By Josh Saunders
Meet the man who dresses as a 10-foot tree to teach people to be kind to one another and nature.
Eccentric Lionel Powell, 57, has spent the last 15 years dressed as ‘Treeman’ for up to 12 hours a day with the mission to bring awareness to the environment.
As a child, growing up in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, New York, he was fascinated with nature and saddened by the destruction of planet earth.
He found inspiration for his larger-than-life character, Treeman, from the beauty of mother nature and developed a backstory for Treeman to inspire those he encounters.
Lionel takes two-hours to get into his elaborate costume – ‘big shoes’ to make him 10ft tall, face paint, special glues and rubbers, paints, hardeners, as well as real and faux plants.
In addition, he wears mirror reflectors over his eyes so that ‘people can see their reflection in nature.’
Lionel’s life has been filmed for the past five years as part of the documentary ‘A DocumenTree’, which is being submitted to festivals this year.
Lionel, who performs all around the US, said: “With Treeman I try to look as realistic as possible, when people look at me I want them to question their reali-tree [sic].
“I try to make my suit reflect the seasons, so green or orange dependent on the time of year, then I use colour on my face to reflect bees, flowers and try to be as colourful as possible.
“When people see the Treeman they react in various ways but most of time they are very surprised.
“I’ve had people get off a train when they see me, some run, other people jump, I’ve even seen a person chuck their pizza in the air in shock.
“But Treeman isn’t in the business of scaring people, he wants to awaken them, in a world where people are too busy to stop and smell the roses.
“My aim is to get people to come together and change humanity for the better.
“Through my art, I want to show people that we are all connected, we are all reflections of nature and on this planet together.”
Lionel became passionate about nature and the environment during his childhood, a love that would shape and lead him to become Treeman.
He added: “When I was a child, I loved nature, I was always in the garden, in the dirt and outdoors, but as I saw nature disappearing with concrete and less grass and trees, it made me sad.
“I would love to run to and from Marcy Projects and Prospect Park, but over time with the increase in cars and black smoke I stopped and realised something needed to change.
“I wanted to breathe clean air but the cars made it so I was breathing rubbish polluted air, that was a concern for me as a child, I didn’t have to be told or taught to feel that.”
As part of Treeman’s street performance, Lionel camouflages himself among the trees moving slowly and subtly, allowing people to discover his presence.
He calls this shock a ‘tree-awakening’ and believes that by helping strangers to smile, laugh or have a conversation he’s making the world a better place.
Lionel added: “I find when I have a big audience, they tell me what I do is great but what brings me pleasure and joy is seeing others smile and laugh.
“Volunteerism is a big part of my journey, we all need to do something or give without asking for money or reciprocation.”
The up-coming documentary was made entirely with volunteers, including college students, as well as TV and film professionals.
Documentary filmmaker, Michael Angelo said: “This story is about a human being who is doing something so visually compelling and so selfless.
“Treeman is not a street performer or an actor, he is a public figure and has a very powerful message.
“He is awakening us to break free of our own negative cycles, to be aware of what’s around us and wake up to become better people.
“He reminds us that we are all reflections of nature, that there is power in being kind to each other, no matter what our background is.”
“It’s evolved into a free high-end film school for volunteers passionate about film-making and philanthropy, it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.”
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