by Pete Mazzaccaro
The American Chestnut Tree, for which the neighborhood was named, was wiped out more than 50 years ago by Chestnut blight. The tree, which once accounted for almost a third of all trees growing in the region can now only be found in select, protected areas.
For M.F. Cardamone, a Mt. Airy native and artist who has spent years studying ecology and horticulture, it was the perfect subject for a series on native plant species. The result is a picture-perfect illustration of an American Chestnut branch sprouting from the stack of a steam train. It’s an image that’s one part horticultural illustration and anther part whimsy. If Wes Anderson did plant illustrations, they might look like the work of Cardamone.
“I studied horticulture at the Barnes Foundation where you learn about specimen mounting,” Cardamone said, explaining her process. “I was using them to help learn about things like leaf margins – the anatomy of the plant. Having been an artist for most of my life, once I did this three-year program, it inspired me to start this whole new body of work – to reinvent it and expand.
“The whole idea is to talk about the ecology of the plant and comment on its medicinal, spiritual and regional qualities. It’s whimsical and surreal, a combo of fine art and science.”
Cardamone has been doing the same for plants from all over the country and some from South America. She’s done work in New Mexico and Florida and recently returned from a trip to South America, all regions that offered subjects in the forms of regional plants to explore in her art, a mix of high tech scans of actual plant specimens and mixed media.
That work is the subject of an art exhibit that will open 5 p.m. Friday, April 17, , at the Carol Schwartz Gallery, 101 Bethlehem Pike. Original works will be available to view and buy. Prints of her “American Chestnut Tree” will be available for $125 or $250 framed. The exhibit will serve as a fundraiser for the Chestnut Hill Community Fund’s ongoing Re-Tree the Avenue program, a program that seeks to plant as many street trees as possible along Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike.
Cardamone is donating 20 percent of all proceeds earned at the opening to the program.
“I love to advocate for nature,” Cardamone said. “When I discovered the Re-Tree the Avenue initiative, I thought that would be a great organization to partner with and do a fundraiser. This is a great thing to be part of.”
Cardamone said she met Carol Schwartz Gallery owner Elliott Schwartz through Profiles, the Chestnut Hill printing service that both use.
“When I saw her work I was fascinated by it,” Schwartz said. “I thought it was something really different. I have never seen anyone do anything like it. Every piece is historic and educational.”
To top off the opening, Schwartz said a ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. to honor Carol Schwartz, Elliot’s late wife and gallery co-owner who died in 2012. Schwartz said he was approached by Bowman Properties president Richard Snowden, who owns the building next door to the gallery, about splitting the cost of a tree for the sidewalk in front of their properties and dedicating the tree to Carol.
The tree, a Yoshino cherry, will not be planted, Schwartz said, but it will be out front so event attendees can see what sort of trees the project will use on the Avenue.