Hazel Belvo and the "Spirit Tree" at Bockley Gallery



For the last 50 years, 87-year-old visual artist Hazel Belvo has been painting the Spirit Tree, known by the Anishinaabe people as Manidoo-giizhikens, or "Little Cedar Spirit Tree." (In the past, it has also been called the Witch Tree by locals and tourists.)

The tree, which has stretched out toward Lake Superior on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation for the past 400 years, has spiritual significance for the Anishinaabe people.

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[jump] For many years, Belvo, who is Caucasian, was married to renowned Ashinaabe artist George Morrison, and lived with him in Grand Portage. They divorced long ago (and Morrison has now passed away), but Belvo, who now lives with a female partner, continues to find inspiration from the tree.

In "Spirit Tree," an exhibit at the gallery which runs through May 18, Belvo pays homage to the tree in a series featuring some of her most recent paintings. With rich hues and expressionistic brushstrokes, Belvo captures the essence of the tree.

The paintings focus on the knots and twits of the tree's structure, as the artist finds the breath as well as the movement in the bark. Each piece is not so much realistic, but rather captures a certain feeling of the tree's energy.

Her choice of colors -- such as sunset orange, plus vibrant blues, reds, and purples -- suggest the hues of the sun's effect on the tree. Whether capturing dusk's deepening darkness or the emergence of the morning light, Belvo's relationship with the colors created by the sky are strongly moving.

Belvo's trees almost seem to be alive. It's as if she has captured the spirit within the tree itself: ominous and forbidding at times, while playful at others. In Survivor, you can almost see the spirit bursting from the tree. Prophet, on the other hand seems angry, ready to strike.

To really get a sense of her work, it's best to see them in person, all together. The exhibit runs through May 18.


"Hazel Belvo: Spirit Tree"

Bockley Gallery

2123 W. 21st St., Minneapolis

Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday