August 10, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Art and Ely seem to go together. We are truly blessed by so many talents in so many forms of the arts. For being so far from New York or Paris, we do manage to hold our own. Whether it is music, painting, drama, writing or one of the other art forms we seem to have more than our share. In fact, art practically grows on trees in Ely.

For those of us who are observant we have enjoyed a new phenomenon in the world of art. Most art is the work of one person. The painter or sculptor does not work by committee. However, that is not always the case. Theater is usually a group effort. The same is true of music, unless it is a solo act. It is very rare to see art spring up naturally and with the help of undirected leadership. The best example of this is probably the cathedrals from the Middle Ages. They often took 50 to 10 years oo build and no one person could be in charge. Changes and adaptations were constantly made. The stone masons often were not directed on what they needed to carve.

Now in Ely, some 500 years after the last of the cathedrals were made in Europe we have our own undirected art. I am speaking of the Shoe Tree. It is about five miles out of town and was started with only 1 single shoe being tied to a branch of a very dead tree. Maybe some jogger found it on the road and tied it onto the tree so it would be like a roadside Lost and Found. If my memory serves me right this spontaneous art was created in early June. Soon the Shoe Tree sprouted another pair of shoes, and then another and another. Every style and every color was soon hanging from the branches.

Every time I drove by I enjoyed the new additions. Often I wondered how they got a pair of shoes so high up. For me, it was the first example of indigenous art of the Twenty-first Century. The Shoe Tree represented a spontaneous outburst of profundity, which included a good dose of humor.

Yes, I enjoyed the Shoe Tree, but like all revolutionary movements it was not meant to last. Sometime during the Blueberry Arts Festival weekend my beloved Shoe Tree fell over. How it happened is a mystery. Maybe the wind blew it over. Maybe some art critic pushed it over. Maybe, some would be contributor of another pair of shoes tried to climb this poor weakened dead tree.

How my heart sank when I drove out of town and saw the felled Shoe Tree. I felt as if vandals had leveled the Statue of Liberty. A symbol of Elyís free spirit had been destroyed. A tree where every limb had a story to tell was lost to our new age. What a loss for our community. Gone was the chance of having a famous tree like the Witch Tree along Lake Superior.

But wait, as I pass over the highway bridge where the trains use to run under, I see to my surprise - Shoe Tree II. Yes, it is back. Some fellow free spirit must have seen the demise of Shoe Tree I and carefully sought out another leafless tree and rehung all the shoes. The symbol of being a free spirit is with us once again. Now the fame of Elyís new indigenous art can become world famous. In the spirit of neo-realism we have transformed a dead tree and some lost shoes into a symbol of Manís quest for self-expression.

Perhaps, Shoe Tree II will spawn other art trees. Lord knows we have enough dead trees in the BWCA to go around. Soon we may see dead trees wi h old Crristmas bows, broken toys, mismatched socks, and useless politicians hanging all over Ely.

Such is the wonder of this community, where one never can tell what will happen. To all those unnamed artists who helped make Shoe Trees I and II, we send our thanks for recognizing the unique.

Shoe Tree One 

Shoe Tree One - close up.

Alexa Sorensen adding to the Shoe Tree


     Return to Index of Beginning of the Road Column