IOWA DERECHO 2020

Cedar Rapids artist's 'Eulogy for Trees' exhibit mourns trees lost in derecho

Cattle seek shade under a derecho-damaged tree on the Oxley Family Farm in rural Linn County. The image is among the tre
Cattle seek shade under a derecho-damaged tree on the Oxley Family Farm in rural Linn County. The image is among the tree remembrance photos Cedar Rapids artist Bex Hurn captured using her cellphone camera in the wake of the Aug. 10 derecho that wreaked havoc in the region. Her collection will open online Thursday at Onviewgallery.com (Bex Hurn)
/

“I have been crying for trees ever since the storm. It’s just heartbreaking!”

“Everything around me is dead and/or destroyed. My outlet is nature. I need the trees. The trails. The shade. It’s all gone or can’t be accessed. I have no motivation.”

Those separate Facebook posts from Aug. 28 open a window to the importance of trees in our lives, and the effect on the emotional and physical well-being in the days following the Aug. 10 derecho that wiped out 65 percent of Cedar Rapids’ tree canopy.

Immediately afterward, artist Brex Hurn, 44, of Cedar Rapids, put down her paint brush and picked up her cellphone. Using its camera, she photographed trees that crashed around homes, parks and cemeteries in the city, as well as in rural Linn County.

She has selected 18 of those photos for an exhibit titled “Eulogy for Trees,” launching Thursday (9/3) on her virtual On View Gallery.

Hurn, an oil painter who manages Studio 128 in the Cherry Building and several boutique art galleries around the area, also is a massage therapist operating out of the historic brick warehouse in the NewBo District. She was in the middle of giving a massage while the storm raged around her, unaware of its severity. But when she attempted to drive to her home near St. Matthew Catholic Church on the northeast side, she was surrounded by destruction. Her five-minute commute took two hours.

“When I went into the massage, it was a sunny, beautiful day,” she said, “and when I came out, it was completely different.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Her husband was home during the storm and “saw everything,” she said, noting that they lost all eight trees in their small yard.

“He was in the middle of it. He was even in the backyard when a tree came down, and had to run to get out of the way. His experience was way different. I saw the aftermath — I walked into it after it had already happened. That was more my experience.

“It felt apocalyptic, after being on First Avenue. You couldn’t use your phone, you were stranded, you were stuck in traffic, and you just wanted to get home, or whatever you were trying to do. It was so intense.”

The couple already were grieving the loss of the beloved dog they had to put down the Saturday before that fateful Monday. Now they were mourning the loss of their trees, too. One fell on their house, and another on their garage.

“They were just ginormous,” she said. “We used to talk about, ‘Oh, it would be nice to have sun.’ Well, now I’ve got it.

“You don’t realize what you’re going to miss about a tree until it’s gone. It’s hotter in our house now — there’s no break from the heat and the sun. I’m not going to complain, because I’ve talked to people as I’ve been taking pictures, and there’s a giant tree that crashed through their house, and they won’t be able to live there for years, and there’s all sorts of ruined cars.”

After the storm, she had to park at St. Matthew’s, and walking among the debris, she was overwhelmed. She took out her phone and started taking photos. She couldn’t sleep that night, so she got up at 5 and ran out to get a generator. When she got home, she started walking around the neighborhood taking photos, then drove to C Avenue NE, where she grew up.

“I just wanted to document it,” she said. “It was my way of just trying to hold on a little bit longer to everything.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

She discovered she wasn’t alone. All of her friends wanted to talk about the trees they had lost, too, so she turned to Facebook with this offer: “COMMUNITY ART PROJECT: (Cedar Rapids/Marion/Hiawatha area) ***please let me know of any important 100+ year old trees that have fallen in your area. I would like to document the final days of these gentle giants before they are gone forever.”

That initial post garnered 41 comments and 18 shares, and sent her into neighborhoods with just her cellphone, which she felt was less intrusive than slinging a larger digital camera around her neck. She listened as people shared their tree stories.

She found the rich greens “too surreal and heartbreaking to look at,” so she turned to the more soothing black and white palette of Ansel Adams, “bringing a little beauty to these tragic scenes.”

She hasn’t charged for the digital photos she’s taken on request, but if she decides to create prints, those will be sold for a fee. She’s also contemplating creating a book of the stunning sites and memories she’s captured.

Through the free online gallery, she acknowledges that “we’re all in a different place with this event,” she said. “Everyone has different amounts of damage and trauma and stress from this event. But I know sooner or later, once you’ve been taken out of the shock of the situation, there is some community loss there. I’m just hoping that this, in a way, provides a connection to what was there at one point. Once (the damaged trees) are all gone, then I’m hoping that we, at least, can remember that day, because there’s been hardly any (widespread) coverage. ...

“You almost have to drive through the streets to really see what’s going on, and it’s not until you do, that you fully understand how citywide this was. All our families got hit really hard, so it just seemed overwhelming, for sure.”

At a Glance

• What: “Eulogy for Trees” photography exhibit

• Artist: Bex Hurn of Cedar Rapids

When: Beginning Thursday

• Where: On View Gallery, Onviewgallery.com/

• Cost: Free

• Preview: Onviewgallery.com/archives

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.