Tree of Life – Tree of Knowledge

Since returning to Virginia, I’ve continued to research textiles, quilts in particular, and recently, I ‘tumbled‘ upon Indian Palampores and Tree of Life quilts. Palampores were intricate hand painted/dyed textiles featuring flora and fauna (and sometimes a central “Tree of Life”) that were made by Indian artisans for export abroad. These textiles were popular in 18-19th c. Europe and America and were often incorporated into bedcovers or quilts.

The Tree of Life motif was also used in this quilt by Ernestine Zaumseil:

Ernestine Eberhardt Zaumseil (American) Bedcover, ca. 1865 American, Cotton ground appliqued with cotton, silk and wool; 88 × 86 in. (223.5 × 218.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of George E. Schoellkopf, 2013 (2013.958) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/625591
Ernestine Eberhardt Zaumseil (American)
Bedcover, ca. 1865
American,
Cotton ground appliqued with cotton, silk and wool; 88 × 86 in. (223.5 × 218.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of George E. Schoellkopf, 2013 (2013.958)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/625591

I’ve been making fabric ‘sketches’ in the studio, sometimes embedding found natural materials, and these quilts struck a chord. I was reminded of the stone Adam and Eve carvings from medieval crosses I’d seen in Ireland and Scotland.

Left: Adam and Eve from standing stone at Kells, Co. Meath, Ireland; Right: Adam and Eve from St. Martin's Cross at the Abbey of Iona, Scotland. © Amanda Wagstaff 2016
Left: Adam and Eve from standing stone at Kells, Co. Meath, Ireland; Right: Adam and Eve from St. Martin’s Cross at the Abbey of Iona, Scotland. © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

In each of these carvings, Adam and Eve stand beneath a stylized Tree of Knowledge – a trunk and two arching tree branches. I’m intrigued by this imagery and this particular design. I’m also attracted to the damaged stone – I only have access to this image through an eroded version, where the forms are even more simplified. There may have been details that added to the symbolism which are now lost. It’s a great metaphor for how knowledge and meaning are simplified or ‘eroded’ by distance. A good metaphor for memory. But to be honest, I like this chunky, faded version better. I think it is still ‘rich’ with meaning.

Below is a sketch from the studio with a bit of Adam and Eve/Tree of Life peeking through:

IMG_5589
flowering quince branches, fabric, and felted wool in/on pieces of denim pants legs

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