Tree of Life

Submitted by Helen Webber

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Client: Congregation Or Shalom

Location: Lafayette, PA, United States

Completion date: 2011

Artwork budget: $15,000

Project Team

Other

Congregation Or Ami Art Committee

Artist

Helen Webber

Overview

The art committee of Congregation Or Ami, Philadelphia, had been searching for an art piece to grace a large blank wall in the entry hall of their temple. After an extensive search, I was invited to make a presentation to the committee (of 12). Eventually, after exploring themes and mediums I was commissioned to create a fabric collage tapestry mural, 6'0″ wide by 10'6″ long, to be featured on the wall of the entry hall.

Goals

The members of this committee had been involved in commissioning significant art works, in a variety of mediums, throughout the building. Some of the committee members were artists themselves, and most of the members were art conscious people, not only concerned with decor but also with the meaning and content of the art. There was concern about the dominating blank wall and the need to bring life, color and meaning which would express the culture of their congregation.
An excerpt from the contract illustrates this:
'The art will evoke a feeling of joy and celebration, a sense of community between people of all ages and will integrate such Jewish symbols as a kiddush cup, a menorah, a star of David, a Shofar as well as a Torah.
There will be a biblical quote in Hebrew, from Ecclesiastes integrated into the design of the tapestry. “Better a good name than precious oils.”
(The quote was chosen by the family who donated the art to memorialize their son who had recently passed.)

Process

The collaboration process began when I received the first call from the committee chairperson to explore the parameters of the project in terms of budget, medium, and possible size. She described the hall, the wall size, and the need to fill the space with color and drama. A meeting with the committee was set up.

A portfolio of my work and an actual tapestry was presented. The tapestry persuaded the committee to offer me the commission in my fabric collage technique. They were excited by the texture, the vibrant colors, and were impressed with the execution of the technique. First I created drawings of the wall with multiple configurations, giving the committee options, they eventually chose one large shape as the format. Then I created a "cartoon" to scale in full color.

When I submitted the cartoon they "loved" the entire conception but there was an issue with the color being "too bright". They suggesting a palette with more earth tones. I converted the colors and actually liked the new colors better.
This interaction involving size, shape, theme and color was a very successful collaboration between artist and client.

Additional Information

Artist’s statement We gather together and form a circle. We clasp each others hands in friendship and trust. it is the circle of unity and oneness. We dance the Hora, to celebrate our Jewish selves and our faith. Our music is the song of our richness, not our riches. young and old women and men. and the harvest of our love: our cherished children. The tree is our tree of life and we are made strong by its strong trunk. The branches reach up embracing the light of the sun and the glitter of our stars. Each leaf tells the stories of our past and the dreams of our people.