Messengers, by Amanda Matthews
The Dryad Series, Messengers, is a decades-long, ongoing body of work showing the transformation of wood (and found natural objects) into mythical representations of the undying spirit of love. By combining seemingly disparate objects into a new form, a "third entity" essence emerges. Through various iterations, this work seeks to capture the magic and mystery of our place, as animated spirits, within the natural world while deeply considering the spectra of gender and sexuality through a cultural and anthropological lens.
As a child, I retreated to the hills and forests of rural Kentucky and became part of the quiet surroundings. There, through a kinship, I felt the wisdom, evolution, and movement of the trees; the other spiritual beings existing in harmony, void of judgment. The spirit of the tree has a watchful, abiding presence. Trees are our sacred ancestors. They have lived on earth for 360 million years, while humans have existed here for approximately 200,000 years. Humans represent 48 seconds in the 24-hour day that is the life of trees.
My work represents many iterations of the philosophy that we are born from our innate connection with Nature and each other. We are ancestor and descendant, amoeba and mammoth, hawk and mouse, forest and wind, chaos and pattern, particle and wave. We are all born from the same stars, sculpted from the same source, and contain the same life.
Thuja, Tree of Life, Dryad
Inspired by a beautiful section of cedar resembling a human leg and partial torso, Thuja was born, which is Latin for “tree of life.” Thuja’s form incorporates elements of two sexes and seeks to trouble the naturalized acceptance of a gender binary. Thuja represents a third entity essence, which is better understood on a spectrum.
In Eastern Mysticism, Yin and Yang are forces that form everything that exist. Yin is the primordial spirit from which life sprang, the feminine—the soul and inspiration behind all action. And yang is the action, the fire for life, the masculine. If Yin is breath, then yang is the act of breathing—each dependent on the other to complete the circle or cycle. Opposites and all relative variations are included in the spectra of Yin and Yang, including dark and light, cold and hot, water and fire, and to some degree female and male, which manifest as iterations of Yin and Yang.
Rhiza, Honeysuckle Root Dryad, Nubian
Inspired by a large honeysuckle root, Rhiza's name is a derivative of rhizome or root. Nubians are sometimes referred to as the "Root" of civilization because they were a very early agrarian society, rather than nomadic.
Rhiza embodies the visceral desire to procreate, adapt, and survive. She embraces the universe and all its mystical power. Creativity is necessary for her survival–through aboriginal song, dance, painting, and sculpture. Rhiza represents the root of civilization by creating a sense of place, deriving life from the soil, and cultivating the land. She lives directly through the heartbeat of the earth and gives of herself to enrich the lives of her descendants. She is a leader. Death has no power over her, as she understands rebirth in all of nature.
Scabbard was inspired by a beautiful, hollow, burl section of a tree. Commonly described as gilded, a scabbard is defined as a sheath for the blade of a sword or dagger, typically made of leather and including metal, with the most prized described as gilded bronze.
In classical Latin, the word vāgīna originally meant sheath or scabbard and lacked any direct reference to the female. The meaning of the word later shifted in the medieval era to refer to female genitalia.
Inspired by a large section of wood resembling a woman and another shaped like a snake, Lilith represents the collision of two mighty forces - reason and religious oppression. In this, Lilith sees an elemental divide in the understanding of the feminine place in the universe. She understands that female and male are equal forces and rails against the tenet that a dogma dictates otherwise.
Lilith represents a strong, wise woman who has endured in folklore for thousands of years both as goddess and demon, but always as the first feminist.
She chose freedom and independence over a dominating companion and his theology. She lived among nature, where she is revered as integral - the divine feminine. For Lilith, Hell is manifest by unchecked power in the hands of the misguided.
Katsina was born from a small stick that appeared to be dancing, found while walking with my two small daughters along a riverbed in Kentucky.
Katsina is a reference to Native American dolls, carved by the Hopi, as representatives of the Katsinam, the spirit messengers of the universe. They are given to girls in infancy to help them learn about their responsibilities as women in the community. Katsina beckons the power and beauty of nature in female form, looks to the sky for her inspiration, and needs no intermediary to express her wisdom, intellect, grace, and gifts. She is the sacred dancer.
She hears and understands the music of the Universe and dances in rhythm with the elements while moving throughout time and existence. She moves with reason and enlightenment to the songs of all ancient religions, while knowing that she and the stars and the trees are all sculpted from the same source and contain the same life.
Inspired by a section of horned, burl hard oak, Pan is the Greek god of shepherds and flocks, mountains, hunting, and rustic music. He is most depicted as having the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, with the upper body and hands of a man, resembling a faun. The god Pan is portrayed as the personification of the entire cosmos, embodying both the lower animal nature as well as the higher spiritual nature of humanity.
Pan's dual nature as both divine and animal plays upon the tenuous balance between chaos and harmony, the primal and the cultured.
Pan was also considered responsible for causing individual, possession-like disruptions of the psyche, or panolepsy, a euphoric alteration of consciousness sometimes referred to as divine mania. The word panic itself is attributed to Pan for many reasons. In addition, Pan was later known for his music, which was capable of arousing inspiration, sexuality, or even panic itself, depending upon the god's intentions.
The name, Amalthea, in Greek means tender goddess. Represented as a goat or female goat-hybrid, Amalthea suckled the baby Zeus as his foster mother, providing nourishment, and allowing him to grow.
The feeding of Zeus was not without its dangers, for it was said that at one time when Zeus was suckling, he became rambunctious and broke off one of the goat’s horns. The broken horn was imbued with magical properties, providing it with whatever the owner wished for, and became known as the Horn of Plenty, or the Cornucopia.
Amalthea is also associated with the Aegis of Zeus, the thunder shield used by the god to protect him. It is said that the god made use of Amalthea's hide after she died to create this protective goatskin shield. Zeus also honored her by placing her amongst the stars as the constellation Capra, which simply means "she-goat."
Inspired by jawbones and driftwood, Relic is a horse-spirit dryad resembling a paleontological find. It is an homage to the painting, Anguish, by August Friedrich Schenck, reflecting a mother’s willingness to die in order to protect her children. It also speaks to the length of time a mother remains in anguish over the loss of her child, which endures long after she becomes an ancestor as an imprint on her soul.
Ptelea, Elm Tree Hamadryad
Hamadryads are born bonded to a certain tree. Some maintain that a hamadryad is the tree itself, with a normal dryad being simply the indwelling entity, or spirit, of the tree. If the tree should die, the hamadryad associated with it would die as well. For this reason, both dryads and gods would punish mortals who harmed trees.
THE HAMADRYADES were eight Dryad daughters of the forest-spirit Oxylos ("Of the Forest") and the nymph Hamadryas ("One With Tree") of Mount Oita (Oeta) in northern Greece.
Athena is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill.
Athena is often depicted with an owl or as an owl.
Two Dimensional & Bas-Relief Work in the Series