said. "Some people hesitate to participate because they don't see themselves as photographers, but we want anyone to take part. It's not about creating a precious photo so much as choosing a precious tree."

Photos taken on any kind of equipment, from phones to professional cameras, are welcome, with one entry per person.

As for the stories, entries may be descriptive, or funny, or even enigmatic in the tradition of the famous six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

One entry, submitted by a person who gave his or her name as simply "ER," depicts a towering redwood tree, with the story "The silent guardian of our house." Mimi Lyons wrote, "My three kids, my three trees," and Carolyn Held looked into a cluster of blossoms and penned, "Pink playfulness superimposed on azure calm." Susan P. Meade gave her photo's sky a fanciful background of pink, orange and yellow, writing, "A New Look At Gamble Garden,"

Filo herself contributed a contemplative image of an oak gently stretching its branches over a fence into a neighboring yard. It was one of five oaks that once grew along the side of her house, but it went into decline. The tree had to be cut down right around the time that Filo, Kienzle and others at the art center were coming up with the idea for Palo Alto Forest.

"I wanted to have a little tribute to that tree," Filo said. Her story: "Looking out my window, missing you."

Info: Palo Alto Forest entries must be submitted to tree@paloaltoforest.org by June 15. For more information, go to http://paloaltoforest.org .

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