When the first US land surveys were underway in the 1800s and land was being parceled up and distributed amongst settlers, the corners of each section and quarter section were marked either by a post erected on prairie land; or in woodland, by trees marked with a blaze or carving. These trees became known as witness trees, because they bore witness to the accuracy of surveyors’ maps.
The trees are the inspiration behind artist Jennifer Dixon’s sculptures in the centre of Seattle‘s Ballard neighbourhood. There are five sculptures in total, each one mounted atop an old cedar post.
The Fossil Tree is pretty self-explanatory, adorned with imprints of past marine life; but some of the other sculptures take a little figuring out.
The Clam Tree is a nod to Ballard’s fishing industry and is shaped like an upside down Coast Salish clam basket fashioned out of clam shells.
The most bizarre one, The Immigrant or Family Tree, takes its inspiration from the Nordic Yggdrasil, a tree of life, and is meant to represent a hybrid of physical and genealogical trees. The balls mimic topiary in the neighbourhood and the blue and white patterns reflect traditional Nordic folk costumes in a nod to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage.
The First Tree sculpture, meant to represent ancient primordial forests that once covered this land, is also a clever homage to the Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, who was an accomplished paper cutter. Often, he would clip away at a piece of paper while telling a story, and then finish with a flourish by unfolding the paper and producing an intricate cut out to his audience.
My favourite of the five sculptures is the New Growth tree, a happy flurry of fresh green leaves bursting from old wood. Perhaps it is a wish for the future prosperity of this great little neighbourhood.
The Witness Trees are located in Bergen Place; a tiny triangular park between Market Street, Leary Avenue and 22nd Avenue NW in Ballard. Check them out next time you’re in the area.
These are great, Ailsa! Thanks for telling us the history of each tree. 🙂
I just love the idea of trees bearing witness to man’s short history on the planet. 🙂
These are fabulous. I’ve never seen anything like these. And your shots are so clear with great perspective!
I love these unexpected art works that open doorways into a place’s past. Glad you enjoyed the post, Rusha. 🙂
Fascinating. Thank you Ailsa, for sharing both the pictures, and the background story with us. I actually like them all but my favourite has to be the Immigrant Tree
Glad you enjoyed the story behind the trees, Bob – the Immigrant Tree is really unusual – I can’t help looking at the blue and white blobs and seeing a resemblance to ET’s head 🙂
wonderful creativity and storytelling, thanks Ailsa!
So glad you enjoyed it, I love finding unusual public art that sheds light on the area’s history. xxx
I neer knew about witness trees, how interesting, and what a creative and facsinating interpretation in these works of art, thanks for sharing!
I love the idea of trees bearing witness; they are around for so much longer than we are. 🙂
LOve these witness trees = and hope to see them one day – but thanks for the great shots int he meantime. and I like the family tree one th emost – but all are wonderful pieces of art – what a great idea.
I hope you get to see them in person sometime too, they’re really cool. 🙂
Wonderful post…I found it great….Love the Family Tree…
Thanks for sharing it with us, Ailsa! There are so many wonderful things in the world!!!!!
I agree, there really are so many wonderful things out there just waiting to be found! So glad you enjoyed this post. 🙂
I learned much from your post. These trees offer a wonderful connection between art and history. Brilliant!
Glad you enjoyed it, Steve! I love these kind of unexpected finds. xxx Ailsa
I really like that family tree. Thanks for sharing this cool art 🙂
That family tree is proving to be everyone’s favourite! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
Enjoyed your very informative post, Ailsa. Great shots
Thanks Sue, glad you enjoyed it. xxx
Interesting historical tidbit and wonderful artwork, each with its own story. Thanks!
Ballard has all kinds of hidden surprises, Marilyn! 🙂
How beautiful. I love the sculptures.
Such fascinating trees and their history, Ailsa. 🙂
Great post Ailsa. I want to reach out and touch the fossil tree the texture so vivid in your shot.
Oh fabulous I love sculpture!
How fascinating. I hadn’t heard of witness trees before, so thank you for this post. The sculptures are fabulous – particularly the Immigrant/Family and the New Growth ones.
Wow, what a great installation! I really need to make a trip to Ballard now
This is so interesting. Thank you for doing such a great job of narrating your story and providing us with great images.
I simply have to visit! These are all gorgeous and thank you for telling the story of each tree. I have never heard of witness trees before -but I love to learn new things, especially when told a good story and with great images.
cool! what an interesting collection. I especially like The Immigrant!
Interesting, Ailsa. They are all fabulous in their own way but my favorite is the clam wheel, being a beach person and all. Thanks for the share. 🙂
Ailsa, these are lovely! I hope to get back to visit Seattle some day; if so, I’ll have to go see these in person. Thanks for sharing. ~ Linne
How utterly lovely. Thank you for sharing this great artwork. You do manage to find some marvelous treasures!
I was always curious about those trees while living in Seattle. Thank you for the insight! I love and miss Ballard. Cheers!
Beautiful and thoughtful sculptures honoring trees and their many functions in our lives….
To gaze up in wonder.
Wow, interesting collection. They’re all nice really.
I wish I’d known about these before our trip to Seattle last year!