CHATHAM – A sculpture of the Tree of Life, a gift to the town by the Women's Club of Chatham to mark the organization's centennial, was dedicated before a cold but appreciative crowd Sunday afternoon.
The steel sculpture, by local artist Faye Anderson, hangs on the wall of the Eldredge Public Library to the left of the Library Lane entrance.
“This is a big milestone for us,” club president Lorraine Cocolis said just before Joanna Sherman, a member of the five-person committee that worked on the project, cut a holiday-like ribbon tied around the base of the sculpture.
Sunday's dedication, attended by about 75 people, was the end of a three-year process, said Ann Hosmer, chairman of the club's centennial gift committee. The club's 100th anniversary was in 2015; the group began working on the project in 2014, enlisting the help and involvement of a number of town officials and the library's staff and board of trustees.
“For us, this has been a really long time coming,” Hosmer said. “We spent a lot of time trying to come up with what we thought would be the best thing” for the club and the town.
The female nature of the sculpture's symbolism makes it even more relevant today, especially being associated with the library. Director Irene Gillies said for most of its more than 120 years, the library has been run by women; Edna Hardy was librarian for 46 years, and Gillies will soon retire after 38 years as director. Women “have always kept things moving forward” in town, she said.
“I'm thrilled to have this moment, really, here at the library. [The sculpture] is dedicated to the women of Chatham, past, present and future.”
When she first heard about the project, Anderson thought she was too busy to take it on. But she was interested, so came up with an idea, meeting with the club members to connect and personally explain her concept. Initially the idea was more elaborate than the simple, stylized tree that now hangs outside the library; it had leaves that represented different elements of the town. The simplified version, with the trunk rising to outstretched branches that seem to flow in the wind, got the committee's nod.
“What they seemed to like was my idea to have the tree blowing over the bench that's there,” Anderson said. When seen from the road it looks as if the bench, and a nearby memorial sculpture of a small boy, are both underneath the tree.
Solid steel bars make up most of the sculpture. Anderson first laid the pieces over a drawing of the tree on the floor of her Chatham studio, then bent and shaped the steel with hammer and welding torch using a “good old fashioned forge.” Some steel pipe was used in the trunk “to try to make it not weigh 50 million pounds, which was a concern for everybody.” The sculpture had to be light enough not to damage the bricks onto which it is affixed.
It took a while to get the piece looking just right. “I spent two weeks just getting the oxidation state right, so that it blends with the building and looks like it's been there a long time,” Anderson said. Steel oxidizes well on the Cape, and that type of finish will make is mostly maintenance free.
That was one of the criteria for the sculpture, Hosmer said. It also had to be permanent, appropriate for the town, and celebrate women.
“I think we're so fortunate that what we have upstairs does all that,” she said at a reception in the library's lower level meeting room following the dedication.