Artist Stephanie Dwyer lectures some welding students from Orangefield High School about her bottle trees at Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange. She also welded some trellises for Shangri La and she received an invitation to exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

David Ball – For The Record

There are many ways to do art. For instance, Stephanie Dwyer happens to create her art using an arc welder.

Dwyer, of Paris, Tenn., created 17-feet-tall bottle trees now located in the Children’s Garden at Shangri La Botanical Garden last April. She was there last week to create five trellises and tell students from local schools about her creative process.

“My bottle trees give me a sense of purpose and a connection with people and how it brings us together,” she said. “To give back is a good balance.”

The Shangri La website stated attendees could learn about her passion for these bottles and the folk art history that connects the art, story and materials to artist.

“View how she creates these historical pieces that dazzle and delight children and adults alike. Learn about the artist’s recent invitation to exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. and enjoy the sculptures and artist in the Gardens,” it read.

Dwyer said the best way to view her bottle trees is viewing them from below.

She got into welding after attending welding school in her native Washington State. She tried other jobs and hated them, particularly the early morning hours, until she became an artist.

She moved to Mississippi to live with her mother and to try to heal their relationship.

She started making small items in a welding shop there and selling them out of the back of her truck. She attended an art show in which someone who liked her art asked her to make a bottle tree. Her aunt showed her what a bottle tree looked like and Dwyer thought it was “the ugliest thing” she had ever seen.

While studying bottle trees, however, she learned the bottle tree mythology and how in African folklore they guard the home and trap spirits that are drawn to the brightly-colored bottles and dissipate with morning’s light.

She decided to make her own bottle trees and not copy anyone else’s.

While in Louisiana she made her first Katrina bottle tree.

After her good friend, Barnes, who took her under his wing died, a cardinal came to her and sang to her for three days. People told her a cardinal will sing when somebody you love has passed on and they’re saying goodbye. Consequently, Dwyer made a cardinal on her finial for one of the trellises she made for Shangri La. She also has bluebirds on the trellises.

She also makes trees for hospice patients.

Dwyer said she puts her pain into her art and she gains happiness in return.

“I had a vision of the trees years ago. I didn’t know where they would be but I knew I would make them,” she said. “They’re my baby dolls. They’re my own personality.”

She next addressed her exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. Dwyer said she won’t believe it until she signs the contract.

She called her son in Seattle who said, “Mom, you don’t get this, this is the nation’s museum!” and gave her a reality check.

Dwyer uses blue bottles from the Northern Brewer Company to create her bottle trees. The old bottle trees, however, were made with Milk of Magnesia bottles.

“In the 1930s and 1940s, these sharecroppers would drink cheap, rotten liquor and then they would have to drink the Milk of Magnesia. They would throw the bottles underneath the house and they would make makeshift bottle trees in the (Mississippi) Delta,” she said.

Now she lives in a house on 1,700 acres in Tennessee in which she rescues and fosters dogs and cats. It’s been a slow build-up, but Dwyer now has a lucrative art business. She also creates fire pits, garden screens and panels.