A Tree of Courage
For the past couple of months, if you follow Twysted Roots on social media you may have heard a mention or two about the mahoosive tree I've been working on. Not said much about it other than its size but now I get to tell you all about it now that it's completed and has gone to live with the lovely family it belongs to. A year ago I was contacted via Facebook by a lady asking about the possibility of having a wire tree made that could accomodate over 2000 beads of courage that were given to her son during his three and a half years of treatment for leukaemia. For anyone not familiar, Beads of Courage (link opens to the UK website where you can have a more in depth read if you so wish) are given to children who are undergoing treatment for serious and chronic illnesses, and represent the courage shown throughout their journey. These beads give a tangible and visual representation for both the child and their family of their experience.
I do get pretty emotionally invested when it comes to bespoke trees and hands down, right from that first message I knew I wanted to do it. That number ... over 2000 beads, spoke of a heck of a long journey that family had been on. Messages were exchanged to find out what kind of beads they were and what kind of weight we were talking about as I attempted to mentally figure out if it was going to be possible.
The weight of the beads was just over 3kgs. At that time I was about to embark on another tree commission which was then was going to be my biggest to date. I figured I'd use that as a rough guide to how to manage an even bigger one but from that very first message to enquire about this, I couldn't stop thinking about it, mulling over pros, cons, what could go wrong, how I'd start it, how it might look, how long would it take, how sturdy it would have to be .... my brain does not let up with stuff like this.
Finished that big tree and including a slate base, the weight came to 2.5kgs. Not going to gloss over it - I had a serious crisis of confidence over how to do this and with it being such a personal tree I needed to do it justice. So a decision was made - I'd give it my best shot but if it turned out to be a big fail I'd return the beads and know at least I tried, if only to stop thinking about it... although that wouldn't have worked either because I'd then be going over it in my head wondering how I could have done it better. Hyperfocus can be useful but it's also a right pain in the butt! Lockdowns happened so everything was put on hold for a while then when travel restrictions eased a bit this year we arranged to meet to drop the beads off at the start of May. With the weight and the emotional value I'm very glad the family were able to drive to drop off and pick up - don't get me wrong, I've not had anything go missing in the post yet (touch wood) but some things you just wouldn't want to risk and I didn't fancy my chances on how I'd post anything back. Something like this is simply too valuable and irreplacable.
It's one thing talking about weight, but actually holding those beads and really feeling it was another intensely emotional moment, knowing the meaning behind what I held in my hands. I put them aside for a few days while the brain whirring continued, not sure where to start or how big to make the core. How many branches, what kind of shape... how to make the hanging branches with so many beads - in a pattern or just a straight line of beads on a wire. Eventually recognised some circular thinking going on and knew the only way out was to just start and make it up as I go. Or continue to listen to 'aaaaaaaaaghhhhhh' in my head.
Photo description: A collage of 6 progress photos on a background of dusky pink / purple / black. Text at the bottom in the middle reads "Tree of Courage".
From top left to bottom right; Holding up the copper wire core.
The first of the beads on the wire core (39 to be precise. And no I didn't keep count after this).
The bottom branches of the wire core starting to fill out properly with multiple branches of hanging white beads.
Core starting to fill up with branches of beads in white, green, black, grey and deep blue.
The copper wire core from the bare side with the bottom branches hanging with white and green beads.
Two thirds of the copper wire core now covered with hanging beaded branches in white, green, black, grey, blue and light purple.
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It took several weeks to get to the two thirds covered stage and all was ok so far. I'd originally started out with mostly antique bronze wire but occasionally you'll get a reel that's springier than usual and that was this reel. It was tolerable to work with until the branches started filling up and then it was like my hair when trying to get a comb through it - tangled as soon as you went near it. Switched to gunmetal coloured wire which is similar in colour (was doing a mix of both anyway) and it was loads easier to work with so what started off an incredibly slow and swear inducing task because a lot easier once the wire behaved itself.
I kept in touch through this, giving updates when some noticable progress had been made. Bit by bit the massive bead stash started to shrink from the basket they arrived in and at some point the thinking shifted from "OMG I'm going to be making this tree until I'm 90!" to "wow... over halfway through".
The next part was adding in all the happy sunshine parts of the tree which I imagined as the final weeks of treatment and the feeling of uncertain times lifting. There were so many fun, colourful beads - such a fantastic variety that was just amazing to look through. I did feel like a kid in a sweet shop ... or me with a stash of beads. Went a little lighter with the wire mix, using gilt (gold coloured silver plated) wire mixed in with the gunmetal. Aaaand ran out of the gunmetal wire so had to put the tree in the corner for a week until the new reels arrived. This was fine as it's always good to test how well a tree stands up, especially when there's so much weight involved. There was some sway but then that's usually the case until the roots are twysted into place, or it's been mounted to a base. Unfortunately after adding a few more beads it was the proverbial straw, only they didn't break the tree, but did cause it to bend in a way that was not anywhere near stable enough because of how heavy it was and I thought that was it. I'd failed and I can't even begin to put into words how upsetting this was, not just for the hours and emotional investment but knowing I'd be disappointing people that had put their trust in me to pull this off.
There were only two choices; make it sturdier somehow or admit defeat. And it was a big hell no to admitting defeat. Not until that point of no redemption was reached. So out came the apoxie sculpt and started adding it to parts of the trunk that needed it most, not actually knowing if that would be enough to stabilise it but it was worth a try, right?
Feeling plenty apprehensive, the folllowing day I gently gave the tree a shake. Imagine trying to wake a sound sleeper without scaring the bejeezus out of them and that was me with that tree. "Don't be scared mahoosive tree... it's just me willing you not to fall over!" And miracle of miracles, it stayed upright. Added in the reminder of the beads that I'd still to add in on the tree itself and everything sort of fell into place. Or more to the point, stayed in the place it was supposed to. Hurrah!
Photo description: Collage with three photos of the Tree of Courage in progress. Text in the top right corner reads "Tree of Courage"
Top left - tree sitting on a craft tray with the core completely covered with some of the colourful beads at the top
Bottom left - Tree of courage sitting in the corner (until it behaved!) with its first layer of apoxie sculpt visible through the gaps in the beaded branches
Right - top down view of the finished tree on a table with art and tree clutter surrounding it. The tips of my boots are visible from the chair I stood on to take the photo.
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The tree was finally completed this week - Monday 5th July 2021, almost a year since the first enquiry about the possibility of making it.
The final height was 18 inches / 46cms and it was 14 inches / 36cms at the widest point. More than three 500g reels of wire were used. The weight ... no idea but it was heavy. Over 5kgs worth of heavy (great for toning up arms). And here it is! (beads with letters have been blurred)
It was an incredible honour to be trusted to use these beads to create something a bit magical. This has been a longer blog than usual so well done if you've made it this far; it was such a massive thing to do (practically and emotionally) it deserved a more detailed write up. And I can finish up by saying the absolute hero of all this is the amazing lad who earned every single bead on this tree. I can't tell you his story but the amount of beads on this tree, marking his journey show you just how courageous he is. And as if that wasn't enough, he has a smile that melts your heart!
With love, Clair