Dancing Sisters is the exquisite new bottle tree sculpture made from Cor-Ten® steel and containing nearly 400 cobalt blue bottles. It was designed and fabricated by Southern folklore metal artist, Stephanie Dwyer, during early spring of 2015 to replace the original cedar bottle trees created in 2008.
Stephanie noted in her description of Dancing Sisters that she named them because, “They are strong and carefree. They have an organic quality about them and a human sense of spirit; a threshold connection between us and nature and what better place to see this than in a Children’s Garden?”
According to Felder Rushing, noted garden designer, self-proclaimed bottle tree historian, and author of Bottle Trees and Other Whimsical Glass Art for the Garden, the history of bottle trees dates back to the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. In ancient lore, roaming night spirits could be lured into and trapped by bottles placed around entryways, where morning light would destroy them.
Over many generations, the belief that bottles gathered and destroyed evil spirits was carried from the Middle East, west into Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and, ultimately, the Americas by African slaves. While the story has many interesting turns, in modern times bottle trees have become an iconic theme associated with Southern gardens. Their evolution and emerging general popularity as an art form is largely due to the gardening traditions that originated within the African-American community.
At Shangri La, the origins of our bottle trees can be traced back to the work of landscape architect, Tary Arterburn, who at the time was with Mesa Design Associates, Inc. During his involvement with the renovation at Shangri La, Tary envisioned a grouping of bottle trees on an all-natural framework in the Children’s Garden.
This idea was translated into reality when four Texas Hill Country red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana) slated for removal on a highway project, were identified, selected, cut, and transported to Shangri La to become the bottle tree framework. While red cedar is reasonably resistant to decay, the heat and humidity of southeast Texas took a toll on the bottle trees and they deteriorated in just a few short years.
As a result, in the summer of 2014, a search for an artist began to create a new bottle tree sculpture. Stephanie Dwyer was selected and Dancing Sisters is a piece of art that invites visitors to explore its sinuous nature and ethereal character. Through Stephanie’s creativity and passion, a new bottle tree tradition has come to life at Shangri La; one that visitors of all ages can continue to enjoy for many years to come.