The Art of Tree Building #1

In ROOTLESS, Banyan builds trees out of scrap metal, creating beautiful forests for people who crave some semblance of nature in a future where no nature survives. But throughout human history, there have been many different types of “tree builders”. This blog series will introduce you to some of them…

… The Tree Worshipers …

People have honored forests for as long as they’ve honored pretty much anything. There’s even a word for it… dendrolatry refers to “the tendency of many societies throughout history to worship or otherwise mythologize trees.” Sacred groves, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, the Bodhi Tree, the Christmas Tree… humans have long seen trees as powerful symbols of growth, decay and re-birth, and they feature prominently in countless theologies, philosophies, and mythologies. When people honor something, they often build art inspired by it…

  • The columns of Egyptian temples were built to reflect the lotus, palm, and papyrus trees. “Lotus columns” made of sandstone hold up the Temple of Dendur, which is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, of all places …"Lotus Tree" Columns
  • The columns of classical Greek and Roman architecture were also modeled on tree trunks, the grooves in the stone intended to be reminiscent of bark. Check out the remains of tree building at Priene, in Turkey…Tree building at Priene, in Turkey
  • The ceilings of churches and cathedrals are often built in a style inspired by the canopy of a forest. As anyone who’s been inside a forest, or such a building, can tell you, such a canopy provides protection, but also inspires the human spirit to soar. One of my favorites, though not the most typical, is this ceiling in Gaudi’s still unfinished cathedral in Barcelona.Gaudi's still unfinished cathedral in Barcelona.In my eyes, this more “classical” approach is just as tree-inspired, and also very beautiful.Cathedral ceiling reflecting a forest canopy.
  • Recently, folks have taken it one step further, building “cathedrals” out of actual living trees. This aerial shot is of the Green Cathedral in Italy, which was designed by a natural architect, Giuliano Mauri, to honor the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010.A cathedral built out of living trees.Below is the recently built/grown Cathedral of Trees in Milton Keynes, which is not far from where I grew up. Can’t wait to see it next time I’m back in the UK.eARTh
  • I really love this next one, and have had the good fortune to travel to the monastery in Ayutthaya, Thailand, so I’ve seen it “in person”, as it were. This sandstone Buddha is wrapped in the roots of a sacred bodhi tree, which is a type of banyan tree, interestingly enough! It was a bodhi tree (or Sacred Fig) in Bodhgaya, India that Siddhartha sat under until he reached enlightenment and emerged as the Buddha more than 2,000 years ago. Bodhi trees are often used to represent the Buddha in art and literature.This Buddha was carved out of sandstone in the roots of a sacred Bodhi Tree.
  • Finally, here’s another of my favorite examples… pre-Christian Celtic lore is chock-full of sacred forests, and today, churches and cathedrals throughout Europe are still decorated with stone carvings of the “Green Man”. Also known as Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Man is an ancient emblem of spring and fertility often depicted as a man’s face made out of leaves.A pre-Christian symbol that can be found on many churches and cathedrals.

In ROOTLESS, Banyan says he builds trees to give people “something to believe in”. In doing so, he’s carrying on a tradition that’s both ancient and sacred. So, until next time… MAY THE FOREST BE WITH YOU!


7 thoughts on “The Art of Tree Building #1

  1. Such a great post! I love how trees have such a firmly rooted (hah) presence in our minds and psyches. Even as we’ve surrounded ourselves with concrete, we’ve found ways to integrate reminders all around us. Fascinating stuff, can’t wait to read more here!

  2. My friend sent me this link, which makes for a nice follo-up read: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/photos/sacred-and-iconic-tree-worship-gallery/#/01-environment-iconic-trees-baobab_58536_600x450.jpg

    In many cultures around the world, trees are used in creation stories and myths to explain human, and spiritual, origins. Such trees “frequently represent the axis of the universe that connects different realms of the cosmos,” writes forest ecologist Nalini Nadkarni in her book Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees. “Its branches hold up the heavens, its trunk stands in the earthly realm, and its roots descend into the underworld.” – National Geographic

  3. Pingback: Guest Blog: The Science of Rootless by Chris Howard | Novel Novice

  4. Pingback: The Art of Tree Building #3 - Christmas TreesBlog | Chris Howard Books

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