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Exhibit Reveals Sacramento’s Arboreal Love Affair

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Sacramento has been called “The City of Trees,” a city with more trees per capita than Paris, a place known for its romantic, tree-lined walkways and thoroughfares.

Each tree in Sacramento has a story to tell. This is the theme of “Living With Trees,” a new art exhibit that opened in City Hall Aug. 4 featuring 17 historical photographs selected from the Center for Sacramento History’s archives, each telling a small piece of the decades-old romance Sacramento has had with its trees.

There are images of automobiles smashed by broad tree trunks flung down in the windstorm of 1950, costumed children playacting in a shaded grove and an ordinary Sacramento man sweeping a front yard enveloped by countless leaves.

But, it’s about more than just the trees, said Coloma artist Cheri Ibes. “It’s about our relationship with nature.”

Ibes’ installation is in the center of the exhibit – a tangled arrangement of pruned brambles from a manzanita shrub enclosed in a glass case.

“The spectrum of the human relationship with nature runs between fear of an unbridled, uncontrollable force of nature – things like hurricanes and earthquakes – to wanting to control and own nature ourselves in the form of something like a potted bonsai plant in your backyard,” Ibes said.

Her installation, she said, embodies that spectrum of human interaction with nature, as do all the photographs in the exhibit.

Since 1849, the people of Sacramento have cherished the benefits of having lots of trees around. But with the city’s budget cuts reducing the workforce of Urban Forestry services from the equivalent of 57 full-time employees to about 36, there is concern about what the future holds for Sacramento’s urban canopy.

Despite having fewer employees, a recent upgrade to a Google Earth-style tree mapping system that tracks data for about 100,000 public trees in Sacramento has made preservation efforts easier for the city, Sacramento Urban Forestry Manager Joe Benassini said.

“There’s a real protective tendency people have toward trees, ” said Lisa Prince, curator of this exhibit and curator for the Center for Sacramento History, which is presenting the exhibit in conjunction with The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

Trees give us shade from the scorching summer sun, clean air to breathe, and promote mental and emotional well-being, Prince said.

Prince said she wants people to walk away from the exhibit having found some way to connect with the history of Sacramento and develop an appreciation for the urban forest.

Some have. The exhibit includes a cork board where visitors can tack up an index card with their tree stories. The cards are full of stories: about weddings, sad memories of trees now gone, happy childhood memories of climbing trees and building tree houses.

The exhibit can be viewed at 915 I Street in the Robert T. Matsui Gallery on the first floor of the new City Hall building until Jan. 15. The viewing hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of the Center for Sacramento History.  Photos 3 and 4 by Colin Wood.

Photo 4 is of Joe Benassini, Sacramento Urban Forestry Manager.

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