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Monday, July 20, 2009

h.u.g me

Cool local article from The Star..
The tree was never meant to be hugged.

But during the nine years it stood tall and multicoloured on Queen St. W. near Peter St., the tree has indeed been hugged – by shoppers and tourists, drunkards and artists and even the occasional child. Yet the Hug Me tree, a stump beautified in 1999 by graffiti artist Elicser Elliott, sprung into being as graffiti-tagged H.U.G., the name of Elliott's graffiti crew, History Unleashes Genius.

Elliott added the "me" in a whimsical attempt to soften the blow of a graffiti tag on a tree.

It worked.

Over time, the stump would get dirty – scuffed or postered, kicked or peed on – and Elliott would clean it up. He has painted it about seven times.

"Every time I repainted it, somebody would be standing there, saying, `Are you going to paint "Hug Me" on it again?'" he said. "The community really wanted it to be that, you know?"

And so, the Hug Me tree it was – until one day last summer.

That's when the long-loved piece of urban art suffered an untimely demise.

It fell over. Maybe it was backed over by a car. Perhaps someone kicked it.

It was moved indoors. The tree stayed at Manifesto's studio for a while, and then at the ROM.

On Wednesday, the original Hug Me tree returned in all its glory, painted red, yellow and blue, with three little houses perched in its branches and a metal box painted pink to put your hopes and wishes in.

Although many people breezed past the Queen St. mainstay without so much as a glance, others noticed. Some even hugged.

Emily Breitbart, an 18-year-old tourist from New York, wrapped her arms around the stump and smiled while her aunt, Jean Trounstine, took a photo.

"It makes you feel like you should hug it," Trounstine said. "I like it."

Jon Dube, 26, who runs his own business putting up posters in the city, rode around the Hug Me tree on his blue bicycle. He glued some nightclub and concert posters on a traffic light post, then, when nobody was paying attention, he walked over to the tree and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"I think the more love you put into it, the more love stays in it," Dube said. "Energy leaves footprints. However you're feeling in a certain space, that energy stays there for a while ... if everybody hugs it every day, it could come back to life."

And although that seems unlikely, it wouldn't be the first time.