The transformation of Richard Leman from ‘ordinary boyhood friend’ to Art Bank president

Written by L.A. Corey, CNN Author: Richard Leman

Richard Leman may be the king of artificial trees. (Leman was “King” of the industrial revolution and, only a few decades later, his “boyhood friend” David Rockefeller.”)

Leman was born in 1932 in Portland, Maine, and after graduating from Brown University in 1947 he worked as a plant operator and mechanic.

Soon after, he was laid off by General Electric, the company where he’d begun working as a metal fabricator at 19. The job had been eking out $100 per week for 35 years, but the compensation was not enough to support the couple of young children Leman had with his wife Sylvia, a physical education teacher.

It was then that he stopped “sticking to the American dream,” as he put it, and started to study the weight of effort needed to achieve such a goal. He decided that “like the chickens in the book of Genesis, I was created to do bigger and better things.”

He added a “board of god,” the backbone of his home life. It was made of meat and fur or shellfish and guinea hen feathers.

Soon the center of the room would be “a building block that had been whipped into shape on the board.” The effect was as if Leman was constructing a full-size pavilion on his back lawn.

l e v a r t

Visions of trees

It was natural for Leman to feel an intense affinity for trees and for living large. The deeply dyslexic, 45-year-old was able to memorize a 140-page book detailing the history of trees in just 24 hours and had been converting wood into trees with his boss for most of his adult life.

Leman spent years tinkering with this and eventually could bring trees to life with only visible adjustments. He ended up breaking down and reassembling what he had created into a perfect replica of a diseased forest in southwestern France. This took less than a year, and cost only $400.

For the following four years, he spent most of his time cutting down trees, dressing them in ornate finery, and making many of the details by hand. He embellished the tree finery with hand-thrown glass balls, illuminated bronze magnums and valuable porcelain inks.

Renaissance man

Then Leman switched to racing his creations.

Thanks to the Internet’s power of distraction, his hobby grew to such a level by 1986 that he was spending one day a week building models of his mini Evergreens.

“Evergreens had nothing but little steps to get from the ground to the roof so that they could be understood and appreciated,” he said.

These models became his “on-again, off-again passion” and helped him transition to living in large homes and living large. While the Evergreens were so loved in their more nature-oriented days that they became immortal, the building blocks of their architecture had died and never truly recovered.

Leave a Comment