The Alphabet & Calendar of Trees

Cathy Haynes Alphabet Trees 2015 GROUP 4 HI RES



In his autobiography Roland Barthes mentions an ancient Greek ‘alphabet of trees’. He may have been mistakenly referring to the Ogham alphabet, an ancient Celtic script found on monuments in Ireland and western Britain. A late medieval text associates these letters with trees. In the 1940s Robert Graves offered a highly contested but influential theory that certain Ogham letters also correspond to lunar months.

Was the alphabet once made of matter and time? How would it be to walk through a forest of words and months? What does it mean to be enchanted by those ideas today?

The Alphabet & Calendar of Trees (2015) interprets 21 glyphs from the Ogham alphabet, translated below.

Each collage is made from  wood-pattern self-adhesive plastic laid over light green A4 office printer paper. This is placed behind glass, floated on paper card, backed with hardboard and framed in Triplochiton scleroxylon treated to resemble ‘antique oak’.

In 2016 the work was included in the exhibition Overlay, curated by Jeremy Millar, at White Rainbow Gallery, London. To read an excerpt from the exhibition publication, below, click here.


The letters

A      white fir
B      birch (24 December to 20 January?)
C      hazel (5 August to 1 September?)
D      oak (10 June to 7 July?)
E      poplar
F      alder (18 March to 14 April?)
G      ivy (30 September to 27 October?)
H      hawthorn (13 May to 9 June?)
I      yew
L      rowan (21 January to 17 February?)
M      vine (2 September to 29 September?)
N      ash (18 February to 17 March?)
NG     reed (28 October to 24 November?)
O      gorse
P      soft birch
Q      apple
R      elder (25 November to 22 December?)
S      willow (15 April to 12 May?)
T      holly (8 July to 4 August?)
U      heather
Z      blackthorn



* The Alphabet & Calendar of Trees, Cathy Haynes, 2015.
* Installation shots from the exhibition Overlay, with Nancy Holt, Hannah Lees, Zoë Paul and Claire Potter, curated by Jeremy Millar, White Rainbow, London (28 June – 17 September 2016). Photos: Noah Da Costa.
* Overlay exhibition publication designed by Sophie Demay.