Our Tree of Knowledge

This spring is an excellent time to take a close look at the library’s Tree of Knowledge sculpture by Yellow Springs resident and internationally noted sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson.

Bronze tree sculpture outside Yellow Springs Community Library
Jon Barlow Hudson’s Tree of Knowledge

Inspired by a library program presented by the sculptor, members of the Yellow Springs Library Association decided Hudson’s hometown should have one of his sculptures. Starting in 1989, the Sculpture Committee, chaired by Frieda Abrams, set out to make that happen. Significant funding came from the Ohio Arts Council, but most of the funds were contributed by Yellow Springs businesses, organizations, and individuals.

Jon Hudson chose the tree form because of all it can symbolize: wisdom, life, knowledge, generation, fruitfulness. It could be an axis mundi, or connection between heaven and earth. Trees can be converted into paper for books, but here are books made into a tree. It’s a good fit for a town that values the reading and writing of books as well as the planting, nourishing, and loving of trees.

Binding detail from the Tree of Knowledge sculpture
Binding details

Jon began work on the actual sculpture by getting piles and piles of old books. He experimented with different ways of stacking them into a tree shape until he decided on the spiral vortex of the final design. Once the stack was completed, latex molds of it were made, section by section. The molds were removed, reassembled and poured full of hot wax, eventually creating a wax replica of the stack. The wax sections were covered with a ceramic shell which was baked, causing the wax to melt and run out. The shells were then poured full of liquid bronze. When that had cooled, the shells were broken off. The rough bronze pieces were sand-blasted, welded, ground, and polished, then assembled back into the original tree shape.

Book leaves detail from the Tree of Knowledge sculpture
Books flying out of the vortex

The leaves that spin out of the top of the tree were fabricated from sheet metal, cut and folded into shape and welded into place. The patinas on the metals were done by applying chemicals and heat, and a protective coating was also applied.

While all that work was going on, the area south of Yellow Springs Community Library was made ready to receive the sculpture with new pavers and plantings designed by Roger Beal and placed by Gary Stutzman. On installation day, a large crane lifted the sculpture into place and it was bolted down. A celebration event was held on May 12, 1993.

Bookworm detail from the Tree of Knowledge sculpture
A bookworm enjoys a good read

When you take a close look at the Tree of Knowledge, take time to admire the detail, examine the book bindings, read the book spines, and find a “tree house”—or is it Dorothy’s Kansas house? Find a bookworm. Find a “book plate”—why would there be a “book plate” in a Yellow Springs tree? And who knew you could do puns in bronze? Also look for some outdated media formats that didn’t hold up nearly as well as books.

Some of the people who made the sculpture happen have moved on or passed on, but if you enjoy your visit to the sculpture, you might want to thank members of the original Sculpture Committee who are still our neighbors: Kay Curley, Julia Cady, Connie Crockett, Tia Huston, Margaret Silliman—and of course, Jon Barlow Hudson.