Tree of Life (Arbol de la Vida)

These last few weeks I have become involved in a community public art project under the direction of artist Margarita Cabrera. San Antonio residents of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, have been encouraged to build a ceramic piece depicting their own story in San Antonio. Each piece will be fired and then suspended on a large steel ‘tree’ on the San Antonio river bank, not far from Espada Mission. The resulting large-scale sculpture, an enormous tree of life, will celebrate the World Heritage site of the Espada mission and bring focus to the natural and cultural environment that surrounds it.

I have mentioned in previous blogs my joy of walking and cycling in the area around the Espada Mission. It is the smallest of the four Missions and my favourite. I have sometimes sat on a bench under the shade of a live oak tree, wishing a sick, or troubled, loved one well, or inside the tiny church where there is the faint chanting of monks singing and candles burning, a place of peace. So I was thrilled to take part in this project and also to work with Margarita whose work I have seen not only in local galleries but in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

Yesterday, I put the final touches to my own ceramic piece. It is a pot about 22 inches tall and 15 inches wide which I have been making it as part of a small group in Artpace, a contemporary art gallery that also hosts resident artists from Texas and around the world. All the ceramic pieces are being made out of local clay which is quarried just a few miles away. The clay is dark brownish-red and there are tiny bits of Saltillo tile grit mixed into it which makes it a little difficult to handle – quite unlike the very malleable clay I was used to during my school years. Normally this clay is used to build sewage pipes and it was chosen because of its ability to be fired at extremely high temperatures. The enormous kilns that will be used to fire the pieces are on the same site where the clay is quarried.

On the outside of my pot I have applied sculptures of objects that I notice and love during my cycle rides. These include the prickly pear cactus, a century plant, a small house or casita, lily pad, pecan nut, date palm and turtle. There is also a bell and a candle representing the Espada Mission, and an airplane depicting the journey Mattie and I took to emigrate here, as well as visits back. There is, too, a heart (Mattie’s signature theme in her own art creations) and a rosebud to represent the country, and people, we left behind.

The pot itself represents the pots that are lovingly tended outside the Espada Mission. When there, I always glance over at the magnificent leaves and blooms, and to see which new plants they might have added since my previous visit.

The ceramic pieces are on target for their completion but due to Hurricane Harvey, the delivery of steel for the tree itself has been delayed. Things happen.

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