Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ginkgo Leaves

Christina Ferwerda shares this about her tattoos:

Early on in my career as an exhibit developer (in fact, during my first paid internship) I was asked to work on a professional development project for the National Parks Department. As they manage a number of sites that have both natural and scientific significance, the firm I was interning for directed me to go out to the local city park and root around.

Coming from an art and history background, I initially gravitated to the monuments, bronzed statues of dead white men high up on pedestals. But then, because of (or perhaps in spite of, I’m never quite sure which) that same art and history background, I ended up gravitating towards a simple leaf fluttering in the breeze overhead. The bi-lobed shape was visually pleasing, like a Japanese fan or a Belle Époque lady in a bustled dress. The leaves have dichotomous venation, meaning that the veins bifurcate from the stem but never criss-cross.

This simple discovery lead to a fascinating series of discoveries – Ginkgo trees were thought to be extinct until the 1690s, when they were found in a Buddhist temple garden in China. The Ginkgo trees in Hiroshima were amongst the first things to bloom after the atomic bomb destroyed the city. Ginkgoes are also incredibly hardy (often referred to as “living fossils”), which is why they are planted so widely in urban environments. This continuous unfolding was one of the most satisfying learning experiences in my Museum career, and when I work I often think of how to create or inspire that kind of unfolding in others.

I’d wanted to get the leaf as a tattoo, and went many times to different studios in Brooklyn to ask about getting it done. In the meantime, life went on. I’ve continued to grow my museum career, as well as starting a serious yoga practice, starting to study Buddhism, moving, and of course starting and ending a few relationships. The symbolic ginkgo in my mind was similar to its real-life counterpart – it was a survivor. And so just a few years ago, on a particularly rainy vacation in Seattle, I made an appointment at an unknown studio, and got the leaves inked onto my shoulder. It’s a constant reminder of both hidden wonders and the possible unfolding discoveries in nature, and of course the survival skills necessary in this business and in New York.

You can find out more about Christina's museum work and yoga practice by visiting her website.

Want to share your own story and tattoo?
Email Beth: beth (at) redmond-jones (dot) com or Paul: info (at) orselli (dot) net.


  1. Have you ever come across ginkgo furniture by Claude Lalanne? He incorporates ginkgo leaves and other plants into his tables, chairs, benches, and other furniture.

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