By Karen Hyams

In April 2017, Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church’s Endowment Committee Chair John Hartman asked the Visual Arts Ministry to help him choose one of many prefabricated tree designs to honor donors to our very small Endowment Fund. Leaves on trees like this have names engraved on them to thank and remember donors. The UUA has provided powerful incentive with Wake Now Our Vision, a matching grant for Endowment fund contributions made through 2020, and WUUC was ready to take advantage of it. After a few frustrating years with no movement on our Endowment, John was donating a tree to help with visibility.


A popular donor recognition tree available online

After looking at what was available and how much it would cost, we asked if we could make our own tree and John said yes. We wanted to use this opportunity to make something that reflects who we are as a congregation and that really helps grow our Endowment Fund. We wanted to thank our supporters with something only we, the people of WUUC, could make, like the very building we inhabit. Creating our own place of worship from the ground up was a powerful beginning for our church and we wanted to carry on that tradition. Part of our pitch to John was this: “The tree will be much more beautiful than anything in a catalog, made by the Membership, completely unique and everyone will be talking about it.” We did a drawing to help demonstrate:

It took a year to “grow” our own tree. Like all collaborations, the end result does not look exactly like anyone imagined it would; it is beautiful in its own way. We had a lot of puzzles to solve, big and small.

 

Our idea was to make our leaves out of different colored glass and shine a light through them so they would refract color onto the wall behind them much like a stained glass window would do. We started working with local glass artist Sherri Gamble, designing the leaves, working out the scale of the tree, and then working through a number of prototypes until the team was happy with the leaves.

 

Casting molds from leaves, and filling the molds before firing

 

Two woodworkers in the congregation cut out the design of the trunk, stained it and mounted it to the wall. The Building and Grounds Committee installed a spotlight for our colorful leaves. And best of all,  Endowment held a will writing seminar and helped people contribute to the fund, growing it from two contributions to 21.

Installing the leaves was our biggest challenge – we wanted them to float away from the wall, giving space for light to refract. We ended up suspending each leaf with monofilament and hand-making all of the hardware that attaches the leaves to the filament. The total weight of the glass is 35 pounds, so we had to make our support strong.

The first Sunday after the leaves were installed, donors crowded around the tree and put stickers on their favorite leaves, marking them for etching. It was fun to watch people from Endowment standing in front of the tree, explaining to people why it was there and how they could get their own leaves. The plan worked! And it came in under budget!

John’s pie-in-the-sky hope was that our Endowment Fund would grow by 20 donations, and it has. We have a beautiful piece of art that is in the front lobby, where everyone can see it, rather than a generic plaque tucked away in a hallway. And it was a joy to work on. Many thanks go to many people:

 


Artists Sherri Gamble and Karen Hyams

 

Patrons of the Arts – John Hartman, Donna Johnson

Design – Karen Hyams, Marlene Katz, Sherri Gamble

Leaves – Sherri Gamble

Trunk – Doug Angle and Jerry Bowers

Installation – Robert Galloway, David Simons, Tom Richards, Bob Ditzler, Jerry Bowers, Doug Angel, Sherri Gamble, Karen Hyams, Marlene Katz, John Hartman

Art Department – Mary Beck, Sue Woods, Ron Hammond

 

Special thank yous to the Buildings and Grounds Committee and Visual Arts Ministry