As we embark on this new year, 2021, I personally have been almost desperately searching for details that speak to me. It might be the vision of an essential worker’s face etched with mask marks. It might be a story of courage from the trenches of the sick and suffering. It might even just be a quote or image.
Kahil Gibran is a Lebanese-American poet, who created for himself a name and place in the history of art and literature, despite living in adverse circumstances and many hardships. He tells us, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” This is a quote that ironically held true in his own life and could definitely be applied to this year of so much hurt.  2020 brought suffering and scarring, but how strong we have become!
During my reading, I seem to be doing a lot of that lately, I found a story that really moved me. In 2011 the tallest tree in Wales had been storm damaged. It was devastating as this tree had stood taller than a 20-story building with a height of around 209 feet. Instead of cutting it down the Natural Resources of Wales decided to commission an artist to carve it.
Simon O’Rourke is an environmental artist from North Wales who specializes in wood sculpture. He heard about this, researched, found the right people to talk to, and submitted a design. Simon found out that the area that surrounded the tree was known as the Giants of Vyrnwy. Inspired by that knowledge, he decided on a colossal, 50-foot hand, symbolizing the giants and the tree’s last attempt to reach for the sky. He was very excited at the prospect of working with this massive tree and memorializing a well-known landmark. O’Rourke’s design was chosen, and he immediately got to work planning. The ground was so treacherous that it took two days to erect scaffolding for him to stand on as he worked. Simon labored intensely for six days, using chainsaws and grinders. When he was done, he coated the entire sculpture in Tung Oil to protect it from the waterways close by.
The base of the sculpture is a tree with rough bark, but as you move your eyes upward, it transforms into the smooth skin of the arm and ends with the soft creases found in our palms and fingers. The result is this incredibly detailed carving of a giant hand reaching for the sky, which is both awesome and eerily realistic. The sculpture lies near Lake Vyrnwy, a reservoir in Powys, Wales, where everyone can enjoy it. Thousands of visitors have found this work majestic but are equally as intrigued by the story behind it. Simon O’Rourke says, “I loved working on the hand sculpture, it reminded me just how small we are compared to some of the living organisms on this planet. All in all, a humbling experience.
I am not sure why this story resonated with me, not sure if it will for you. However, I am sure that the image of the imperfect hand, extended skyward, carved in this tree, conveys a sense of wounded courage. This vision expresses the letting go of 2020 and welcoming in 2021. There is the rough, ugly, and damaged bark that is last year that makes room for the beauty, strength, and anticipation of the outstretched hand that is the New Year.
I wish you and all you love and care for a Happy New Year! –
Julie Ruchniewicz – Executive Director, HMA