Cedar Rapids couple memorialize fallen derecho trees with prints of tree rings

Some of the fine art prints will be sold to support Indian Creek Nature Center

An ink print in progress is seen partially lifted from a round of a white oak tree in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Oct. 20,
An ink print in progress is seen partially lifted from a round of a white oak tree in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

In the wake of the derecho that leveled Eastern Iowa in August, Jamie and Kyle Morrissey — like so many others — struggled to make sense of the destruction.

“The damage was like something you couldn’t comprehend,” Jamie said. “We’d be in the car on our way somewhere, and we’re driving through the streets, and it was just heart breaking to see the damage and the loss of so many trees.”

A self-proclaimed “tree hugger,” Jamie knew she had to find a way to give meaning to the devastation of so many trees.

“It just hurt my heart to see so many trees destroyed — especially so many huge, old trees,” she said. “If you asked any of my kids what I do when we go to National Parks and we see these big, old trees ... I hug them and I cry. I just think that they’re so beautiful and strong, and I like to think about what was happening to them, or what was happening on the earth, when those trees were planted, because some of these trees are hundreds of years old. There’s just so much history there.”

Inspired by artwork they saw at a lodge about five years ago in Yosemite that involved huge lithograph prints of California redwoods, Jamie and Kyle set out to make prints of downed derecho trees.

“When I saw those prints in Yosemite, I just thought they were incredible, and I knew I wanted to try to make some, and because (Kyle) is my husband, and he loves me, he started researching how to make our own prints,” Jamie said. “After the storm, it just seemed like the perfect time to see if we could really do this, and if it turned out we were good at it, maybe we could do some good with it.”

Small project grows into something special to help nature center

It started as a small project. The couple would troll neighborhoods looking for downed trees with interesting ring patterns or beautiful imperfections, cut a slice and take it home to print.

With each print, Kyle and Jamie improved their techniques, learned tricks to better the prints and developed a method that results in extraordinary, fine-art quality prints.


Word of their project soon began to spread and the couple received dozens of calls and messages from people wanting prints. Jamie said she also reached out to Brucemore and offered to print a few of the trees from the grounds there.

“And then the (Indian Creek) Nature Center called us with an idea,” Jamie said.

The idea, was to have the couple print three of the nature center’s trees. From there, the nature center is working with a printer to reproduce those lithographs, creating high-quality prints to sell with the profits going to support the nature center. The center has also referred several people to the couple to have their own prints made. When that happens — when they are told that person came by way of they nature center — Jaime said a portion of the fee for that print will go to the center.

Sarah Halbrook, director of marketing and development at the nature center, said she had heard of the prints from one of the couple’s neighbors and decided to check out their work.

“What really captivated me when I saw the prints that they were making was the way these prints were able to capture the loss, but also the beauty and the service that the trees have already provided to our community,” Halbrok said. “And I am a patron of the arts, so the other thing that really that drew me to these prints is that they felt like a high-quality, fine art piece. And it was really neat to be able to marry kind of the natural world, with a visual art that could convey the loss that we were all experiencing in our community, but at the same time you could frame it and keep it as a memorial and a tribute going forward.”

For the Morrisseys, the decision to collaborate with the nature center was a no-brainer.

“We love the nature center and our kids love the nature center, so of course we said yes,” Jamie said. “I mean it’s practically in our backyard, so we spend a lot of time there as a family, walking the trails and connecting with nature.”

Prints should be ready in time for holidays

Halbrook said the nature center still is researching the best way to reproduce the lithographs and sell the prints and does not have a time frame yet as to when prints will be available for purchase, but the hope is the center will have a plan in place and be ready to take preorders in time for the holidays.

“You know, I think we were all looking for ways to kind of memorialize what has happened and to feel better, and art is one way you can process those experiences and feelings,” Halbrook said. “It can also serve as a sort of time stamp. And I think, as we were all lugging these massive trees or limbs to our curbs to be taken away, we were all just kind of wondering like what to do or how to feel or how to make sense of what happened. And these prints really evoke that feeling of memorializing or paying tribute to these lost trees, so many of which were 100 or 200 years old — you know, they have been here for generations, they are a part of our history.”

“It really has been an honor to make these prints for so many people, and to be trusted with that memory or feeling that they are wanting us to capture,” Kyle said. “We’ve probably done about 100 prints now and we are getting calls from all over the country and some from people in other countries, and that’s pretty remarkable. I mean we just started doing this because we saw some prints and like them and (Jamie) wanted to give it a shot. And it’s just spiraled from there.”

Each tree, each project is different, Jamie said.

“Each tree comes to us with a story,” she said. “Whether it’s, ‘My father or my father planted this tree, or we got married under this tree or my kids grew up with that tree,’ so many people are not just bringing us a piece of a tree, they’re bringing us a memory or an experience and asking us to memorialize that, and that’s amazing — that’s really special — and it really drives us to create the highest-quality, archival prints that we can, because we want them to be beautiful and we want them to last forever.”

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