Trees, Long Island, 1904, printed 1905
Edward Steichen, American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973
Carbon print
Image: 13 3/8 × 13 9/16 in. (34 × 34.4 cm) Sheet: 17 3/8 × 14 1/16 in. (44.1 × 35.7 cm) Mount: 17 3/4 × 14 5/8 in. (45.1 × 37.1 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the Long Endowment for American Art and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation

Habits of Mind

  • OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown
  • SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications

Transforming Trees

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Identify the sources of art materials.

•  Research materials made from a renewable resource such as lumber.

•  Research the lumber industry and learn its significance to the local, state, national, and world economy.




Social Studies


Overcome Fear


Connecting to the Work of Art

This unique photograph is one of several Steichen made at this site, and it remained in the landowner’s family until it was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1986.


In this composition the luminous central chestnut tree is framed by dense black trees at either side. Steichen emphasizes the towering size of the trees through the contrast with the fence in the foreground. The blooms on the central tree appear like short brushstrokes and recall that Steichen was interested in making photographs look like paintings. The vague details and hazy atmosphere create a romantic or spiritual mood.


To make their images look more like paintings or drawings, photographers at the turn of the century would coat their own photographic paper rather than use commercially made papers. Usually the light-sensitive metal they used was silver on platinum, but here Steichen used the carbon print process to allow multiple manipulations. 


In this process, paper is coated with carbon black pigment suspended in gelatin and then sensitized. The sensitized paper is then exposed to light, which acts as a catalyst, through a negative. Gelatin exposed to light hardens; areas protected from light by the dark areas of the negative remain soft and dissolve when soaked under water. The thickness of black is carefully achieved by repeating the above process. Steichen wanted to create broad areas of rich dark black and delicate spots of white, instead of the fine details in most photographs.


To have photography accepted as an art form, photographers in the early twentieth century believed that their portraits, landscapes, and scenes of daily life should resemble paintings or drawings. They developed a style called Pictorialism, characterized by soft, glowing light, blurred forms, and a hazy quality.


Edward Steichen’s career spanned six decades. He worked as a photographer, painter, designer, cocurator of a gallery, and director of a major museum’s photography department. Steichen’s portraits of J. P. Morgan (1903) and Great Garbo (1928) are considered the definitive portraits of those individuals.  In 1902 Steichen became a founding member of the Photo Secession, a movement to promote artistic qualities in photographs. He worked with Alfred Stieglitz on Camera Work, one of the first photography journals. In their galleries, Steichen and Stieglitz introduced modern European art to America, exhibiting the work of Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and others. Later, as director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art, Steichen created The Family of Man, a landmark exhibition that explored the commonalities that bind people and cultures, such as children, love, and death, as well as introduced the public to works of photography. It remains the most popular photography exhibition ever organized.


•  Analyze the three works of art and name the materials used to create each.  Discuss the Redon drawing.  Learn how paper and charcoal are made from trees.

•  Discuss van Gogh’s painting and the natural materials used to make canvas and oil paints.

•  Discuss other ways in which artists use natural materials to make works of art.  Focus on the use of trees, then expand to other materials.


•  Research the areas of the world where lumber is produced. What kinds of trees are used for lumber? What are the characteristics of those trees? What geographic and weather conditions are required for different kinds of trees?

•  Have students research the lumber industry. What economic and other factors are necessary for a profitable lumber industry?  Learn about the importance of transportation for this industry. What other industries depend upon the lumber industry?

•  Research the lumber industry in your state or region. Investigate its place in the local, state, national, and international economy.

Resources Available to Order

The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.

The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.