Axel Erlandson was born in 1884, the son of Swedish immigrants. A farmer by trade, he was inspired to begin sculpting trees after observing a natural graft between two sycamores. Axel began to shape trees, planting them in patterns, then pruning, grafting and bending them. He experimented with box elder, birch, ash, elm, and weeping willow, using young and flexible branches bent into loops, hearts, chairs, spiral staircases, zigzags, rings, birdcages, towers, picture frames and ladders, all held in place with a framework for several years until they were capable of self support. He sculpted some 30 trees at his farm near Turlock, California, talking to them to help them grow. After a 1946 vacation to Santa Cruz, California, where he visited the gravity-defying Mystery Spot, Axel decided to set up his own roadside attraction. He transplanted his trees to a small parcel of land on the main road between the Santa Clara Valley and the ocean, and opened the Tree Circus in 1947. Erlandson sold the Tree Circus in 1963 and died a year later. In 1995, Mark Primack, Erlandson's biographer prepared one dead sculpture "The Telephone Booth Tree" to be cut and sent to Baltimore for the opening of the American Visionary Art Museum.
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