Arborglyphs in Nevada
April 7, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Sheepherders in Northern Nevada came largely from Basque country back in the day. They brought with them a tradition of making arborglyphs, carving text and images into living trees. You can see pictures of 175 Nevada arborglyphs here, 73 of which have companion videos showing a bit more of the surrounding. The unquestioned expert on Nevadan arborglyphs, Professor Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, has written a great deal on the subject and in 2001 he wrote a good overview article in Forest History Today called Carving Out History: The Basque Aspens. Another good introductory article by journalist Emma Nichols in the Sacramento News & Review, Mystery of the Arborglyphs, with a focus on the more salacious arborglyphs. Basque Tree Carving: Legend in Nevada is an 18 minute documentary. Here is a video of Professor Mallea speaking about the arborglyphs and here is an interview with him. [all videos asx format]
posted by Kattullus (14 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Previous post on arborglyphs focusing on witness trees.
posted by Kattullus at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2009

Excellent post. Thank you.
posted by Bummus at 9:47 AM on April 7, 2009

Thanks for this, Kattullus.
posted by vacapinta at 9:55 AM on April 7, 2009

In my neck of the woods, homesteaders would take farm implements and imbed them in trees, which would then grow around them over the decades. The most interesting one I've ever seen was a large steel cog, around which an apple tree had grown revealing a hole right through it.
posted by mrmojoflying at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2009

Michigan must have been settled exclusively by Basques, then. I think it's more an issue of having available such a "mark-able" tree, such as an aspen, poplar ,or birch, than a cultural tradition.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:06 AM on April 7, 2009

The Sheepherder's Ball: Hidden Basque Kitchens has nothing to do with arborglyphs (sorry for the derail), but is about Basques in Nevada, how they ended up in Nevada, and things they did there besides making art out of trees.
posted by ardgedee at 10:16 AM on April 7, 2009

But build one bridge....

Seriously tho, neat stuff.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2009

Man, I was picturing like faces carved into trees, kinda like Grandmother Willow in Pocahantas.
posted by rubah at 11:27 AM on April 7, 2009

The former Republican Senator from Nevada, Paul Laxalt, was the son of one of those Basque sheepherders.
posted by jonp72 at 11:54 AM on April 7, 2009

I found this one in Beverly Hills. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a shepherd descended from Basques though.
posted by schyler523 at 12:14 PM on April 7, 2009

Then there's this sheepherder imaging approach... (YT and very SFW)
posted by bz at 12:22 PM on April 7, 2009

THanks for this. I read this beautiful memoir about living in Northern Nevada years ago, it has stuck with me mostly because of the stories of sheep shearers that spend part of their year in Nevada and part in New Zealand.
posted by readery at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2009

I grew up in NN and there was a Basque restaurant in town. The seating was family style, in the sense that the lined up picnic-type tables would be filled in order with whatever patrons came in the door. Which usually meant dining and conversing with strangers during your meal. Excellent food too, I remember the lamb stew-type dish particularly.
posted by telstar at 4:38 PM on April 7, 2009

By the 1980s people from the Andes were replacing Basques in the sheep herding business. Sometime around 1990 I was hiking in some high country near Great Basin National Park and came across some carvings--and I mean, many dozens of carvings in a single Aspen grove--many of which featured political slogans in favor of the Shining Path, the Peruvian Maoist guerillas.

Also, hiking in the Washington Cascades we often came across elaborate, finely made outdoor fireplaces with chimneys left behind decades before by sheep herders.
posted by LarryC at 5:23 PM on April 7, 2009

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