I started my first blog last week as creative inspiration and expression for myself with the hopes that others may enjoy it as well. I never knew the Catalpa tree in childhood. The trees of my youth growing up in Wisconsin were draping Willow trees, papery Birch or the many colored Oak and Maple which covered the Bluffs. When we left these behind to move to west Texas the Mesquite and Cottonwood reigned supreme. My knowledge of the Catalpa tree seemed to be drawn from somewhere deep and distant, yet still familiar inside of me. It's as if little memories and bits of awareness of it were planted in my brain over time waiting for the right moment to come out again.
Last spring I was working at a university in Denver for the art school. The Sculpture Club decided to have a fundraiser by selling sand tiles. Sand tiles are thick blocks of sand with a small recess in the top in which you create a relief carving. Once the carving is complete molten iron is poured into the recessed area and cooled until the iron hardens to create a sculpture. As soon as I heard about the fundraiser I knew I wanted to participate. The only question was what to carve? I only had about 15 minutes over my lunch break to carve a design and get it to the sculpture club in time for the iron pour.
I had just completed a woodblock printing class at a local art studio a week or two before and my last piece had focused on the human heart. I immediately thought of the heart when trying to come up with an idea, but I didn't want to simply repeat an idea I had already used, so I had to decide what else to do. Suddenly the word Catalpa sprung to mind. It was clear and bold yet also unknown. The word seemed familiar yet I could not place nor define it. I did some quick research and as soon as I found a picture of the large distinctly heart shaped leaves I knew I had my answer. I would carve a Catalpa leaf. The heart shape filled with veins perfectly represented the theme of strength, growth and re-growth which had caught my attention with the human heart. (An image of my cast iron Catalpa leaf is visible at the top left of this page).
Shortly after creating my sculpture I noticed a real Catalpa tree just across the walkway from my office. I must have walked under its branches hundreds of times without realizing it until one day the large white flowers caught my attention. I looked up to admire them and noticed the heart-shaped leaves. It was as if the tree said, "Hello, I'm glad you finally noticed me."
It's funny, and sometimes scary, to think how easily we can go through life with our own agendas and thoughts and not notice some of the most simple yet powerful elements such as a towering three story tall Catalpa tree covered with heart shaped leaves and fragrant white flowers.
I decided to title my blog The Catalpa Tree because it reminds me that life always has a way of getting our attention and teaching us lessons whether we're fully aware of them in the moment or not. Sooner or later all the pieces come together and we realize that like puzzle pieces, things we thought were previously unrelated, in fact fit together in perfect harmony.
Shortly after sending out copies of my first edition of The Catalpa Tree last week I received an email from my Aunt Linda (my mother's sister) saying "Oh, this reminds me of the old tree house on the farm!" Then my mother called me and asked if the old tree house was still around when I was a kid visiting the farm. I asked what tree house?
My mother and her siblings grew up on a farm in Iowa and when they were children they built a tree house out of scrap wood and nails found in the garage. They chose a Catalpa tree along the lane in which to build. My mother added a fireplace made of mud and rock and they added steps to go up to the "lookout" on the second floor so they could keep an eye out from beneath the thick leaf cover.
I'm not sure when the last remnants of the tree house disappeared from the farm but I am certain it was long gone by the time I visited. Neither my mother nor I could recall if the old Catalpa trees are still standing out near the pastures. I can picture them in my mind but have a feeling it's my imagination filling in rather than a memory.
Regardless of whether or not those trees still stand I am glad to have felt their inspiration which helped me create a sculpture and allowed my mother to share a memory with me I had never heard before. I hope this tree inspires you as well.