Thanks for being here today. My name is Sierra and my work is with birch bark. It was quite an interesting journey that brought me to this art, so I believe I’ll start from the beginning.
I was born March 18th, 1987 in Providence, Rhode Island. My parents (Hawk and Lisa) gifted me with the name Sierra Autumn Henries. “Sierra” representing the mountains and, well, I think “autumn” is pretty self explanatory. My point is, my love for nature was truly from the moment of birth.
Over the years, I started to create art and my interest in natural mediums only grew. Although so did my need to have the details in my various creations exactly as I saw them in real life. For example, my mother came upon me one day attempting to draw a tree.
She thought it looked wonderful (as any mother should) but I was becoming increasingly frustrated as each leaf appeared less and less like the ones I was viewing on the branch in front of me… I was two years old.
Needless to say I don’t draw trees anymore……
…………I draw on them instead.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For my first pyrography work was not on birch bark at all. Rather, I had a novel idea. Something very few had accomplished before. I did wood burning…..on wood. That’s right, at about the age of fifteen, my pyrography debut was small wooden discs bearing my designs with small beaded loops to be used for hanging from your Christmas tree. I thought they were fun and as it turns out, the wonderful people who venture into our shows thought they were more then just fun. They loved them! One woman loved them so much, she bought every piece I had including the small tree I had them displayed on! She remains one of my fans to this day and I thank her for her support.
As exciting as the “Christmas ornament” phase of my life was, eventually the time came when I felt my art needed to be expanded, to infuse new mediums, to grow to a new level. And of course, I wanted to make more money. (there’s just no way of avoiding it. believe me, I’ve tried.)
So my next adventure commences with gourds. Those gorgeous curvy fruits that have been so versatile and so vital to cultures throughout history. Many of the dried gourds that I worked with came from the small town of Pineville Louisiana, grown on a farm by our good friends Tom and Zelda. Zelda does beautiful gourd work herself! See here.
I enjoyed working with gourds. They were a way of expressing myself on a larger scale and appealing to a broader variety of customers. But this journey was certainly a test of patience. One would think that holding a red hot iron to the skin of this plant would burn a clean crisp line with ease. Not so true. The mighty armor of the gourd held it’s ground and at the end of the race (which I “ran” for between three and four years) the score was apparent, gourds:1, my patience:0.
Which I believe brings us to the part of the story you really wanted to hear, how the next path I chose was the one of birch bark. Well, If I'm going to be honest with you – which I am – there was no moment of enlightenment, no miraculous light bulb above my head. Although, I do have to give (some of the) credit to my mom. She may have suggested it one or two times. In any case, it just seemed to make sense. Many native cultures across the world, including my own, had and have been using birch bark for countless generations, and I feel honored to carry on that tradition. The birch eased its’ self into my work naturally and I have continued using it ever since.
I really feel that my method of pyrography, when applied to the bark, is a rather nice match – in my humble opinion. Although all artwork can have it’s stressful points, I enjoy the process very much. From spending time with the trees and collecting the bark, to the finished piece, working with birch always puts a smile on my face.
It is such a beautiful tree in it’s entirety, and when examined closely, reveals a rainbow of colors. I have seen bark ranging in shades from white and tan, to orange and purple. What a pleasure it has been.
Not only have these trees given me the perfect medium to rest my art on, but they have also given me the opportunity to travel to many a wonderful place. I have seen every state along the coastline from New England to Louisiana while participating in art shows.
I felt very lucky to be commissioned by Roger Williams University, and also received a generous grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts. Such amazing experiences have been part of my life and I am grateful that my art has brought me many of them.
My thanks also goes to you, simply for taking the time to read this. Which I believe concludes my story…..for now at least.
Have you thanked a tree today?
~ Sierra Henries