Bark With Bite: The Toothy Tree Art Of Patrick Catalde

If a tree smiles in the forest, does anybody see? Patrick Catalde wasn’t concerned with philosophy when he went against the grain to give a tree a grin.

Mill Creek, located near volcanic Mount Lassen in northern California’s Tehama County, is noted for its wealth of hiking trails weaving through luxurious mixed forests. Situated at an average altitude of 4,737 feet (1,444 m) above sea level, the region is often subsumed by thick fogs that can reduce visibility to whiteout conditions. Imagine yourself in such a situation, carefully making your way amongst the tree trunk when a grotesque gold-toothed grin looms out of the mist!

Assuming you haven’t run off (a cliff, perhaps) screaming, set a spell and admire the folk art handiwork of Patrick Catalde displayed on his erstwhile dental patient – a scarred and gnarled forest fir.

Catalde happened to be in the area during a friend’s visit in mid-August 2014 when he noticed one particularly disfigured tree. The fact that the mature conifer stood at the edge of the forest in his best friend Andy’s backyard helped distinguish it from the rest of the stand. The long-healed scar that drew Catalde’s attention may have been the result of heavy winter snow or an unusually strong wind snapping a major branch right where it met the tree trunk.

The natural healing process saw the tree grow new bark around the edges of the scar in a fashion that reminded Catalde of lips. Other artists have decorated such scars – we’ve previously profiled Chinese art student Wang Yue – and though Catalde had just the single scar to work with he was determined to take full advantage of his opportunity.

“The whole operation took roughly four to five hours total,” explained Catalde to; “the teeth and gums weren’t carved but rather applied. I had never before used modeling clay but gave it a shot and found it works quite well for this application.”

“The patient did not squirm or fuss and was very good about not trying to speak during the operation,” adds Catalde, who obviously enjoyed putting a little bite into one tree’s bark. “I advised against the gold caps as they aren’t the height of fashion these days but this was disregarded, at least in part, due to his being, as he called it, ‘old school’.”

It would be interesting to see how Catalde’s extreme dental makeover stands both the test of time and the tree’s ongoing efforts to heal its scarred trunk. It may be that new bark will attempt to grow over the added clay teeth, contributing to the work’s oddly realistic character. One thing’s for certain: this is one tree that will likely suffer far less visits from annoying woodpeckers and back-scratching bears! (all images via unless noted otherwise)

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