Tree of Life video from Mara Levine

We don’t hear often from Mara Levine, but each time we do she has a song that seems to touch people in a deeply personal way. More a folksinger than a bluegrass artist, Mara is also a talented crafter, and her appreciation for the simple things has always resonated with people of a like mind.

Now, in honor of March 16 as National Quilting Day, she has released a song and a music video for Tree of Life, a song written by Eric Peltoniemi for the musical stage play, Plain Hearts: Songs and Stories of Midwestern Prairie Women, in 1983. The play was written by Lance Belville, with songs and music by Peltoniemi, with a theme that celebrates pioneer women of the midwest during the early 20th century.

Levine recorded the song for her current Facets of Folk project, and created this music video for Tree of Life with Valerie Smith of Bell Buckle Records for National Quilting Day, celebrated over this past weekend. The tree of life pattern has a long history in folk art of every kind, just as it has been used as an inspiration for intricate fretboard inlays on fretted stringed instruments over the years.

Mara tells us that the first two verses of the song are a litany of quilt block pattern names, and that the songwriter had told her that he had found the various names so evocative that he didn’t think he could improve upon them as a lyric.

She says that the video was produced in a collaborative process, building on the work of several others.

“In America, quilting is a representation of the fusion of various cultural traditions, including indigenous peoples, African American, and European. Every tradition contributes to and borrows from this art form, which continues to evolve. Social messages are often incorporated into quilt designs as well.

The video includes images of women quilting from different time periods, cultures, and ethnicities, and images of historic quilts and more modern quilts that expressed social messages including diversity, aids memorials, sexual assault awareness and prevention, and women’s suffrage.

While searching for a feature quilt for the chorus, I found the beautiful Tree of Life quilt by Davina ‘Dee’ Martin (© 2013). Fortunately I was able to locate Dee and got permission to use her work, which was inspired in turn by a mixed media painting Tree and Stars by Loretta  Grayson (© 2011).

I researched the traditional quilt block patterns mentioned in the song, and designed or licensed those I could not find. Next I painstakingly cloned the fabrics from Dee’s quilt using Paint Shop Pro to color the blocks that would ‘bloom’ around her piece.

Finally, Hillary Foxsong created the background and the border of blocks surrounding the quilt.

I am dedicating the video in memory of Ed Trickett (1941-2022). I was honored that he played the hammered dulcimer on my recording.”

With Mara singing lead, support came from Trickett on hammered dulcimer, Caroline Cutroneo on guitar, and John Guth on bass. Harmony vocals were provided by Levine, Cutroneo, and Hillary Foxsong.

Have a listen to Tree of Life while you enjoy the music video.

After sharing the video with the songwriter, Eric responded with…

“What an exceptional job you have done creating this beautiful video. I’m honored that you undertook this project.

For every songwriter there are songs that arrive over the years that become a gift, not only to themselves, but to others as well. Through the folk process the songs grow with the voice and inspiration of artists and listeners who make them their own. A sort of laying on of hands, so to speak.

Thanks Mara for being one of those artists who, like Ed Trickett, have nurtured and kept Tree of Life’s heart beating these past four decades.”

Well done all!

Tree of Life, and the full Facets of Folk album, can be purchased on audio CD or for digital download directly from the artist online.

Share this:

About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.