Renewal and Remembrance

One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had recently was to participate in the creation of a large metal sculpture designed to remember “those we love but no longer see.” Titled “Called By Name,” the work consists of a large orb constructed of hammered copper tubing to which copper leaves embossed with the names and initials of loved ones who have died have been attached. The sculpture is suspended over the branch of a beautiful old oak tree on the grounds of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

The sculpture’s creation was very much a group effort and, like many design projects, it took those of us involved several months to make the challenging but ultimately joyful journey from concept to reality.

Leaf on OrbDuring our brainstorming together, we knew we wanted to memorialize the dead in an understated but meaningful way, but struggled for a while with how best to do it. Once the shape of an orb had been decided upon and its armature created, things started to come into greater focus. With the idea that we were going to engrave names on pieces of metal that would get attached to the orb, we just needed to determine what those pieces of metal would look like. We tossed around several possible shapes (long metal spirals? small metal squares?) but ultimately settled (to this gardener’s great satisfaction) on the shape of a leaf.


For me, at least, the idea of a leaf was almost primal. We knew the sculpture would be displayed outdoors and needed to convey the concept of birth, death and re-birth. An organic pattern of metal leaves seemed a fitting choice as a simple but moving symbol of this eternal life cycle.


But using a leaf in a sculpture of remembrance also brought to mind the many conversations I’ve had over the years about the powerful imprint that a loved one’s garden has on people’s memories. Whether I’m talking with fellow designers, clients or (just the other day) my hairdresser, people often speak with great fondness and nostalgia about a garden tended by a parent, grandparent or close family friend.

The size and type of the garden never seem to matter. What does matter is the magic created by being in a garden that was tended by someone they cherished. Gardens make Nature personal. And a shared garden makes that connection more personal still.

Renoir Picking Flowers

In my mind’s eye, I can still see my dear Dad ministering to his wayward plants in the crazy quilt garden he loved to tend. That his initials are now stamped on a metal leaf attached to a handcrafted orb swaying from an old oak tree is a wonderful thing indeed.

Photo of metal leaf by Jim Quigley

Photo credit for emerging leaf: Untitled by Bruce Guenter via photopin (license)

“Picking Flowers” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1875)


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