Based in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, Tree of Life Potters encorporates the flora of our diverse temperate rainforest ecosystem into stoneware clays by impressing flowers and leaves into handbuilt slabs.
When the design feels good, we smooth the edges and shape the piece in a form of some sort. It dries overnight and we pick out as many of the plants as possible with a needle tool. Then we bisque fire it at around 1800 degrees Farenheit.
We first intentionally and sustainably gather plants from our favorite spots in the Boone and Asheville area, like Pisgah National Forest, Bent Creek, Big Ivy, and the back yard. It is important as the indigenous peoples did to ask Nature for permission in this ritual-like harvesting process. Respect for the abundant plant spirits is a key component to this refined ceramic technique.
Leaves, flowers or bark with defined textures are ideal. Among the tried and true are queen anne's lace, christmas fern, dogwood flowers, tulip poplar, fig, grape, goldenrod, yarrow, sycamore, sassafras, and wine berry.
In the studio we hand form a slab and begin to press the plants into the clay with small rolling pins, creating a symmetrical or abstract design like the piece above. For me this is where the magic happens. Experiencing a state of meditation enhanced by a piece of beautiful music or the rich sounds of Appalachian nature, the creative flow unfolds in a similar way to a musician or painter. In this case the flow state comes as a journey through the plants, the artist, and the unraveling of an unknown design from a raw piece of the Earth.
Next we stain the piece with iron oxides. The "secret sauce" is a mixture of black and red oxides. This process of staining is incredibly tedious and brings out the detail of each plant so it gives the impression a fossilized quality. We wipe the pieces meticulously with sponges to clean off the negative space.
If the piece is a vase or a bark [impression] bowl, we also glaze the piece. The new wave of inspiration has brought on an even more delicate step of painting in earth and leaf colored glazes with fine paintbrushes to replicate the colors of the leaves and other colors seen in the natural flow of the seasons. The final step is the glaze firing, around 2200 degrees.
The concept of a tree of life has been used in science, religion, philosophy, and mythology. A tree of life is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies. A mystical concept alluding to the interconnection of all life on our planet; and a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense. The term tree of life may also be used as a synonym for sacred tree.
The tree of knowledge, connects heaven to the underworld (and realms in between) and the tree of life, connecting all forms of creation, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree, seen in many cultures represented as one Gaian mind.