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The Disappearance of the Tree Sweaters of 16th Street

Someone allegedly stole the four tree sweaters on 16th Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, on Sunday.

Four trees in Park Slope were stripped down to their skinnies, not by an arborist or carpenter ants, but rather by an alleged criminal.

On Sunday, four “tree sweaters” were allegedly stolen off the arbors on 16th Street between 2:30 and 3:45 p.m., according to the sweater knitter and artist, Laurie Russell.

The all-natural-fiber-knitted fashion caught the attention of Park Slope Patch in Feb. 2011, when our former editor, Kristen V. Brown, noticed three trees clad in red, saffron and turquoise sweaters. Brown eventually solved the “Tree Sweater Mystery” and responsible for keeping the trees warm and in vogue during the cold, barren months of winter.

But now, the trees, which have lost their leaves and now "clothing," are naked.

“I’ve always known something could happen, but it’s been four years, so I thought it was cool,” Laurie Russell, who 58 years old and knits as a hobby, told Patch on Monday.

Russell is not completely distraught over her loss, but she put a lot of work into her pastime. For the biggest tree sweater, which was on a thick London Plane tree, she spent four months knitting.

“I feel pretty discouraged, I can’t figure out why it happened,” Russell said of the alleged theft, which occurred in broad daylight.

Her husband and daughter saw the tree sweaters as they left the house at around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, but by the time Russell came back home, around 3:45 p.m., she noticed that the sweaters were gone.

Russell, her husband and a couple of neighbors searched the surrounding area for the four sweaters, found no trace of them and posted flyers asking for anyone to return the arbor fashions.

She has not filed a police report and she does not plan on doing so. 

But this is not the first time the tree sweaters have gone missing.

Two years ago, one disappeared, but the next day, after they put up flyers, a man returned the sweater to a neighbor and quickly ran off.

Russell has no leads to who the alleged culprit is, and frankly, she said the community had such an “overwhelmingly positive” response towards the first sweater she made four years ago, that she was encouraged to make three more.

“Everyone was delighted by them, even strangers stopped me on the street and would say how nice they were,” Russell said, who was lived in Park Slope for over ten years and works at the Modern Language Association.

While on 16th Street on Monday, an 11-year Park Slope resident said that the tree sweaters made the block “welcoming and unique.”

“I’m so sad to see that they are gone! They were so cute, and each year there was a new one,” said Deborah Nocella, who was walking two dogs near the scene of the alleged crime. 

Russell’s idea for her first tree sweater was influenced by Christo and Jeanne-Claude's 2005 art installation in Central Park, The Gates, which was a series of fabric saffron colored “gates.”

Interestingly enough, “knitting graffiti artists” Knitta Please popularized the idea of covering everything from trees to parking meters in needlework, but Russell was unaware of them until after her first work.

She said the idea popped into her head out of boredom:

“…I was tired of making scarves,” Russell told Patch in 2011. “I was looking at dogs, sausage dogs, and [thought] about what a fun sweater shape that would be. But I don’t have a dog. So I started looking at trees as a simple ‘sweater.’”

But now, Russell is at a loss, and doesn’t know if she has it in her to keep on knitting for the trees.

“I just don’t know if I will replace them at this point,” Russell said, who has made a new tree sweater each year for the last four years. The biggest of which was composed of almost to seven skeins of yarn. “I’m not saying I won’t ever, I just am feeling discouraged right now,”

If you have any information on the whereabouts of the tree sweaters please E-mail Laurie Russell: elrussell16@gmail.com.

Stephanie Bart-Horvath February 08, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Rick, how did a few tacks grow into huge nails in your mind? Those trees bring happiness to us all year round and special happiness when we see them decked out in their fun finery. Today, my heart was gladdened when I walked down our street to find that several people have knit wonderful little sweaters to replace the ones that were stolen. Children, in particular, were in love with the idea of the tree sweaters. They are still not yet so shut down in their imaginations and so are still able to let themselves identify with living things on almost a symbolic level. It's a shame that as adults so many of us lose the ability to delight in something that may make us look at the world in a fresh way. I imagine that many more people stopped and really looked at those trees because of Laurie's lovingly knitted sweaters.
Lisa February 09, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Thanks, Stephanie. Actually, the tiny tree sweaters arrived yesterday from a group of middle school art students and their teacher from Brooklyn Charter who were inspired by the sweaters and saddened by the theft. And thanks to Rick for clarifying who is and isn't an "idiot". Good to know.
rick sanchez February 09, 2012 at 04:34 PM
steph - i'd suggest reading the message i was replying to, which happens to be directly above mine and refers to 'hundreds of big deep nails,' before asking dumb questions.
arthur February 12, 2012 at 03:12 AM
OK, Rick, look I only wrote about nails in trees because you and others who are against the tree sweaters have made so much of the tacks in the tree, as if that somehow makes us who like the sweaters insensitive tree haters. So I asked, and ask again, why are you so concerned with those tacks. I wrote about the nails as evidence that the tacks do no harm to the tree. I think you and the others are making a phony issue and your failure to answer only support my suspicion. As for your calling Lisa and me idiots, well, considering the source, I for one will wear it as a badge of honor.
rick sanchez February 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM
arthur - wear your fool's badge, what do i care? i am not SO against the tree sweaters. i found them tacky, commented that they were eyesores, and was happy to be rid of them. perhaps you should go back to watching tree amputations or whatever you do in your spare time (bore taps into the 'hearts' of trees? dramatic.); give patch commenting a rest.

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