Stephen Malkoff ‘pencils in’ the magic of trees

Published 11:00 pm Friday, April 26, 2013

4-27 MALKOFF and LORI_web

Nationally and internationally acclaimed arboreal artist Stephen Malkoff will be a feature artist at TroyFest today and Sunday on the square in downtown Troy. Stephen Malkoff’s career as a “tree artist” budded with his drawing of the Geneva Oak, which was the anniversary gift from the starving artist to his wife, Lori.

Stephen Malkoff has traveled the nation drawing the country’s famous trees but none mean more to him than the “Historic Trees of Toomer’s Corner.”


Even though Malkoff is an Auburn University graduate and a former Auburn Tiger football player, there’s one tree that has, maybe more, personal meaning to him than those at Toomer’s Corner … the Geneva Oak.

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Malkoff had not put his original pencil drawing of the Geneva Oak on display at the Geneva Festival on the Rivers before he had an offer of $10,000 for the drawing.

“My wife, Lori, immediately got out of her lawn chair and said that she would eat hotdogs, but I was not going to sell the original,” Malkoff said, laughing. “We could have lived off that sale for year. But, I’m so glad that I didn’t sell it and I wouldn’t sell it now for a million dollars.”

Malkoff’s original drawing of the Geneva Oak hangs in his family’s home in Enterprise.

It’s a daily reminder of his wife’s fervent belief in him, the love they share and their commitment to the preservation of the beauty and majesty of America’s historic trees.

Today, Malkoff is known nationally and internationally for his pencil drawings of historic trees but there was famine before the feast.

“I was a starving artist but Lori believed in me and my talent,” Malkoff said. “She was willing to be the bread winner while I stayed home to draw.”

It was during that time that Malkoff, having no money to buy his wife an anniversary gift, gave Lori the original drawing of the Geneva Oak. He could have gifted her with the Hope Diamond and it would pale in comparison to the drawing of the historic oak.

Malkoff has been featured in “Southern Living,” which gave him the title, “the tree man” and it stuck. He has also been featured in “Country Living” and “Guidepost.”

“I’m fortunate that I can make a living with the gift that God has given me,” Malkoff said. “I think that it’s a feast or famine thing for artists who are ‘called’ to their craft. I’m schooled as an architect and I could have told my parents that I wanted to be a rock star and it wouldn’t have scared them as much as saying I wanted to be an artist. But I love what I do, what I was called to do … draw trees.

Malkoff said there’s just something magical about trees.

“They touch so many lives,” he said. “Trees are handcrafted by God. They are like silent witnesses to our lives. Trees outlive us by hundreds of years. They are essential to life, these trees.”

For Malkoff, it is important to draw his trees in great detail, to draw each limb, each leaf, each piece of bark and the clinging moss.

“I draw a very small piece at a time,” he said. “It can take a day to draw that one piece. It’s like putting a puzzle together. I do about two drawings a year because it takes about four months to complete one drawing.”

Malkoff has drawn trees from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.

He drew the General Sherman in the Sequoia National Forest, which is the great-grandfather of all the giant sequoias. The General Sherman is the largest known living stem tree on the planet and is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old.

“Standing there at the base of the General Sherman, I realized how small we are in this universe and how great God is,” Malkoff said.

On the other coast, Malkoff has drawn the Angel Oak on St. John’s Island and the 1817 William Bacher Oak at Atlantic Beach.

He has drawn George Washington’s Trees at Mt. Vernon, where he got to stay on the grounds, which is almost unprecedented, the Walt Disney boyhood, “Dreaming Tree” and the Arlington Oak that was planted to overlook President John F. Kennedy’s grave.

“I walked the burial ground before it was opened to the public and it hit me between the eyes, those grave stones like white caps as far as the eye can see,” Malkoff said.

“That was an awesome day for my heart, seeing the price that had been paid for our freedom.”

The prints of Malkoff’s drawing, “The Historic Trees of Toomer’s Corner” are in great demand especially, now that the poisoned trees have been cut down.

“The Toomer’s Corner trees and the Geneva Oak have personal meaning for me,” he said. “I’m saddened at the loss of the trees at Toomer’s Corner. I hope that I have captured in some small way their significance.

“And, my mama didn’t raise a dummy. The ‘Elephant Walk of a Champion’ is one of the best drawings I’ve done.

“But whatever I draw, I do my best because God has given me a talent and I want to use it in a way to give honor to Him.”