Individual Pinecone Scales Unfurl in Intricate Patterns in Amber Renaye’s Enchanting Reliefs — Colossal


#Amber Renaye

March 25, 2024

Kate Mothes

All images © Amber Renaye, shared with permission

In regions where conifer trees are abundant, the humble pinecone has long held a symbolic role. For Amber Renaye, an interest in these small wonders of nature have led to a remarkable ongoing series of elaborately patterned tondos.

Ancient architecture, coats of arms, and sculptures have been dedicated to the pinecone over the centuries as a symbol of knowledge and fertility. The Vatican’s Cortile della Pigna, or Pinecone Courtyard, centers around an enormous bronze fountain shaped like the seed-bearing object, dating to the 1st century C.E. and thought to represent immortality and rebirth.

Scholars and sages of ancient civilizations also regarded the human brain’s tiny pineal gland, named for the pinecone, as the source of a person’s soul or spirit. Renaye says, “I couldn’t help but wonder: How could something so deeply correlated with our being, once ubiquitously understood and still prominently displayed in revered and sacred locations, be so significantly unfamiliar today?”


A round relief assemblage artwork made with individual pinecone scales arranged into a pattern, then lacquered black.

Renaye began experimenting with pinecones when her research took her into the ancient world of amber, the golden, fossilized resin produced by extinct coniferous trees of the Tertiary Period. The material has been valued as a gemstone for thousands of years and is still commonly used in jewelry and as a healing agent in folk medicine.

She was fascinated by the remnants of life from millions of years ago, picturing amber as “a story of self-preservation, the fragments of the forest a self-portrait,” she says.  “I searched for the nearest pine tree on Google Maps, then walked to Central Park with an empty bag.”

Renaye collects numerous varieties of the cones, which drop to the ground in autumn. She sometimes enlists friends in parts of world who can collect different specimens. The artist then gets help with the involved cleaning process through a collaboration within the floral industry, and once the scales are removed from the core, she gets to work on the compositions.

Using a pencil tied to string, she begins each piece by drawing lines onto a blank panel until a pattern emerges, then figures out which size or type of scale will fit best. Since the individual pieces naturally nestle into one another and overlap as they grow, Renaye taps into the form’s inherent characteristics to fit them together in her elegant reliefs.

If you’re in Chicago, you can see one of the artist’s pieces at the Rainbo Club in the show Pothole², on view through April 21, presented by Good Weather and M. LeBlanc. Find more on Renaye’s website and Instagram.


A round relief assemblage artwork made with individual pinecone scales arranged into a pattern, then lacquered black.

Two side-by-side images featuring assemblages made from sticks. On the left, the sticks form a male deer or elk. On the right, the sticks for ma grand piano.

A round relief assemblage artwork made with individual pinecone scales arranged into a pattern, then lacquered black.

#Amber Renaye


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