The Mother Tree
I want to write about mothers and trees. Roots and families. Art and love.
Last year our world appeared to be on fire. Headlines captured devastating events around the globe. From politics to pandemics, the news cycle, as well as our personal lives, were upended in so many ways. In the midst of one of many California blazes, a story about a redwood matriarch dubbed the Mother of the Forest in Santa Cruz, California caught my attention.
Mother of the Forest is one of the tallest trees in Santa Cruz Park. A symbolic womb at her core forms an 8 x 13 foot room, or a hobbit hole, or a sacred space — depending on your perspective.
I have become obsessed with trees.
Trees are a testimony to patience and resilience. They offer shelter, contribute to healthy ecosystems, and fight climate change. Redwoods protect and support each other as well as other sapling growth by creating family circles sprouted from the roots of a parent tree. These families may or may not be genetically related. These lessons in cooperation can be a metaphor for humanity in its current fragmented state.
One month ago, I headed back to the MOM Art Annex in Florida after a prolonged absence. Ready to explore the next steps with our community and see to the ongoing growth of the Museum project, I arrived energized. Rising in the midst of display artifacts, art, and birthing objects, a new exhibit towers in the heart of the Annex. Artist Helen Hiebert’s Mother Tree is a brilliant illuminated sculpture made of paper and thread on loan to us for the year.
In preparation for the Mother Tree’s arrival, I pursued the book Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard, a deeply inspiring tale of scientific discovery and maternal care. I pondered our new directions with the Museum of Motherhood and gladly welcomed a guest artist residency proposal by Polly Wood, which included constructing an empty nest as a ceremonial acknowledgement of her daughter going off to college.
“A nest,” I exclaimed. “How timely for the Mother Tree’s arrival.”
Polly and I spent a glorious two weeks spinning magic. A blog about her residency is online at MOM. The next guest artist arrives in mid-December with work featuring among other things, landscapes and trees in gorgeous muted watercolors.
As the year winds down, I gratefully acknowledge the manner in which I’ve been able to spend time with emerging mother artists here in St. Petersburg, and also family as well. My son, his wife, and their baby have been on-site for the last six weeks, crowded into the MOM Art Annex’s tiny space– along with the exhibits, myself, and visiting guests. My one-year old granddaughter crawls around the carefully childproofed perimeter while I proudly chase after her.
In these accompanying photos, I introduce my granddaughter to a world of female sheroes, the art of motherhood, and a variety of messages aimed at empowering women and girls. The images for this MAMA exhibit also include my own self-portrait surrounded by the Mother Tree’s yarn roots in a symbolic gesture of rebirth, renewal, and generational connection.
Every major tree metaphor reminds me to trust in the slow, yet, steady growth of the museum project. Good things take time. Like a redwood, we want the museum to stand as a testament to the ages. We want to collaborate with our community and our surroundings. These things develop and deepen slowly. We are the connection. We are the women. We are the love. We are the trees.
If you would like to donate to our Mother Tree acquisitions campaign, please consider helping us purchase the Mother Tree in perpetuity by making a tax-deductible donation here.
In gratitude and perseverance, Martha Joy Rose
Martha Joy Rose is a community organizer and Museum of Motherhood founder. Her work has been published across blogs and academic journals and she has performed with her band Housewives On Prozac around the world. She is the NOW-NYC recipient of the Susan B. Anthony Award, her Mamapalooza Festival Series has been recognized as “Best in Girl-Power Events”, and her music has appeared on the Billboard Top 100 Dance Charts. She founded the Museum of Motherhood in 2003, created the Motherhood Foundation 501c3 non-profit in 2005, saw it flourish in NYC from 2011-2014, and then pop up at several academic institutions. After teaching Mother Studies at the college level, she moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. Her current live/work space is devoted to the exploration of mother-labor & performance art while she oversees the continued growth of the Museum of Motherhood project.
Helen Hiebert constructs installations, films, artists’ books and works in paper using handmade paper as her primary medium. Her sculpture Mother Tree serves as a symbol of the vulnerability, strength and sense of community she feels as a mother. The seven-foot tall handmade paper dress/tree features single strands of thread which extend from the bodice of the dress, representing mother’s milk, and cascade to the floor, transforming via crochet into roots which pile up, filling the surrounding space as a tree’s roots would fill the ground beneath it. The transformation from dress to tree and root to soil symbolizes the mother as a provider and nurturer throughout human development. Since her inception, hundreds of people have contributed to crocheting roots with messages of family, friendship, and affirmation.