Originally created 11/30/03

Artist draws inspiration from trees



BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Stephen Malkoff is branching out into Georgia with his art.

The Alabama artist, who draws famous trees for a living, has drawn the Sidney Lanier Oak, the tree beneath which poet Sidney Lanier sat and drew inspiration for his famous poem The Marshes of Glynn.

At least that's what Mr. Malkoff likes to think.

"The Lanier Oak is significant to America's history," he said.

Standing in its shade on a sunny day, Mr. Malkoff noted how much the landscape and the tree have changed. The tree's branches reach wider, while the marsh and Terry Creek, which was once at the base of the oak, have moved east. Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 17, where the creek once rose and fell with the tides.

"The tree has changed, but it's still the same tree," Mr. Malkoff said. "If that tree could talk."

Among the other trees he has captured in black and white are the Cummer Oak and Treaty Oak in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Angel Oak near Charleston, S.C. His original drawing of the Cummer Oak hangs in the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens on Riverside Avenue.

"You can actually go out in the garden and see the tree God made and come into the museum and see what I created," he said. Other Georgia trees he has drawn are the Wormsloe Plantation's Avenue of Oaks, the Majestic Oak in Savannah, the Big Oak in Thomasville, and the Friendship Oak in Albany - all of them huge live oaks.

Susan Corbett said she has Mr. Malkoff's drawings hanging all over her office at the American Forests historic tree nursery in Jacksonville. American Forests, a conservation group, has contracted Mr. Malkoff to draw trees for its National Register of Historic Trees, a book that will be published in 2005 or 2006.

Mr. Malkoff has already met part of that requirement with the George Washington Tulip Poplar at Mount Vernon and the John F. Kennedy Post Oak at Arlington National Cemetery, both in Virginia, and the General Sherman, the largest tree in Sequoia National Forest, in California.

He sometimes restores the subject, taking some artistic license to replace missing limbs. He always lets the tree stand on its own without any of the surrounding scenery.

Standing beneath the Lanier Oak recently, Mr. Malkoff talked about why he prefers drawing live oaks.

"The live oak is the tree I grew up with ... the grain of the bark, the millions of leaves, the back-lit Spanish moss," he said.

He always tries to draw a tree from a side that best shows its character, and said that's usually easy.

Standing southwest of the Lanier Oak, Mr. Malkoff said, "I like it right here. From here it looks very inviting, providing shade and shelter."

In The Marshes of Glynn, Mr. Lanier mentioned the forest and wrote, "Affable live-oak, leaning low."

Mr. Malkoff, 37, lives in Enterprise, Ala.

He grew up in Geneva, Ala., played football for Auburn University and is a trained architect. It was his heart's desire, however, to draw - but it was difficult getting started.

"I was a starving artist. I worked as a fireman in Enterprise," he said.

The time off between 24-hour shifts gave him time to draw and he often made trees his subject.

Mr. Malkoff acknowledges he still acts like a starving artist, sometimes going door-to-door three days a week peddling his work.

"I just love it. Any person who's influenced my career, I met by walking into their office," he said.