Tom Howard

The Story behind the "Old Maple Tree"

Tom Howard

Tom Howard

This week I highlight the story of Tom Howard, one of the eight winners of the Best Onondaga County Tree Photo Challenge, an interactive art project that asked Onondaga County residents to go into nature, find the most beautiful trees in our county, and send their suggestions to me with a photo.


"I am Tom Howard, age 62, and I have lived most of my life in North Syracuse. I was born in Ogdensburg in northern NY. I've been working for OCPL (in the Local History and Genealogy Dept.) for the past 11 years. Tree study has been a life long hobby, ever since I grew up near the old growth North Syracuse Cemetery Oak Grove. I am a member of the Native Tree Society (NTS), an Internet group dedicated to the study of trees. I also write fiction (science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction) and poetry.

The tree in the photo is an ancient sugar maple in the old growth Liverpool School Maple Grove. It is an extraordinary tree, largest and possibly oldest sugar maple in the area. Other members of NTS have not seen a larger sugar maple. The picture was taken in Aug. 2014. The tree is located in the Liverpool School Maple Grove, which is behind the former Wetzel Rd. Elementary School, and near Liverpool High School, south of Wetzel Rd. in the town of Clay.

The tree is a sugar maple and is possibly one of the oldest of its kind in existence. It may be a survey Witness Tree for the Military Tract. The Military Tract covers much of central NY, and consists of lots granted to veterans of the Revolutionary War. The tract was surveyed about 1790, and surveyors marked "Witness Trees" along lot lines and borders. This tree has large scars that could have been made by the surveyor. A sugar maple Witness Tree stood on this spot, and I believe that this is the tree. If this is the tree that the surveyor marked about 1790, it would have been large and prominent then, possibly 200 years old then. This could be one of the oldest sugar maples in existence, at least 400 or more years old today. It is a craggy, ancient giant. I first saw this tree in 1998 when I drove around Onondaga County looking for old trees and old forests.

I heard of the challenge when I walked into the Central Library in downtown Syracuse, and saw your poster. I knew I had to enter it."                                                   -Tom Howard        

The making of the 'Old Maple Tree'     

Below you will see the development of this painting and how, like the Magnolia Tree's painting, my social media followers played a big part on the final result of this artwork.

I really liked the use of minimal colors in this painting but I was unsure how people responded to it. I thought about adding all the greens and browns to create a more similar copy of the photo but in my gut I felt that staying with this minimal color palette of yellows, greens and grays was the right thing to do to create a timeless piece.

So I asked my faithful friends and fans on social media what should I do and I was surprised by the many positive responses cheering me to continue with this limited palette, and so I did.

Old Maple Tree by Maria Rizzo, 30x24" acrylic on gallery wrap canvas, December 2015.

Old Maple Tree by Maria Rizzo, 30x24" acrylic on gallery wrap canvas, December 2015.

At the opening reception for Trees of Onondaga, Tom Howard will give a short presentation about our Onondaga County trees! The opening will take place on Saturday, March 14, at the Onondaga Free Library, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m..