Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

CNHI/SE Iowa

May 17, 2012

Joplin creates 'Spirit Tree' as tornado monument

JOPLIN, Mo. — Little surrounds the brightly-colored, tornado-ravaged tree that towers 30 to 40 feet in the air and yet it has become the new spirit of the community.

The group of local artists painting the "spirit tree" says it represents a way to inspire the city's recovery from a devastating twister one year ago. They also hope it makes a lasting statement.

“Every aspect of this tree seemed perfect. It stands alone. Battered, but stately," said artist Delores Bilke. "It portrays the strength of Joplin."

The artists said the “spirit tree” was inspired by southwest Missouri's Native American history.

“The Native Americans believe that the spirit sticks their medicine men carry, also called prayer sticks, were especially powerful if chosen from a tree that was struck by lightning,” said Ashley Bilke, who worked on a similar project two years ago at Joplin High School.

“I feel like that’s applicable here, considering the tornado and the storm, which was part of the reason we chose a tree in the middle of the path.”

Passers-by stop to see the tree and chat the artists since the project got underway. Darrel Bilke said there has been no negative feedback, which isn’t always the case with art.

“I’m always glad to see something lift people’s spirits,” said Jeanette Roberts, of Joplin, who stopped by Monday with her husband, Warren.

The tree is the group’s way to remember the 161 people who lost their lives in the historic F-5 tornado, and to honor the everyday heroes and the volunteers who came to help Joplin recover.

Ashley Bilke said the paint colors represent different things: White is spirit, red is life, yellow is knowledge, black is clarity, blue is prayer, purple is healing, and orange is kinship with other living creatures.

“I feel like it’s symbolic of everything that we’ve gone through — how it’s been horrible, how it’s been hard,” she said.

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