Pencils spread word about invasive pathogen

SOD pencils
Pencils made from tanoaks are part of an art project grappling with sudden oak death and invasive species. Image courtesy Kerri Frangioso

Pencils milled from a tanoak tree infected by sudden oak death were featured at the opening of a School of the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Chicago art exhibit in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 1, 2017. Attendees learned about the origin of the pencils, sudden oak death, and issues surrounding global trade, the spread of invasive species, and local immigration. They then used the pencils for the first time to write letters to their congressional representatives encouraging immigration reform.

The tanoak from which the pencils were made was removed from the UC Natural Reserve System’s Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve in 2015. Artists Sara Black and Amber Ginsburg had the 7,000 pencils made to be used in classrooms and at town hall meetings as a centerpiece of their 7000 Marks project.

The project was inspired by the 7,000 oak trees planted throughout Kassle, Germany, in 1982 by the late German artist Joseph Beuyes as a call for environmental and social change. Paired and contrasted with stable basalt stones, Beuyes’ trees were a symbol of change and growth.

With their 7000 Marks project, Black and Ginsburg also aim to inspire environmental and social change. Just as Beuyes’ trees changed over time, so too will the pencils. Each time someone uses one, they will learn about sudden oak death and the impacts of invasive species.

For more information about experimental efforts to prevent sudden oak death at Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve, contact Kerri Frangioso of UC Davis at

Story originally published in the California Oak Mortality Task Force Newsletter

Note: The February 2018 issue of the NRS Newsletter indicated that an experiment by Kerri Frangioso at Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve was removing tanoaks in order to spare oak trees from infection by the pathogen that causes sudden oak death (SOD). In fact, the experiment is removing bay laurel trees to prevent the spread of the phytophthora pathogen that causes SOD. The tanoak from which the pencils were milled was removed because it was infected with SOD and about to die. We regret the error.

Related links

“7000 Marks,” Amber Ginsburg

“Saving oaks in Big Sur,” UC Natural Reserve System

“Artists Sara Black and Amber Ginsburg, USA: 700 Marks,” High Art Fridays

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