The Arty Semite

Tennessee Sculptor Makes Bid for Anne Frank Tree

By Jon Kalish

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The remains of the tree that Anne Frank saw in her neighbor’s yard while she was in hiding from the Nazis is in legal limbo while the foundation organized to preserve it battles the contractor they hired to do so. Ever since it fell last August, Jewish museums in Berlin, New York and Amsterdam have been said to be interested in obtaining remnants of the 150 year old chestnut tree. But a local contractor named Rob van der Leij is owed close to $50,000 and won’t release the remains of the tree until the legal mess is resolved.

Now a world class sculptor named Brad Sells of Cookeville, Tenn., has made a bid for a portion of the famed tree, which was 70 feet tall and was suffering from a fungal infection when it came down. Sells wants to make a sculpture and donate it to a Holocaust museum.

“It’s a pretty stable wood. I think I could make a beautiful piece of art out of it,” Sells told The Arty Semite in a phone interview.

Sells said his initial inquiry to the Dutch foundation dedicated to preserving the tree has gotten a positive response. The remains of the tree, which weighed 30 tons, are being held in five containers and Sells is asking for a tenth of that.

“I would like to have access to some of the trunk. But I’m particularly interested in the limbs because that’s what Anne Frank saw,” said Sells, who has already been in contact with the Museum of Tolerance in California about the project.

The Tennessee sculptor has already raised some money to start work on a television documentary on the project. One idea is to have sculptors in Tel Aviv and Berlin work on sculptures made from the tree. Sells has been featured in two PBS docs titled “Tree Safari,” which focus on human beings and their relationships with wood and trees. The first was set in South Africa and the second took place in Hawaii. Both were shot by independent producer Todd Jarrell.

Sells’s work is in the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, the Museum of Art and Design in New York and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

“I feel this project needs to happen, Sells told The Arty Semite. “That tree became such a symbol. I feel almost a responsibility to make something significant happen with this wood.”


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