HOMAGE TO TREES is a limited edition artist book revealing unusual relationships between humans and trees. Trees are sacred. They are more than just resources for physical comfort or aesthetic beauty. In this series of books I describe rituals and traditions in which people approach trees for metaphysical gifts such as wisdom, transformation, health, and fertility.

Each book is identical in size (3" x 4-1/8"). They are small because the information revealed within them has a secretive, mythological quality emphasized by the intimacy of a small object. This size also encourages a more intimate relationship between the reader and trees.

Behind the text in each book is a screen of green, printed from a plank of red oak. On the covers are collographic images of leaves created from leaves, indigenous to Minnesota, glued onto a type-high board. The texture which results adds both visual and contextual depth.

Homage to Trees

HOMAGE TO TREES is comprised of a set of five letterpress books, each 3" x 4-1/8", printed in a limited edition of 50, housed within a birch log or flush within a box measuring 10" x 13-1/2".

For the exhibit, these books were arranged linearly in slots notched into a tree branch, an organic arrangement which mimics the orderly structure typical of plants and nature. Also displayed was the set of books housed within a custom, hand-made case covered in Japanese bookbinding fabric.

The structure of each book is based on a folded paper system. The text pages of each book were printed on a sheet of Zerkall Nideggan paper which was then cut into two strips, folded into an accordion booklet, and the one end of each glued together. The ends of this booklet are then slipped into a non-adhesive cover comprised of two boards and five sheets of paper.

HOMAGE TO TREES was made possible with funds provided by Minnesota Center for Book Arts through its Jerome Book Arts Fellowship.

Limited Edition of 50: $750 each

where to purchase HOMAGE TO TREES

Trees are viewed primarily as resources and aesthetic objects. When harvested, trees provide us with a myriad of end products such as lumber for construction and paper for communications. Alive, they provide us with shade and fruit. In my proposed book arts project, I explore the value of a tree in other terms that are more difficult to measure: in the life-affirming relationship between humans and trees.

HOMAGE TO TREES is a format for connecting people more closely with trees. The more we know about trees and their roles in human culture, the more intimate we can become with them. My hope is that the sense of responsibility which follows will lead to more proactive efforts toward protecting the environment and using resources wisely.

The life-affirming relationship between humans and trees was more apparent in ancient times, when people approached trees at a more spiritual level. It is only in more recent times that we've considered a tree's value primarily in terms of its usefulness rather than its sacredness. Ancient people listened to trees. This depth of understanding is more difficult in an age of television, when the push of a button tunes us in to information 24 hours a day at high decibels. Yet, if we learn to open up to the wisdom of trees, we can learn valuable lessons about ourselves and our environment.

Many people feel a strong kinship toward trees. In my project, I explore the question, Where are these feelings rooted? Perhaps it is in part because we share a vertical perspective; some ancient cultures believed humans originally came from trees. Our ties to nature and trees may also be instinctual, though at a far different level than those of our ancestors who depended on trees for survival.

Each book references many examples of specific relationships between humans and trees. In the first book, the reader learns about the healing properties of trees. In the second book, the reader finds information about trees as cosmological symbols and links between metaphysical planes in many different religions. The third book describes cultures which revered trees in fertility rites. The fourth book talks about cultures which regarded trees as sources of wisdom. And in the fifth book, the reader learns how trees reveal the secrets of transformation.

HOMAGE TO TREES encourages readers to explore a holistic and rewarding relationship with trees. We need to give something back to trees. We need to protect them. As an artist who relies greatly upon paper to translate concepts into form, I am well aware of the fact that we cannot live without consuming resources. We can, however, learn to use our resources wisely. Part of that knowledge is based on cultivating a respectful relationship with nature and, specifically, with trees. This project is my homage to trees, thanking them for all they provide both physically and spiritually, and my vehicle for sharing what I have begun to learn by listening to trees.

The type was set in 11 pt. and 14 pt. Bembo, 12 pt. Narrow Bembo Condensed Italic, with ornaments along the top of each page. Type composition by Michael Bixler. Printed on a Vandercook #219 Press in an edition of 50 copies by Wendy Fernstrum at MCBA during the tree-shaded summer of 1997.

Special thanks to Nathaniel Altman, whose book Sacred Trees was an invaluable source of information and inspiration.

[excerpted text]

Since conception does not always follow sexual intercourse, many cultures have credited pregnancy with divine intervention. One traditional way to enhance fertility is to appeal to a god, goddess, or a nature spirit, in some cases with whom a certain tree is associated. Establishing a close physical or spiritual relationship to a sacred tree could potentially result in a large family, an abundant crop, and a multitude of livestock.

Traditionally regarded as symbols of life, fertility, regeneration, and male and female sexual power, trees not only fertilize their own soil but also have a tremendous capacity for reproduction. For example, the average mature giant sequoia produces approximately 2,000 cones each year, each containing some 200 seeds. From 35 to 50 per cent of the total of 400,000 seeds are germinable. With an average of three mature trees in a typical acre of sequoia forest, over a million seeds are produced per acre per year in most groves.

[excerpted text]

As powerful symbols of transformation, trees connect humans to the mysteries of divine intervention. Even their appearance is a tangible lesson in rebirth, renewal and regeneration. From Winter's barren limbs, Spring's delicate unfolding awakens a hope surprisingly eternal. What appeared dead was merely biding time, leading us to the close of a chapter, only to start another one. Stories reveal psychological and spiritual transformations. Trees teach us through example how every ending prepares the way for a new beginning.

Throughout northern Europe are designated wish trees.
They are successors to ancient pagan tree shrines where people once appealed to the spirit beings connected to the trees for help in solving problems, such as poor health, a difficult relationship, or lack of money. Today's wish trees
are often adorned with religious medals, ribbons, photographs, and other votive offerings.

Spiritual insight and personal transformation can also be achieved through close contact with trees. Many an inspiration was born while the seeker was meditating, praying, singing or writing beneath the limbs of a tree. A consistent belief among several cultures was that a nature spirit, or deva, is connected to each tree, and that large or old trees are homes to wise, powerful, and benevolent beings. For many American Indians, certain trees were personal allies to whom they could go for help during difficult times.

read a poem
about trees
by W. S. Merwin


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stories about trees

[excerpted text]

Since ancient times, trees have offered vital resources for healing. Historically they have not only yielded medicines from their leaves, roots, bark, wood, and fruit, but have also supplied a source of energy, inspiration and groundedness on which many indigenous healing and curing traditions rely. Human illnesses are not just physical, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual. When approached respectfully, trees and the spirits within them can revitalize, reintegrate and reharmonize humans in need of healing.

For thousands of years, the leaves, bark, roots, wood, flowers, and fruits of sacred trees have been used to make infusions, decoctions, poultices, ointments, and tonics to heal both humans and domestic animals. According to the director of the World Health Organization's Traditional Medicine Program, up to 80 percent of the world's people rely on various forms of natural healing. Even modern-day pharmeceutical companies include parts of trees in some of their drugs and treatments.

In England the yew has often been associated with death and the afterlife, perhaps because its needles are poisonous to eat. The English yew itself, however, is an extremely long-lived evergreen. Medical researchers recently found the dried bark and needles of the Pacific yew to contain taxol, an anticancer compound that has been judged effective in treating ovarian cancers. Those studies in turn led to the English yew, from which taxol can be processed ten times more efficiently by harvesting only its needles.

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[excerpted text]

Trees show us by example how important it is to be grounded and connected to the Earth, whose natural, innate wisdom guides every living form. Where do we find tenacity when faced with difficult situations? What is the source of generosity or grace? Inner strength alone often fails to overcome obstacles. During good times or bad, our physical and spiritual link to Earth nurtures growth, offers balance, and awakens insight. Trees offer many valuable lessons. We can learn much if only we pay attention.

Our ancestors, who recognized trees as elders, revered their capacity to adapt and thrive for millions of years. A tree's skyward reach is rooted by wisdom, offering time-honored lessons to those who seek them. For thousands of years, the larger, older, more venerable trees of the world have been enshrined and sought out as channels of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. Like all living beings, trees have something special to teach us.

The bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya in India is the tree under which the Buddha attained supreme enlightenment. Descendents of this ancient tree have been planted next to many Buddhist temples in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal in honor of its influence on man. Although the bodhi tree is regarded as the ultimate wisdom tree, Buddhists turn to many other trees - especially evergreens - for sources of wisdom. Buddhist monks traditionally meditate in forests, often sitting against the trunk of a tree as if to physically support a spiritual connection.


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Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047


Copyright 2009 Wendy Fernstrum

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