The Heysen – Click for link to The Advertiser

When an old pine tree threatened Sir Hans Heysen’s famous studio in Hahndorf, there was no question that the tree had to go. 

But two local artists have found a way to preserve its image, appropriately enough, on canvas. Heysen built his studio when he bought the property, “The Cedars”, in 1912.

It is the oldest artist’s studio in Australia and used to be flanked by two pine trees. Planted in the 1860s, the trees became known as the guardians of the studio.

One pine developed a dangerous lean, so it was cut down 18 months ago.

Hahndorf artists Cathy Gray and Karen Judd, working together as SABI Design, have been experimenting with ways of printing cross-sections of trees. Their limited edition, ink-on-canvas prints are striking artworks, but have also been used by families to preserve special memories.

“All our trees have a story,” said Judd, whose family has a special link with The Cedars. Her grandmother, 103-year-old Daphne Kroemer, was the adopted daughter of the Jackson family, who sold the property to Hans and Sallie Heysen in 1912. 

When they discovered the Heysen pine had been cut down, they knew it was just begging to be preserved as art.

“It was a way of telling the story to another generation,” Gray said.

It is particularly important for the local community.

“Everyone is so attached to the Cedars,” she said.

While Mrs Kroemer hadn’t lived in the house, she has been custodian of family records and memories, which have proved invaluable to historians.

Gray and Judd explained the long process of planing, sanding and burning before the wood can be inked. Only 10 of the huge tree prints, named, appropriately, “The Heysen” have been made and two have already been sold. One is on display at the Cedars throughout March.

Mrs Kroemer ventured out last week to see the artwork, and watched patiently while people tried to count the rings and wonder which ring was made when the house was purchased, when she was born, and when Heysen would have been looking at his tree, or sketching its bark in charcoal.

It is, she summed up, “pretty good.”