‘Portion of this yew
Is a man my grandsire knew
Bosomed here at its foot:
This branch may be his wife
A ruddy human life
Now turned to a green shoot
So they are not underground
But as nerves and veins abound
In the growths of upper air’
The Meaning of the Tree
The tree is one of humanity’s strongest symbols. From ancient times the image of the tree has resonated with our image of ourselves. The gradual appearance of blossom and leaves, the growth over many years from sapling to giant oak, and the quality of being rooted to the earth, all enable us to identify with the life of a tree.
In reminding us of the seasons and of the natural earth, we are reminded that, as the psalm says, ‘There is a time for every season under heaven’
There are many reasons we relate to and mythologise the tree. From the ancient myths, through to the more contemporary, the tree has formed the basis of a long meditation: the Celtic Green Man; in the Metamorphoses of Ovid both Diana, goddess of the woodland and Daphne, transformed into a bay laurel to escape the advances of Apollo; the Banyan Tree that Buddha sat under.
The Shared Nature of Public Art
In my works for the public realm, from permanent structures in parks or city squares to temporary public exhibitions in art centres or cathedrals – it has been important to create art with a sympathy to its specific environment. This enables it to have particular resonance for the community of people who inhabit and visit that space. The symbol of the tree crops up again and again.
For example, my sculpture, marking the entrance to Nunhead Station, is based on the image of two trees, and incorporates yet another tree, in addition to a view from the platform. The entrance to Kender School sculpture also incorporates a tree. This time, it resonates with growing children, as well as the interconnectedness of learning and the socializing role of school experience. And then there are the giant leaves at Peckham, which echo the fallen leaves from the London plane trees above.
In 2006 I was asked to create a sculpture that St. Christopher’s could use as a focus for supporters to express their memories of loved ones. The image of the tree was ideal. In its seasonal transformation from bare branches of winter through bud and blossom and on to full foliage, we are reminded of the seasons of our own lives. We can watch the leaves appear on the sculpture and we are reminded of each of the loved ones who is remembered on that leaf. But we also become aware of the positive effects we can make on those still with us through our donations. And this is reinforced as the tree becomes ever more full of leaves and so more beautiful.
In the years since it was created, the ‘Tribute Tree’ has raised well over 1 million pounds for the hospice.
The Process of Creating the New Remembrance Tree
The Tribute Tree was a huge success, both with staff, visitors, and residents. It has also been a great success in encouraging donations to the hospice, and is presently covered with abundant foliage. As a result, I was approached again to create a new tree. The selected position for the new Remembrance Tree was a staircase which was ideal, with natural light pouring in from a large window, and the ascending staircase giving an optimism. The design of the tree would be able to flow with a natural grace down the wall. Working with Georgina Grant, Senior Community Fundraising Manager at the hospice, the artist began by making sketches incorporating the qualities of the site. A final design was approved by the hospice.
The next stage was to transfer the designs to an engineering diagram, to allow the tree to be laser cut to the artists specifications. The result was a bright brass finished tree. Klein then began the long process of patinating the brass, working over several days with chemical formulas and blowtorch. This process produces a deep brown varied colour – giving the tree a more lifelike feeling and setting it off from the bright polished leaves.
Then, at the site of the installation, we created a background which would enable placement of leaves. Finally the full tree was fixed to the stairwell wall.
I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity to create the new Remembrance Tree for St. Christopher’s Hospice. Our original project, the Tribute Tree, has been a wonderful experience. It has been extremely satisfying to see the appreciation of doctors and staff, to watch the tree grow, and to see how it has been embraced by the families of those cared for by the hospice. How great that it has also been a huge success for fundraising. I have been fortunate as a sculptor to have created a work of art that allows those who have benefited from the care of all at St. Christopher’s to express their gratitude.
I look forward to watching this new Remembrance Tree grow and fill with leaves, helping the good work done by those at St. Christopher’s to continue.