Rachel Cohen

Glass Trees

Gray Glass Trees

Katherine Gray, Forest Glass, 2009. Corning Museum of Glass. All photos Rachel Cohen.

Glass tree. Half empty. Can’t see its forest for.

Passing through the finger lakes again, on way home, summer’s end, vacation, children have been swimming in glassy ponds.

Two weeks ago, on way out, to Corning Museum of Glass. In one gallery, this installation by Katherine Gray, Canadian. Forest Glass, 2009. A few hasty pictures, and the thought of it has stayed with me. Three tiered towers. Two thousand found glasses, machine-made. Clear glasses, and within among emerge the shapes of trees, brown glasses to form trunks, green for foliage above. Three glass trees.

Forest glass, Waldglass, made in Germany, green and brown, in the middle ages with very hot ovens, fed by burning enormous quantities of trees, leading to “widespread deforestation.” Trees into forest glass, and glass a marker of trees that were.

The children remind me that glass is neither a liquid nor a solid. Hundred year old windows thicker at the bottom because the pane has gradually flowed down.

Driving through Seneca lands. Trees through car windows.

Rembrandt – Somber

Rembrandt Three Trees

Rembrandt van Rijn, Three Trees, etching, 1643. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Detail photos Rachel Cohen.

Today three different messages of death reached me. A colleague’s father has died, from a long illness, not the coronavirus. It is very complicated for the son to go; he will have to quarantine away from his family on his return.

At noon, I gave a virtual reading with another colleague, who lives on a block one block away from me. Both of us read about memorialization. After the reading, my colleague said that five households on his block - I can see the backs of these houses through my study window as I write this – have lost or are losing someone of the grandparents’ generation.

And I received an email from a cherished friend that his mother is dying in a nursing facility, also not of coronavirus, and no one, not even her husband, can go to be with her.


I first saw Rembrandt’s Three Trees (1643) in the first art history course I took in college – which was the last class taught by the wonderful Seymour Slive before his retirement. As a special present to him, the Fogg Art Museum held a show of Rembrandt etchings that coincided with the class. My dormitory was on the same block at the museum, and I went so often and stood so long that going to see the etchings became like going home.

Ever since, for nearly thirty years, every Rembrandt etching I see in person is like a kind of embrace. Even the light-hearted ones have a solemnity to them, and a softness. Ink was gentled on his etching plates, as a great rider brings horses into their full expressiveness.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an etching of Rembrandt’s Three Trees that I just happened to pass one day when I was visiting New York after long being away. I took a few pictures. Today, I was so glad to find them. Just look at the ink and the illumination.

The text on the Met’s website says that the “unusual cloud formations left of center” may be because Rembrandt had initially sketched another subject on the plate, one for The Death of the Virgin, which he ended up needing a larger plate to complete. I didn’t know, but I might as well have, because the landscape is suffused with ideas of eternity.

for Peter Helm