The Olmsted Elm Rests in Pieces (of Art)

RISD Students crafted wooden art from Fredrick Law Olmsted's life from the wood of the fallen Olmsted Tree, some of which is on display at the Site.

The Olmsted Elm, which was taken down at the end of March last year, is coming back to Brookline--albeit in pieces.

Now running at the Olmsted National Historic Site, the Echoes of the Olmsted Elm exhibit features artwork crafted from the wood that once stood on the site. Pieces include tools such as a box camera and a set of French curves. While he would not have used the ones featured in the exhibit, Olmsted may have used similar equipment in his early days.

The exhibit is part of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Witness Tree project. Partnering with the National Parks Service, the school takes fallen "witness trees," trees which are said to have witnessed historical events, and transforms them into works of art.

The exhibit runs until Sept. 30 at the Olmsted Site on Warren Street, it can be seen on Thursdays (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.), Saturdays and Sundays (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) until then.

Photos of many of the pieces are on the Olmsted Site's exhibit page, and are coming soon to the Witness Tree project webpage.

The Olmsted Elm is the latest such tree to be "reincarnated" in this way, as WBUR put it. The tree was succumbing to dutch elm disease last May, and the Olmsted Site consulted a number of specialists who concluded that the tree should be removed because it posed danger to visitors and to the neighboring historic home.

When the over 180-year-old Olmsted Elm came down last year, the Site announced on its Facebook page that they intend to replace it with a genetic clone. When a clone reaches an appropriate size, which may still take a year or two, the tree will be replanted in its original place.

Elm is a tough woods to work with because of the grain, Dale Broholm, a furniture design instructor at RISD explained to WBUR. “It’s not necessarily running straight along. But it has a beauty to it and that’s really quite compelling to work with.”

Listen to the full WBUR interview and piece on their website 

Frederick Law Olmsted is considered the father of modern landscape architecture, and was Brookline resident. He is credited with projects like New York's Central Park and the Boston-area Emerald Necklace, of which Brookline's Olmsted Park is a part. 

When Olmsted bought his home at 99 Warren St, the tree was on Olmsted's property. During a significant redesign of the home, Olmsted and his stepson John Olmsted chose to keep this tree. Ownership was transferred to the NPS in 1980, and it is now the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. 

See photos from Patch's tour through time, from last summer, at the Olmsted Historic Site


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