Grandmother Tree

The Grandmother Tree is a bold presence in the lobby of the faculty building. This grand pieces measures 48" w x 252" h, comprised of 84, 12" x 12" tiles. Before any designs were drawn or tiles carved, Natalie and Cynthia traveled to the campus to find potential installation sites and gather inspiration from its spaces and its students. Natalie and Cynthia also got to speak with students, who had influential requests: “Give us beauty” and “a feeling that we are in nature.” “Remind us that we are HOME.” “Delight us with color to brighten our day.” “Don’t give us anything cliché.” There were a lot of artistic possibilities at Chabot, but this location jumped out immediately – a towering orange wall in the midst of a wide open space in the newest building on campus, a faculty building. It begged for a custom designed tile mural of massive scale. Like this perfect spot, it was hard to pass over images of the amazingly stoic and ancient redwood trees characteristic of northern California. A big, grand tree seemed the perfect symbol for this faculty space, representing knowledge and wisdom of generations and the ages in sculptural art. Cynthia, our project designer, found a fitting design in an interesting way: “When we were designing our proposal for this public art award we took one of our favorite trees and digitally stretched it onto this column. Shifting scale really changed the feeling of it; we loved the way it transformed the space and the column. The campus voted on their favorite ideas and then the arts committee gave us the go ahead. We were so psyched to take that digital concept and make it into a reality of ceramic artwork. It was more than three times bigger than the trees we had been making so to accommodate it in our work space we sgraffito carved it in sections starting with the roots. Carving it was like a meditation on each aspect of the trees structure and the vital flow of energy which it embodies.” Cynthia Parker-Houghton   handsculpted, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake Studios   After the artwork was installed, an arts appreciation class was asked to study the public art on campus and answer questions about them. Here is what one student wrote about the Grandmother Tree: “I enjoyed “Grandmother Tree.”  I thought that the work itself was phenomenal and I thought, what a great building to put it in.  The artwork’s medium is ceramic tile but the way it fits together so seamlessly, I could swear it is a canvas.  It uses lines throughout the work in every tile.  From a few feet back it looks alive, like it isn’t just on a flat surface.  When I moved in closer, I could see that I was right, the tiles had bumps to bring the tree to life.  The building “Grandmother Tree” is in is very fitting.  It is located in Building 400, the Instructional Office Building.  When I think of the phrase “grandmother tree” I think of Pocahontas and how she talked to a very wise, helpful, advise-giving tree by the name of “Grandmother Willow.” So when I read the artwork was entitled “Grandmother Tree” and placed in the building where there are teachers’ offices and the staff of Chabot I thought, how perfect.  This building IS the Grandmother Tree and all of the employees are its branches, here to help guide the students of Chabot.”--Alexis Perez   handsculpted, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake   The finished sculptural art mural had 84 tiles, and at a total height of 252 inches, presented a totally new challenge of installation. So, we rented a mechanical lift, and the rest is history – or at least, a time-lapse. Watch us install this piece:  Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.09.16 PM  
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