Some find art in wood killed by beetles

By Quinn Lance

The mountain pine beetle epidemic has affected everyone who uses the forests. That includes our attitudes and impressions that come from viewing forest landscapes blanketed in the red, dead trees. It’s easy to fall into a trap of pessimism or dismay about the beetle blight based on how technically challenging the problem is, along with our own visions of witnessing the vast tracks of forest that have succumbed to the beetles.

Others have thought about the beetle-kill epidemic in a different light — many even turning it into a profit. Artisan communities in the Intermountain West — painters, photographers, and sculptors — have used the epidemic as a means to further their creative arts and instincts. “Slow Motion Hurricane,” a recent photo exposition by University of Wyoming alumni Josh King is a good example.

The photos depict the expansive nature of the epidemic from both air and ground. Mitigation techniques, issues relating to power lines and impacts on recreation in the Medicine Bow National Forest are some of the themes he covers. King’s inspiration for this project began while working at the visitor center in Centennial, where the affects of the beetle epidemic are unmistakable.

Another distinctive opportunity to learn about the mountain pine beetle is in Frisco, Colo. For the past three years, the town has partnered with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District to host Beetlefest. According to organizers, the goal of this year’s Beetlefest is “to enhance community understanding of the important insect pest” and to “encourage the community to ‘Look to the Future’ toward healthy forest ecosystems to come.”

Leading up to the Sept. 10 Beetlefest, seven sculptures of the mountain pine beetle will be unveiled at the Frisco Marina on June 4th and displayed on pedestals of blue stained lodgepole pine. Later, the sculptures will be placed throughout Frisco and used for a scavenger hunt. Dan Schroder, director of the Colorado State University Extension Office, said the scavenger hunt will provide a unique opportunity for people to understand forest health. The culmination of the event will occur when the beetle sculptures are auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and Colorado State University Extension.

Other artists are using beetle-killed wood for their artistic creations. I’ve Got Wood, a modern furniture company based in Denver, is making skillful use of the dead trees. The company designs one-of-a-kind benches, lamps and display shelves made entirely from beetle-killed trees.

Companies like I’ve Got Wood and photographers like King have turned what many consider a negative into something creative and artistic. The mountain pine beetle may have initiated an epidemic on our forests, but they have also sparked the abilities of these amazing artists to allow everyone to appreciate the mountain pine beetle from a different viewpoint.

Quinn Lance is a student at the University of Wyoming.

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