On the 23rd April I had a meeting with Nick Farthing at The Hospice in the Weald after he had emailed me regarding the potential commission for a sculpture at the hospice.
Having seen images on my website of the Bud sculpture I had made for Borde Hill Gardens, Nick wondered whether I might be interested in making a sculpture of a 'Memory Tree' for the hospice . Nick, who is the Income Generator Director, had been discussing with colleagues the possibility of commissioning a memory tree sculpture to be placed in the garden at the Hospice in Pembury. He explained that the idea was for it to be a tree on which people could hang leaves engraved with the names of their loved ones. They had seen a similar idea at Greenwich and Bexley Hospice, who already had something similar, and sent me a link to the image on their website. It can be seen in the image below.
Nick wondered whether the idea of a memory tree might be a 'good fit with my work', and I agreed to meet him to discuss the commission, to visit the hospice, to see potential sites for the sculpture and to discuss their requirements.
Since quite early in my teaching career, when I arranged for a fund-raiser working for another local hospice to visit the school and talk with students about the work of the hospice, I have considered hospices to be invaluable in the work they do. However, Nick's email came at a time that provided me with an opportunity to do something for them, having had to say farewell at the funeral of my wonderful, talented, artistic mother-in-law, who died of cancer just a few weeks earlier.
As you can imagine, I was more than delighted to get Nick's email. Serendipity indeed! It allowed me to do something that I love, for a cause that I care about, to the memory of someone I loved and which I know would be something that my whole family would want to celebrate and add to. We are already looking forward to fixing a leaf onto the memory tree sculpture engraved with Pam's name and with a message from us all.
Nick gave me a tour of the Hospice and introduced me to some of his colleagues before eventually sitting down with Nick and Rachael Heath to discuss some of my ideas. Although I assured them that I could make them a naturalistic tree similar to the one in the image above, or the one at Wakefield Hospice, I explained my preference for a more sculptural form, so that it should look attractive, even when there are not any 'memory leaves' in place. I also explained the use of materials, processes and installation and how each would impact upon the eventual cost of the work, whilst informing Nick and Rachael that I would not be expecting any fee for the designing and making of the sculpture and that I would only be looking for the cost of materials and work by others to be covered. Nick was very surprised and quick to thank me but I explained that I could not, in all conscience, take money from a hospice, whose funds were needed for those they care for, or for something that would provide families the means to express their feelings for those they have lost.
My first task was to generate some drawings of my ideas in order to present them to Hospice in the Weald. These would also be used for the subsequent production of models for their consideration and approval. Some of my ideas employed the use of water jet cut corten steel and so I knew that I would need drawings to be created as vector files that could be read by the software used for the machinery employed in such processes. To this end Zoli Rutter, of Exhibit Printing, was kind enough to offer to assist in the production of vector files and for the laser cutting needed for the models. Like me, he agreed that he would do it for the cost of materials only. His kind offer was gratefully accepted and wholly understood as he too has lost a loved one to cancer.
I decided to generate several different ideas to present to the hospice, as the possibilities made available by the site suggested to me that the form the sculpture might take could be very different, depending upon where it might be situated and I did not want to tie them down at this stage. In the early stages of drawing and model making, I think it is important to allow the commissioning client to have the time to thoroughly consider all options, rather than narrowing them down. Likewise, it is necessary to make them feel comfortable with the notion that they make suggestions for alterations and additions to the brief at this early stage, should they feel it necessary. To this end I asked Nick, who with his colleagues had looked at other 'memory trees' to let me know those that they liked and just as importantly, those they did not.
Nick and Rachael had been particularly taken with the Tree of Life Sculpture at Wakefield Hospice (above). The tree has fixed leaves with small silver discs with names on them in remembrance of those who have been lost, which could be purchased by loved ones. I made it clear that I could and would make them a similar tree should they want to go that way, but that they should understand that having all the leaves engraved with a name and a message, being hung onto the branches, as was their idea, would result in a different overall effect (all the leaves would hang from the branches, whereas the Wakefield Tree of Life leaves were fixed in place and were a permanent fixture). I also discussed the importance of how the leaves would have to be prevented from sliding down the branch and bunching together, something Nick had not noticed or considered before our discussion. He later sent me an image that illustrated my concerns perfectly (below left).
Some of the 'trees' seen in their research were very much NOT what those at The Hospice in the Weald wanted, but they had not considered sculptural forms that were not based upon three dimensional tree-like forms. I was determined to both explain to them the alternatives, as well as to generate such forms in order that they could better see the possibilities before settling upon a final decision. I was also determined to create a work, the cost of which would not require the hospice to see excessive drains on their funds. To this end I wished to avoid complex mould-making and casting processes and to make direct contact with any companies I might use for materials and processes included in the fabrication of the work in order to establish whether they too might support the hospice by way of reductions in pricing.
The employment of modern technology currently available means that drawings can be scanned and uploaded to a computer and further manipulated before the files are converted to be read by laser cutters, water jet cutters etc. These technologies can make precision models at this stage. The beauty of this is that the drawings once made into vector graphic files for the models can be manipulated further, if necessary, and then employed for the finished work, simply by re-scaling. A very cost effective process. A few of the initial drawings made to show the client some of the possibilities can be seen below.
The two tree drawings framed by a heart (above) were to be made to create a cross form. The drawing on the left would is a more naturalistic tree form whilst the drawing on the right has echoes of a cross within the design, which those within the Christian faith might recognise, but not so overt as to be a problem for those of other faiths or none. Both have leaves attached (mostly upward pointing) as the leaves that will be added by those who wish to add their memory leaves with engraved messages would hang down from the branches. The leaves are in the shape of oak leaves; the oak representing strength, which I thought appropriate. The two drawings of trees against a landscape background (above) are intended for a screen. This could be either a flat screen or formed into a curve (my preference). The lower image, with reflections of the landscape and oast houses was to give the impression of a river flowing through the landcsape. Water is a potent symbol, appropriate for the memorial to those being remembered, whilst oast houses are synonymous with Kent and the area of the Weald. The trees in the final piece would have some leaves added, as in the heart framed ideas above, as well as very small holes at points on the branches to take the memorial leaves. The image above right is one side of a box structure. (the final work could possibly have a different tree form on each side). Again there will be very small holes along the branches to affix memorial leaves. The Hospice in the Weald has a water feature in situ, which is due for modification. This could be sited around the existing water feature, adding the sound of water to the memory tree I thought would be a delightful addition. If not it could be lit by a ground set uplighter.
The frames around the heart trees and the box or the screen could be inscribed with an appropriate 'message'. I suggested the use of a quote from Raymond Carver's last book of poetry, 'A New Path to the Waterfall', written whilst he was suffering from cancer. 'Late Fragment' reads:
And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
This has great meaning to my own family whilst being a wonderful epitaph for all.
These drawings, once scanned and saved as jpeg files were sent to Zoli at Exhibit Printing for conversion to vector graphic files so that they could be cut using 3mm MDF. These I then coloured, so that the 3 dimensional models that were provided to those at the hopsice would give a clear indication of what the finished sculptures would look like.
The models were finished on Saturday19th May, a day I lost another dear friend to Cancer and almost a month after Nick's initial contact.
I was able to take them to the hospice for their consideration . the models can be seen below.