Trees Transformed At Connecticut Historical Society

January 23, 2012 9:45 AM

(credit: City Bench and Connecticut Historical Society)

By Joanne Greco Rochman

citybenchtable Trees Transformed At Connecticut Historical Society

(credit: City Bench and Connecticut Historical Society)

Okay, so maybe Joyce Kilmer was right, when he wrote “Only God can make a tree,” but oh, what woodworkers can do with those trees. The Connecticut Historical Society has an exciting exhibition on Connecticut trees, including the history of the trees, the significance of these trees, and what happens to city trees when they are cut down. The exhibition is “New Life for Connecticut Trees” and it is just as about creative woodworking as it is about the history of Connecticut’s trees.

Too many trees have been cut down and sent to landfills. However, since the inception of City Bench by brothers Ted and Zeb Esselstyn of Higganum, fallen trees from Connecticut towns and cities have been reclaimed and transformed into beautiful furniture. So unique and lovely are these transformations that they can easily be categorized as art.

Ben Gammell, coordinator of education and interpretation at the Connecticut Historical Society said that the exhibition came about because the Esselstyn brothers  not only transform trees that have been cut down in Connecticut, but they preserve the story of the trees.  “In our current exhibition we have a couple of benches from Yale and one from the Ivoryton Playhouse. We also have one from the town of Suffield, which has an interesting story because it is made from the largest Elm tree in the state.”

citybenchwindsor Trees Transformed At Connecticut Historical Society

(credit: City Bench and Connecticut Historical Society)

Currently, there are 26 gorgeous pieces in the exhibit including everything from benches, tables, desks, and accessories. “What the Esselstyns do is to let the shape of the wood inspire the piece,” explained Gammell who also pointed out that some of the  interpretation of the works include how the trees improve the cities and the environment. For instance, trees in Hartford reduce pollution. Statistics that accompany the interpretations really bring home the importance of trees in busy cities.

That City Bench, which was founded by the two Esselstyn brothers, now includes other fine woodworkers is a testament to the public’s desire to save trees from woodchoppers and mulching machines. The furniture and household objects in this exhibition were actually destined for landfills. Now these beautiful works are displayed with the tree’s family history, birthplace, significance and its life story.

Along with the exhibition “New Life for Connecticut Trees,” the Connecticut Historic Society is also presenting a companion exhibition called “Lost Landscapes: Great Trees from Connecticut’s past. This exhibition features photographs of some of the most notable and memorable trees in the state, which are no longer standing. The photos are from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collection.  Both of these exhibitions run through March 17, 2012.

The Connecticut Historical Society was founded in 1825, and houses Connecticut-related collections of manuscripts and artifacts.

Connecticut Historical Society

One Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
(860) 236-5621
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.;  Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The CHS is closed every Sunday and Monday, New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Admission is FREE for CHS members and children 5 and under.  Admission is free on the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After 1 p.m., regular admission fees apply.  One day admission prices range from $4 for student and youth, $6 for seniors to $8 for adults.

Joanne Greco Rochman is the arts editor of “The Fairfield County Review,” a columnist, critic, feature story writer and English professor. Her work has appeared in “The New York Times,” “The Republican-American” and Hersam-Acorn Publications. She can be reached at

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