Nov. 23: Her ‘Trees of Hope’ head to KDH Library

By on November 1, 2019

Trees of Hope comes to the Outer Banks this weekend.  Come out to KDH Library this Saturday, Nov. 23 from noon to 4 p.m. to contribute your message to this rotating art installation by Edith Deltgen.

“Edith Deltgen Living Art.”

Edith Deltgen’s art asks viewers to turn pain into hope. Her annual art installation, “Trees of Hope,” now in its fourth year, will come to the Kill Devil Hills Library this month, from Nov. 21-23. The rotating exhibition found previous homes in Columbia, Swan Quarter and Ocracoke.

As in past years, “Trees of Hope” will consist of dozens of strips of fabric hanging from trees. Deltgen receives assistance from numerous volunteers, including schoolchildren of all ages, to hang the fabric. Participants are encouraged to write messages of hope and solidarity on the fabric pieces.

The motivation behind Deltgen’s project stems from her own loss. Three of her children have died in the past several years, including a son last March, another son three years ago, and a daughter six years ago.

The installation specifically aims to raise awareness for people and their families dealing with mental health issues, drug addiction and cancer. One of Deltgen’s sons died from a drug overdose, and her daughter died of breast cancer.

She remembers that son as someone who enjoyed surfing on the Outer Banks in the summer and snowboarding in the mountains during the winter. Her daughter was also an artist, living in Germany, who succumbed to cancer in her mid-forties.

“There is nobody who is not affected by addiction” these days, Deltgen said. She believes art to be one of the best and most constructive ways to manage, express and release the pain caused by grief and death.

Deltgen is a German artist from Cologne. But she has lived in America for decades. She and her husband Florian, who is from Luxembourg, settled in Washington D.C. before moving to the Outer Banks in 1993, where they purchased a house in Colington. Fourteen years ago, they moved to Columbia, where they built a large house outside of town.

(Photo by Lucy Papachristou)

In Deltgen’s sunlit studio, piles and piles of fabric are heaped on the floor, waiting to be cut into strips. On the strips — many of them reused from past exhibitions and faded by the sun — are written messages like “Be Strong” and “Trust God.”

Deltgen has also collected plastic bottles, weighted with stones, into which volunteers can place messages. The bottles will be hung from the tree by ropes, she said. A bolt of fabric dotted with butterflies symbolizes hope, and one with puzzle pieces, she said, represents people with learning disabilities.

Deltgen buys much of the fabric she uses in bulk at thrift stores, but she also receives generous donations from friends and local residents.

On a desk in her studio lies an electric scissors, a gift from a friend, which Deltgen says has been a godsend in speeding up the fabric-cutting process. She and her volunteers used to get blisters from hours of cutting with traditional scissors.

A close friend recently gave her several suitcases full of yarn, which she hinted will be used in her next project. “But I have no patience for knitting,” she admitted.

The turnout at her past exhibitions has been good, and the community welcomes her project, Deltgen explained. After a townsperson approached her, grieving over the death of his daughter, Edith decided to do an exhibition in Columbia.

“I had so much help [in Columbia],” Deltgen said. “From the police, to the bankers, to the people at the post office — everybody.”

That first “Trees of Hope” project was staged at the Pocosin Art Center in 2016. Deltgen and her volunteers cut more than 800 pieces of fabric. The next year, in Swan Quarter, she used 1,500 pieces. The exhibition came to Ocracoke last May and was held in the yard of The Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar, near the local school.

As a German artist living in small town North Carolina, Deltgen characterizes herself as something of a “painted bird.” And “Trees of Hope” she believes, helps her connect with community members from all walks of life.

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