[N.B. This charter is a work in progress.]
The Tree of Life Guild
An Arts, Crafts, and Services Community in Ashland, Oregon
Building Eternity-in-Time through Lives and Works of Beauty
“My work is the embodiment of dreams…”
— William Morris
Where shall Hope be found? The world conspires against it. As civilization advances towards ecological exhaustion and solipsistic over-consumption, the ancient, sacred and earthbound ties of family, friendship, and community wither away. The machinery grinds on. Society organizes human relations around the cash-nexus. Use, not love, becomes the Machiavellian principle: the value of a person is measured by what use he or she is to an employer, a corporation, or an institution.
We are less citizens than consumers: exploitable aggregates of nerve impulses. Mild jolts of faux-pleasure replace a sustained, deep engagement with the world, slowly corroding the dignity of the human person.
Dreamers pass through this wasteland like pilgrims on the stations of the cross, registering sorrow after sorrow, unable to do more than mourn and memorialize. Despair sets in.
“Apart from my desire to produce beautiful things,” William Morris wrote, “the leading passion of my life is hatred of modern civilisation.”
Hatred is a strong motivating force, but hope is a stronger one. Hope, born from a seasoned hate, is a burning ember beneath the ashes of history. Where shall Hope be found?
William Morris was a Pilgrim of Hope. He believed that Beauty could save the world. The aesthetic could be a source for communal feeling. Art could express joy in labor. Embodied dreams could have emancipatory potential.
“Beauty will Save the World” ~Fyodor Dostoevsky
Oscar Wilde wrote that Morris’s goal was “to return by a self-conscious effort to the conditions of an earlier and a fresher age…We breathe a purer air, and have dreams of a time when life had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and was simple and stately and complete.”
For Morris, the realm of myth and imagination could be a source to renew a flagging, spiritually exhausted country ravaged by the Industrial Revolution.
Morris & Co. was a fraternal movement, designed to reconfigure exploitative, market-determined relations as cor-ad-cor encounters. The objects that came out of the Arts & Crafts movement — stained glass, furniture, tapestries, illuminated books, and wallpaper, to begin with — were artfully designed products meant to ennoble everyday life through Beauty.
Objects handcrafted with care and aesthetic discernment allow the artist and the artisan, the thinker and the worker, to unite in one active, engaged being. Humankind is a source unlimited promethean energy, both creative and destructive. Imagination is a form of creative labor, the ongoing project of building Eternity-in-Time. The artisan and craftsman combines the energies of mind, soul, and body in one fulfilling enterprise, finding joy in pleasurable, useful labor in service to others.
The Tree of Life Guild is committed to an ethos of love, not use; beauty, not luxury; craft, not commerce; prophecy, not profit. By returning to a medieval guild model of expressive handicraft, pleasure may be restored to labor, and Beauty might return to daily life.
“. . . to return by a self-conscious effort to the conditions of an
earlier and a fresher age…We breathe a purer air, and have dreams of a time when life had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and was
simple and stately and complete.”—William Morris
Beauty disarms. Beauty inspires. Beauty endures. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty is a trinitarian principle: none of the principles are complete without the others (as Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty…”). Art is Beauty (Truth and Goodness) in praxis.
It is a utopian project which aims restore a sense of humanity’s divine and eternal worth in society that values profit over principle, consumerism over community.
The Tree of Life Guild protests this culture of the disposable. Its protest takes the life-affirming form of friendship, family, community, storytelling, myth-making, and expressive arts and crafts. This form of protest against the modern world is solicitous, not confrontational; it appeals to humanity’s spontaneous response to Beauty. When truth and goodness seem irreparably harmed by force, cruelty, propaganda, and other forms of human use, Beauty touches the heart, speaks to the spirit, the soul of the person.
There is a social as well as moral and aesthetic dimension to this project. The answer to world poverty is voluntary simplicity. This does not entail a loss or a lack, but rather a gain. The Tree of Life Guild aims to show that a local, self-sustaining agrarian economy is the soil in which Beauty can flourish. Beauty should be held in common, available to all, like land, food, and faith, rather than the exclusive preserve of the privileged. A love of art is pleasure in life. The glory of God is man fully alive; and man realizes his/her truth by a vision of God.
“With the arrogance of youth,” William Morris wrote, “I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”
In Ashland, a beautiful small corner of the world, Morris’s work goes on. A community of love and life counts itself blessed to inherit the legacy of Morris and all those who believe in the salvific role of Beauty, Truth and Goodness.
We take the torch from their hands. The Tree of Life Guild commits to a civilization of love, to a simple and happy life, in the company of our friends and fellows, in the service of God, through the making of beautiful lives and beautiful things. We affirm the beauty of God, creation, and the person.
We aim to transform the world with Beauty. Our work is an embodiment of dreams. If you find this vision and its promise compelling, please join us in our endeavor to make the world beautiful in a small corner—the family, the neighborhood, the wider community.
We shall count ourselves blessed.