Gift of Tree
An ongoing series
About six or seven years ago an intense summer storm hit the city of Minneapolis, where I live. I was devastated to see that there were trees literally blown down all over the city. To honor these fallen giants, I began to collect branches before the trees were unceremoniously dragged away, chopped up and shredded.
“Climbing” the downed tree without effort, I was nonetheless in the canopy — amazed at the sun-kissed leaves and fresh growth — a view usually reserved for birds or adventurous squirrels. I clipped away the leaves, cut the sticks, gathered them together and secured them to form a body. Then adding a clay head, wrapping, and knotting colorful fabrics to become: doll. She felt like a changeling –person becoming tree, or tree becoming person?
Over the years, I have created many “Gift of Tree” figures. The elegance of branch brings nature indoors in an artful way. I have used sticks of elm, maple, black locust, oak, poplar, linden. That they all have such different shapes, color and energy made me curious to learn more. I wanted to know their names, habits and history. This opened the door to the rich and ancient traditions of tree lore — the meaning and relationship to our ancestors and peoples in touch with nature.
Early Northern tribal cultures had a deep relationship with trees and all of nature. Trees were sacred beings — planted or left standing –to mark a spot of ceremony or create protection. The early Celts crafted an alphabet with tree names as first letter. Each tree is associated with a month in the year, and has mystical qualities and healing properties that were learned and used in daily life.
Making a stick figure is like a ritual for me. Finding the branches, cutting and fitting, wrapping and knotting are all intuitive, healing motions. I feel as if I am in touch with ancient wisdom and the spirit of tree.
And of course, each year it seems, there are storms that rip through the country. With strangely strong, straight line winds, the trees are helplessly blown down. I continue to collect and honor. I continue to create out of this destruction.