Artist donates ‘Tree of Knowledge’ to school

COLUMBIA — St. Peter School recently dedicated a new religious artwork donated to the school by Stephanie Leach. Some of the artist’s other works are currently on display at the City Art Gallery in Columbia.

The three dimensional piece, titled “The Tree of Knowledge,” is a series of colorful ceramic shapes configured into a large apple tree. It now stands in the entrance hall of the school. Leach, a University of South Carolina graduate with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, created the work in honor of her grandmother, Marion Leach, a grant writer for the University of Alabama who paid for her granddaughter’s last semester of college.

The piece was originally part of a larger display, “Choices Presented/Decisions Made,” which Leach created for her bachelor’s thesis. The contemporary work is a visual representation of biblical stories beginning with humanity’s first choice in the Garden of Eden and ending with a contemporary depiction of the Last Supper, showing the choice humanity can make today.

All of Leach’s major works have religious significance. For example, at the gallery she has a grouping of three-dimensional snakes that represent the seven deadly sins. The name of each sin is written on the snake in Latin. “The Miracle at Cana” consists of three jugs of water next to three jugs of wine. “Calling of Disciples — Fishers of Men” was recently purchased by Columbia International College for its campus. In “Fishers of Men,” Leach created a modern scene of disciples responding to Christ’s call, with men and women of all ages and nationalities represented in the piece.

“When I was studying the masters like Michelangelo and da Vinci, I decided I wanted to restore art to its initial purpose for the church, instead of creating art for art sake,” said the young artist.

She searched over a year to find the right spot for the tree sculpture. Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter Church, suggested that she talk to the principal of St. Peter School, Madeline McMillion.

“Since we are a school, I thought the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ was so appropriate for our environment, and we are fortunate to be able to display artwork of this caliber at our school,” said McMillion.

Leach is delighted that her work found a home at the school because she and her family are parishioners at St. Peter Church.