“The Tree of Life” in the St. Luke’s Prayer Chapel was created by Linda Henke and generously given to St. Luke’s.
Linda has exhibited in our East Art Gallery in 2021 and will return in December 2022. - We are deeply grateful to Linda.
While the primary focus of my art practice has been the creation of commissioned textile projects purposed for liturgical use, I’ve also had the privilege of exploring a variety of other art forms.
I have, for example, experimented with creating free-form, three-dimensional coiled forms and, at some point, I began integrating assorted found objects into that coiled work. This is why, when I noticed that a tree had fallen down in the empty lot across the street from our home, I couldn’t wait to see what sort of treasures I might find there. When I went to check out the possibilities, I found more than anticipated: I found Jesus!
I did not, of course, literally encounter the person of Jesus, but I did find a lovely portion of the tree that spoke to me of the crucified Christ, the Tree of Life. It was large and heavy. My spouse and I rented a chain saw to cut it to the approximate size I envisioned using for a sculpture, and, somehow, we managed to drag it across the vacant lot, through the garage, and down a flight of stairs into my studio.
Most of the bark had already fallen off, so I was able to immediately begin scraping and sanding the surface. As I worked, I discovered some interesting patterns in the wood, which a friend explained to me were made by wood borers. I discovered a crack in what I had envisioned being the back of the work; the discovery inspired me to make that the front and to pack the crack with crimson yarn to create the subtle suggestion of a rivulet of blood. As I worked on the surface, I became aware of a knotty protrusion located in a place that brought to mind Jesus’ heart. A diagonal slice from the bottom of the tree provided reference to Jesus’ face. My favorite part of the process came as I applied multiple coats of teak oil, as each application brought the sculpture incrementally to life.
Throughout my work on the Tree of Life, I had envisioned it as referencing the crucified Christ, and the finished work certainly does that. What continues to amaze me is how the uplifted “arms” of the sculpture also give expression to the joy and wonder of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the power of evil. Without any conscious intention on my part, the declares the great mystery of the Christian faith:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
I am delighted that my Tree of Life work has found a “home” in St. Luke United Methodist Church’s Prayer Chapel. When I first visited the installed work, I was moved by the powerful way that the Tree of Life complements the beautiful, meditative character of the chapel space. My prayer is that the work will bless you, even as it has blessed me.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Linda Witte Henke is a designer/artist whose creative impulse finds expression in work purposed for liturgical use and expressive of the intersection of life and faith in her personal journey. Informed by academic degrees in journalism and theology, extensive studies in art and surface design, and experiences as a parish pastor and published author, Linda’s work is exhibited and resides in collections in Europe, Asia, and throughout the United States. Learn more about her ministry in the arts at www.lindahenke.com.