Tree of Life

Tree of Life
silk embroidery
Gift of Lucile Harris, 1972

The Tree of Life as a symbol of divine providence, of transcendence, of good and fruitful life, of reemergence, of continuity, and of eternity, has been widely adopted by practitioners of faith since 2000 BCE. Bridwell Library’s well-worn, intricately crafted cloth bearing an embroidered Tree was described by the donor as a Venetian altar cloth, although the proportions and imagery also would be consistent with use as a parochet, the curtain covering the doors enclosing the Torah scroll in a synagogue ark. Bound in by grape cluster borders and panels of foliage the center panel depicts the Tree in the Garden as the “spring of life” with rivers flowing left and right from its roots. A flame may be discerned in the crown of the Tree and a pair of bushes flanking the trunk also appear to display tongues of fire, references to the covenantal and revelatory nature of Scripture. The stylized Byzantine character of the central panel points toward long traditions found, among other regions, along Italy’s northern Adriatic coast where women in Jewish communities practiced sophisticated home production of silk embroidery intended for liturgical use.

This parament was given to Bridwell Library by Dallas arts patron Lucile Herzseld Harris (1899–1977). Mrs. Harris was married to Leon Abraham Harris (1886–1935) whose department store, A. Harris, merged to become the Sanger-Harris Company. Bridwell Library was the beneficiary of a number of gifts from Mrs. Harris and her son Leon Harris, Jr. (1926–2000), ranging from Judaic literature to historic furniture.

Altar cloth.jpg
Second Floor Corridor
Tree of Life