08 Dec 2021


A Few Questions with Artist Rachel Trego

As we get older, many of us lose our sense of whimsy and wonder. That’s why public art is one of our best allies when it comes to getting in touch with our feelings and recapturing a sense of awe and magic about the lovely place in which we live. For many years, there has been a dead tree at Stanton Park. I’ve tweeted about it, complained, tagged and asked directly the National Park Service gardeners about it, but the little sad tree continues to be there, mostly small and limbless.

The Gratitude Tree at Stanton Park. Photo by Rachel Trego, via Instagram

But then one day, an anonymous creative person hung a lovely garland with autumnal colors. There was a green marker next to the installation and several people had added things they were grateful for on their own leaf.

The little tree stopped being an eyesore and, instead, became a platform begging to be festooned with art. But who saw the potential in this little dead tree? I put out an APB on Instagram and in a few days, I got a message from neighbor Rachel Trego, saying, “Because you asked, I’m the artist behind this. And a new art project has begun for this month!”

Rachel Trego poses in front of the Gratitude Tree. Photo by María Helena Carey.

Immediately, I asked her a few questions about the project and her answers are below, lightly edited for clarity.

What gave you the idea to do the installation?

I got really inspired going to the COVID memorial [In America, Remember], which brought me to tears. It was such a gift to have a space in which to lament and remember and to be invited to participate in the creation of this work of art and reflection. A wise person from my community said early on in this pandemic that we need to daily both recognize 3 gratitudes and one lament, which I think had been an important balance.
Carl has also been an inspiration. [Carl Nelson, or Skip, as many neighbors knew him, was an avid gardener and he decorated his front yard with all sorts of toys and trinkets. His garden was always a joy for anyone who walked around the 1300 block of Massachusetts Avenue SE. He passed away earlier this year.]

The little dead tree, now festooned for Hanukkah and Advent. It lights up at night! Photo by María Helena Carey.

Why did you choose the little dead tree at Stanton Park as a subject?

I don’t have dogs or kids, but enjoy spending time at parks in general. This tree had been depressing me for awhile in the midst of everything else depressing in our world. But then I thought, well, if they won’t chop it down and plant a new one, maybe I can give it new life in another way. [In America, Remember] allowed me to lament and the Gratitude Tree was for giving thanks.

What kind of art do you do regularly? What’s your medium?

My go-to art is watercolor but I’ve also done a good deal in acrylic. I think I’ll expand into oils this next year. I love doing plein air, painting the nature scene I see in front of me. But it’s been fun to stretch myself in new ways

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Photo by María Helena Carey.

Is this the first time you do something like this? Were you as impressed as I was that the pen stayed there the whole time?

Actually, Curt Thompson, the same person who wrote about the 3 gratitudes+1 lament has recently written a book called The Soul of Desire. In it he talks about the healing that comes in being honest in community and from that having courage to create. The book has inspired me to bring together my core loves in new ways: nature, creativity, and community. I’m enjoying creating a way for people to create through a shared space and would like to explore where else it can go from there. I really appreciated the breadth of what people shared in their notes of gratitude. I was super impressed the pen stayed there! I loved that kids participated too!

With the new month I started a new theme of light to go with Hanukkah and Advent and the desire we all have to see light in the midst of darkness. But I’m working on rearranging the leaves into a new piece too. I added more to the piece and the Peabody kids are soon going to add their own pieces to it later. [This has already happened.]

I really appreciate how you bring community together through your photography and noticing what is happening in the neighborhood!

Thank you for your spirit, Rachel!

You can follow Rachel on Instagram at @rachelatrest.

Portrait of Rachel Trego by María Helena Carey

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