In ROOTLESS, Banyan builds trees out of scrap metal, creating beautiful forests for people who crave some semblance of nature in a future where no nature survives. But throughout human history, there have been many different types of “tree builders”. This blog series will introduce you to some of them…
… JOE TYLER – A REAL LIFE TREE BUILDER …
I’ll be honest – I’d no idea this blog business could be so rewarding. I wanted to interview someone who really does what Banyan does in ROOTLESS – a person who builds beautiful trees and forests out of manmade materials. At the top of my list was Arizona-based artist, Joe Tyler. And what he shared brought tears to my eyes…
Hi Joe! Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m hoping you can start off by telling us a little about how you got started building such beautiful sculptures?
As a young boy I was the neighborhood yard boy and enjoyed the look of a newly mowed lawn. Different plants in the yards made me also interested in them, so I saved the money I was making and, at 16, I built myself a greenhouse in the backyard. In the deepest part of me I was mesmerized watching the magic of a seed turning into a plant or tree.
Because of this passion I attended A.S.U. and received my degree in Horticulture. I immersed myself in drawing plants and diagramming all their intricate inside parts. I also worked in the field at the research center caring for many different trees and plants.
I dreamed of owning my own nursery and so I purchased 10 acres of land and began acquiring trees and plants and soon had a small staff to water, prune, trim and run the greenhouses. I surrounded the borders of this property with some special trees, Sonoran Cottonwoods from Mexico. My nursery was named Sonora as a tribute to these rare trees.
I started teaching myself to weld in my early thirties to make a fence around some property on which I wanted to build a house. I knew a friend in the demolition business and bought a 1920s cotton gin and used everything to create the house. I used all kinds of natural materials for the entire house. It looks like it sprang up from the earth. I welded gates and fences to mark the property line. One day my wife asked me if I would make her a bird feeder outside her kitchen window and naturally I chose to create my first tree, which is still outside the kitchen window. It has a feeder bowl underneath the sculpture and the multitude of birds like perching in the limbs giving my wife much joy over the years . As time went on I began creating other garden art, all inspired by nature and plant life. I planted over 400 trees so this 40 acres is a haven for wildlife. Just last week my wife found a starving bobcat which she nursed and kept alive long enough for animal rescue to retrieve her and just long enough to be sorry to see her go. I could tell you many stories about different creatures we have here. We have a pet King snake named Stripey who lives inside as part of our family and catches some mice and pack rats. Perhaps I could share some more animal adventures with your readers when I have a bit more time to document them all.
In my novel, ROOTLESS, the main character, Banyan, builds trees out of scrap metal in a future world where no nature survives. He was taught this skill by his father and the idea’s that the art has been passed on from generation to generation ever since an apocalyptic event forever changed the world we know. Banyan builds trees more than just as a way of making a living–he feels he’s “giving people something to believe in” by preserving the memory of a world that once was. I was hoping you could talk about why you think you’re drawn to building such beautiful trees and forests? Do any of Banyan’s reasons resonate with your own?
I create because I want to share my love and appreciation of nature with others. At his point I am at an age where I would love to mentor a young person and slowly pass my business over to them. It is hard sweaty work, but so utterly rewarding. I am not actually sure that someone could do this kind of work without many talents. The passion for plants and nature is foremost. My methods are one of a kind and difficult to teach. I wonder if they can be taught.
Yes, I believe I am reminding humans of the fact that nature is precious and must be carefully treated. Without living growing plants I question if man can survive, much less thrive. We are dependent upon nature and The Creator of all life for our very existence.
In ROOTLESS I tried to draw an analogy between human creativity with the forces of nature and the cycle of life. Banyan’s visual art and the power of story are important parts of the book to me. As a result, I’m blown away by what you do, and particularly love your piece “Tree of Knowledge” (pictured above). It stands outside the entrance of Oro Valley Public Library in Arizona, and I can’t wait to see it in person. Can you talk us through how this piece came to be?
Long before I became an artist, I was a horticulturist and became the founding Director of the Arboretum on the A.S.U. campus, identifying all plants by their common and scientific names. At this time my wife was teaching English at the local high school. During a break she picked up a Readers Digest and saw a very small picture of a tree growing out of a book. It immediately struck her as an important image because to her, the roots were like the writing in a book and the tree was the growth one experiences because of reading. The book itself was the foundation for it all to happen. She tore out the page and brought it to me and thought that someday I might be able to create something like this. Years later she was right, and this sculpture reveals an infinite truth on many levels.
Awesome! Wow. And so, Banyan builds trees from old scrap metal and junk, strips of rubber, recycled goods… really anything he can find. What sort of materials do you use in your own artwork? Banyan also lights up his installations so they “come alive at night”. Do you ever incorporate lighting or other electronic elements?
My materials are 50% new steel and 50% used or found steel. I have a friend in the well drilling business and he supplies me with old water tanks that I cut apart and burn the paint off before using. My brother-in-law would sometimes supply me with old left over steel found on construction sites which were unusable because of their size or shape. And, yes. I have incorporated fiber optic lighting and solar lighting. One piece that uses ever changing color through fiber optic lighting is the entry features at the Westin Hotel in Scottsdale. It is the Arizona Century Plant and all the blooms are lit at night creating a whole different sculpture. Solar lighting is used on my transit shelters to bring light to a public place, providing safety and beauty. I choose not to use other electrical features because of maintenance and safety issues.
I’d love to know some of your inspirations as an artist–other sculptors, or books, music. What gets your creative juices flowing?
I’m not addicted to reading, but I could be. I have always loved music from a young age because of my father. I met my wife and she is also a singer, guitar, mandolin player, and songwriter. We ended up playing professional bluegrass music with my sister who sings, plays piano and stand up bass and collaborated with my wife in the writing of all our original music. We made two CD’s and traveled widely performing everywhere from churches to performing arts centers to bluegrass and music festivals and even bars all over America. We were The Tylers, known most for our tight three part harmony and unique song selections.
I can be inspired by many other things, but sometimes it is as simple as not thinking. I will drop an idea after intensive thinking and suddenly out of nowhere the answer will present itself fully formed in my mind. Sometimes a conversation will spark an inspiration. A passing view may strike a chord. There is so much subject matter that I will never finish all my ideas in one lifetime.
Do you have a favorite type of tree? Is there a particular kind you like to build or have built, or is there one you would like to attempt that you haven’t before?
No I do not have a favorite tree or plant. I do not know what I will build next. I bet it will have something to do with nature (smiling). A big reason I am an artist is due to my wife, but that is a story in and of itself. Also I want to mention the biggest influence in my life and that is my hard-working father. He died in an accident when I was 12 and I became the man of the family. It is because of him that I strive for excellence in all I do. I am working for the approval of a dead, but extremely alive and important figure in my mind. I ask myself, “what would dad think?”
Well, there’s nothing I can add. Except THANK YOU, Joe Tyler for graciously taking the time to answer my questions, and thank you for being a true artist, and a true inspiration.
Check out Joe’s website for more tree building info and pics.