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The Forest For The Trees – Bristlecone Reflections: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

Photo by Elliot Teskey

Photo by Elliot Teskey

I don’t normally associate hotels with great works of art. Yet there I was, standing quietly, intently staring at a tree in the makeshift gallery on the mezzanine of the Washington DC Hilton. Black easels and academic posters lined up and around the curved walls, lit by the low ceiling’s recessed incandescent bulbs. Normally I find art in hotels flat, made to make as little impression as possible so you can sleep soundly—for example, bowls of fruit and splotches of color. But as I walked along the conference rooms, I paused at each easel.

I was there for a conference to meet Peter Pollard of 1in6, and it was my first time meeting someone from the organization. It was the first time I had gone out of my way, in public no less, to acknowledge my deep desire to help with 1in6’s efforts to destigmatize and encourage the discussion of men having unwanted sexual experiences in childhood, so that we can help anyone live a happier, healthier life.


After meeting with Peter and learning of the numerous projects 1in6 is undertaking to achieve that goal, he invited me to experience one myself. He led me downstairs to the mezzanine and left me alone to see The Bristlecone Project, one of 1in6’s awareness campaigns. The Bristlecone Project consists of portraits and stories of men who have experienced and overcome abuse, and was developed in collaboration with founding board member Dr. David Lisak.

My short attention failing me, I was inquisitive as to the lack of trees in the exhibit that I had expected after seeing the banner. Where were the hotel photos? The landscapes of wind lashed mountains and lone pines rising above the cliff tops? Instead, upon reaching the first easel, I saw a man, just like any I could have passed on the street. He could have been on the train with me that morning, or walking his dog in my neighborhood, but he was smiling at me through the frame.

I returned to the initial banner, reading beyond my first glance at the definition printed below:

“Bristlecone Pine Trees survive and thrive in the harsh conditions of the western Rocky Mountains. Despite thin soil, strong winds, freezing temperatures, limited water, Bristlecones can live for thousands of years, and are among the oldest living organisms on earth.”

Marcel-Main1-500x749It helps to give more than a cursory glance. With that definition in mind, I returned to the exhibit. Pacing along, I found each portrait’s uniting similarities—growth and healing, withstanding harsh treatment, weathered with age but remaining strong or joyous. The united journey through strife shared by the men in the portrait series has not stunted them. Yes, they are shaped by the wind and grown in rocky soil, but the Bristlecone pine thrives. Each man’s face, smiling or resolute, reflects his growth—not who he is, or what he has been through. These men are not bent by gusts or shriveling from malnourishment. They continue to live, no matter their circumstances.

Stepping away from the easels, and grabbing a cup of coffee before heading upstairs, I glanced up at the coffee shop wall to see it lined with typical hotel art. I glanced behind me, to the stairs leading to the exhibit’s mezzanine. What I had seen was not like the frames on the coffee shop wall; it was like no art I had ever seen while in a hotel before, and certainly wasn’t just hotel art. But after seeing it, I thought I might sleep a little more soundly that night.

View 1in6’s Bristlecone Project awareness campaign.

By Landry Ayres

landry_ayres2 Landry Ayres is a blogger and intern for 1in6. Raised in north Texas, he is currently a graduate student at George Mason University working toward his M.A. in Health Communication. His research focuses on resources for men who have unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood, the HIV/AIDS rhetoric of evangelical organizations, performance, and public speaking education. He is also a coach of the George Mason Forensics Team, and a public speaking instructor at a variety of institutes across the nation.