The Tree of Life Exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Photography by Rebecca Hendrixson

Hopes, dreams and wishes for the New Year that were on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Tree of Life exhibit (ran from Nov. 17 to Jan. 10, 2016) will soon be used as fertilizer for a new tree to be planted in the spring.

Visiting the Cincinnati Art Museum is always a sacred, nearly spiritual experience. One of the current exhibits on display is called the Tree of Life, created by Cincinnati artist, Matt Kotlarczyk. It echoes and symbolizes unified hope for the Greater Cincinnati community. The large, bare tree sits alone in an open space, beams of sunlight peeping through onto its strong branches. Its wintery-white rubber coating and silver wire are an aesthetic reminder of the winters we must embrace and endure.

A short distance from the magnificent tree is a simple, round table holding a box of brightly colored slips of paper and small sharpened pencils. The sign next to the box asks you to share your hopes, dreams and wishes for the New Year by writing them on one of the colorful pieces of paper. Those are then deposited into a larger, acrylic box, which will then be individually placed into a glass tube and hung on the tree. The end result is a stark, white tree brought to warmth and light by the hundreds of beautifully colored glass tubes. After the New Year, the wishes will be collected and burned. The ashes will then be used to fertilize a new tree, planted in the spring, signifying rebirth and a new start.

The Tree of Life builds its foundation on thousands of years of tradition, as well as leading a path into the future. The artist’s statement reveals that the concept of a great tree that unites all living things has been a constant in science, religion, philosophy and mythology since the beginning of time. He states that in almost every world culture, a Tree of Life is represented as a colossal tree connecting the heavens, the world and, through its roots, the underworld. The Tree of Life symbolizes many things, including wisdom, protection, strength, bounty, beauty and redemption.