Cast of characters in the Theobroma Tree of Life
Following are some details about the design elements in the Theobroma Tree of Life, an ode to the tree that gives us chocolate, and some of the many species with which is it interconnected in nature.
Theobroma cacao flower
The flower of the cacao tree is only 1cm in width. It is necessary to magnify them to appreciate their unusual structure and delicate beauty. Thousands at a time grow directly from the trunk of the tree and only last a day or two. Various flowers are used in this design, including one which is face on showing the beautiful radial symmetry.
Theobroma cacao pods
Cacao pods vary in colour from ruby red to purple to yellow, which provides this design with some flexibility in colouration. In this design, the Chinese lantern-like pods are not in proportion to the flowers and leaves, but give some indication of their growth on the main stem and older branches, and not on the extremities like most fruits.
A member of an ancient family of birds found in cacao plantations in Venezuela where their old call and proud display is notable and startling.
Young cacao leaves
When they are young, cacao leaves are a striking red, as the plant creates the structure of the leaf without investing in the metabolically-expensive chlorophyll until the leaf is less tender and attractive to herbivores.
Mature cacao leaves
When they are full sized, oblong cacao leaves are leathery and can be up to a foot long. The tree is evergreen, but the leaves are periodically shed.
Dead cacao leaves
In cacao agroforesty, fallen leaves and bark keep the soil moist by forming a protective layer of mulch and later replenishing the soil with nutrients as they decompose. They also provide habitat for insect reproduction which is good for pollination.
A jacamar is something between a hummingbird and a kingfisher. They frequent eco-friendly cacao plantations, and are skilled hunters of dragon flies, moths, bees and butterflies.
Red cracker butterfly
The common name derives from the cracking noise the males make during display. They use sound as a form of social communication and have been observed in cacao plantations, resting on the bark of the cacao tree where they are camouflaged. Their most common predator is the rufous-tailed jacamar.
Dotted reed frog
Intercropped cacao plantations where pesticides were not used and that were surrounded by primary and secondary forest in Nigeria had visitors of this highly variable and sensitive species. This frog, which breeds in deep ponds is nonetheless able to persist with ecologically-friendly cacao cultivation.
Stunning butterfly with partially transparent wings, found from Mexico throughout the range of the origins of cacao through out South America. They are crepuscular animals happy deep in the dim light of thick vegetation of a cacao plantation or forest.
Fictitious flower form made of parts of the biting Ceratopogonid midge that may pollinate cacao.
In fact, the pollination of cacao flowers is a great mystery – one study found that the midges we understand to be the main pollinators only accounted for 2% of insect visitors. I opted to create flower forms because the midges themselves are worrying-looking in the extreme, despite the important work they do…
The ringed caecilian
Caecilians are the least known order of terrestrial vertebrates. They are amphibians, like frogs, and they are predators, like snakes. They are fossorial, so they burrow in the leaf litter and soil. Cacao plantations are good for caecilians, and make an important contribution to the conservation of the Atlantic Forest biome in Brazil, considered the most threatened biodiversity hotspot in South America.
Leaf-footed Coreid bug
In 1699, Maria Sybilla Merian and her daughter Dorothea travelled from Amsterdam to Surinam and created one of the first naturalistic illustrations of cacao to reach Europe. This illustration included an unidentified leaf-footed bug. The beautiful leaf footed bug I chose (to pay homage to Merian’s pioneering work) is from Ecuador.
Ferns are a key indicator of a healthy agroforestry system in the tropics – this beautiful Aspleium is native to the neo-tropics within the range of cacao’s origins
Musa paradisiaca or any of 70 other species of Musa
The cacao-pollinating midges are known to lay their eggs in moist habitats such as rotting banana psuedostems, and banana can be an important tree to grow alongside cacao for shade and as an additional crop.
Williams Sonoma x Newton Paisley: Theobroma Tree of Life
Newton Paisley x Williams Sonoma
It has been my great privilege to work with Williams Sonoma, truly one of the best-loved brands in the USA. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water. I grew up with their chocolate peppermint bark as the great treat of all treats.
My goal for this collaboration with Williams Sonoma was to depict the complex web of life surrounding the crop that gives us chocolate, Theobroma cacao. No species exists in isolation and the “food of the gods” is grown best in natural agroforestry systems, where diverse trees provide shade and fallen leaves create microhabitats, enabling a great multitude of species to thrive.
The design celebrates the Cocoa & Forests Initiative which is all about this approach: agroforestry, environmental stewardship and the prevention of deforestation. Wiliiams Sonoma chocolate is affiliated with this wonderful work.
I spent so long researching and thinking about chocolate for this design. It was heaven! Especially when Williams Sonoma sent me some of the products to put me in the right mood for creation. To learn more about the species in the design check out this companion blog post.
I love to think of my illustrations of wild species existing beyond the confines of frames on walls, or the pages in books. I like them to be touched and felt and thought about. As a passionate lover of chocolate (and Williams Sonoma chocolate especially), I am delighted to be inviting people to wild and mindful chocolate feasting!
Newton Paisley x Fine Cell Work
I had been an admirer of Fine Cell Work for many years, and it was the highlight of my first ever exhibition at Decorex, in 2016, when they approached me about designing some products for them. Fine Cell Work feels to me like the best of this industry – I love their ethos, how they form a community and change lives, and I was (and still am) star-struck about their fabulous designers. If you don’t know Fine Cell Work, they are a wonderful charity, founded 25 years ago, which works with prisoners and ex-prisoners. Through embroidery, they develop work skills, self-reliance, and they earn and save money so that when they leave prison, they are ready to set off on a good path.
I personally find that hand work, like knitting or embroidery, is very positive for my state of mind. Like Louisa May Alcott, I think busy hands are key for keeping your heart sweet and your head sane.
These first cushions I designed for FCW feature a beautifully embroidered ‘bouquet’ of ferns, in a gradient of luscious greens. (We took a lot of time to choose the greens for this project.) This fern is the Appalachian bog fern, Coryphopteris simulata, a rare, elegant fern found in the mountains of North America from my Carolina Tree of Life collection. It emits a sweet-smelling scent in its marshes of sphagnum moss, under the shade of cedar, spruce and larch.
This project reminded me of the earliest days of my design career when I was a biologist, illustrating informally my field notes. Ferns and bracken were always great favourites for their gentle, repeating, almost fractal, forms. Such a meditative shape to dwell on and doodle. (Doodling is, of course, another form of hand work – keeping me sane on long sleepless nights of activity monitoring when I was studying bears.)
The experts at Fine Cell Work helped to translate my 2-D designs into 3-D embroidery – it was really interesting to get a glimpse into that process. In the end, the stitchers are using pretty complex stitches to bring out each intricate detail of the fern leaves.
I think a lot about what it means to be inside versus outside. I hope that the wildness of these ferns will bring happiness to the stitchers as well as the people who support Fine Cell Work by buying them. And I really look forward to developing more designs with Fine Cell Work in the future.
By the way, the cushions accompany my Carolina Tree of Life designs, both the Carolina Parakeets and Carolina Posies, available here in printed linen and wallpaper. You can purchase the embroidered cushions directly from Fine Cell Work.
( the beatrice edit )
“Hi! I’m Susy.
I am a biologist, the designer of Newton Paisley and the mother of Beatrice.
I am a maximalist.
I love using colour, layered textiles, bold pattern, and objects from nature, to create wild biophilic design.”
“Hi! My name is Beatrice.
I am Susy’s daughter.
I am training to be an interior designer.
I am a minimalist.
I prefer a more pared-back style.
I love using natural materials, gentle pattern, earthy palettes to create serene, simple interiors.”
One day, in a conversation about our different tastes,
it occurred to us to do an edit of Newton Paisley designs
for people who, like Beatrice, think less is more in their interiors.
The beatrice edit is the coming together of two generations, two sensibilities,
but with a shared love for nature and the home.
In creating the patterns, we found ourselves inspired by the beautiful folk motifs of Ukrainian embroidery.
We will be sending 10% of our profits to a charity called Rebuild Together in Ukraine.
Ukrainian embroidery patterns
The original Venus flower fabric styled and photographed by Beatrice with some of the lovely muted tones she favours.
When Newton Paisley was just beginning, seven years ago, one of the experiments was a simple geometrical rotation of the flowers of Venus flytrap. Beatrice always loved that forgotten pattern and has been advocating on its behalf for years. That became the inspiration for the botanical repeats in the collection.
The beatrice edit includes two components:
- Airy geometrical repeats of favourite botanical details (Lucky bean, Venus flower, Maddidi gold, Lizard orchid and Atra flower),
- Toile de Jouy-style reimaginings of Mercia Vines and Carolina parakeets.
Bea says, “I’m all about embracing the intricate details of NP designs in ways that can be styled for a simple pared-back aesthetic – bringing delicate pattern into serene spaces.”
All of the designs are available as wallpaper and printed linen.
To learn more about the collection, please visit the linen page and wallpaper page.
Now offering hand-painted tiles
One of the joys of the slower days of the past year has been experimenting with ceramics. Because it is so lovely to do, and because we have had various requests, we decided to make them available to customers.
The idea is that they pick out design elements from existing Newton Paisley designs, but we are open to other commissions. Please consult with us about your project. The basic cost is £35 / tile but we will ask you to order a minimum of ten. Talk to us though…
The tiles pictured here were for a commission to coordinate with the Mercia Vines collection. Every tile is unique, and if multiples are ordered of the same design, each one would be slightly different. The ceramic bisque tiles are made from white earthenware low-fire clay in Stoke-on-Trent and painted, glazed and fired in Whitstable. The tiles are 4 inches square (10.16cm). We can also produce 6 inch square tiles – please enquire. Lead times will vary, but average 4 weeks.
We hope you like them as much as we do. You can learn more about our tiles here.
Story in the Telegraph Gardening June 6, 2020
Collaborative pattern creation
Zen of Business podcast interview
Chatting in a room full of cushions
It seems an age ago that I travelled on the train up to London to record this podcast. In fact it was just over two years ago. The world has changed so much but the approach of the Zen of Business of taking time and taking care seems more relevant now than ever. Shamash Alidina and Yvonne Fuchs were great to chat to about my circuitous journey from biologist to designer and small-scale entrepreneur. Yvonne has a lifetime of experience in the world of textiles and a deep creative practise of her own and has been a great mentor to me. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Home Accents Today article
This is an excerpt from an article in Home Accents Today magazine by Jennifer Burton. The full piece, from December 2019, can be found here.
Wallpaper, fabric artist sketches brighter future for endangered species
Evolution (noun): A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.
As a longtime conservation biologist, Susy Paisley could probably give a more scientific definition of evolution.
Or she could just tell you the story of her career.
I met Paisley briefly at High Point Market, where her beautifully detailed wallpaper and fabric prints were on display in the Zoe Bios Creative showroom.
I was intrigued by a talk she gave, in partnership with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, about “Biodiversity in Design,” and her illustrations that focus on neglected and endangered species.
After learning more about her story, I knew she was perfect for this column and this issue (which highlights wallpaper and fabric in our Pattern Play section). She is the embodiment of Good Work(s) — not only giving back to a worthy cause but dedicating her life to protecting the environment.
Paisley spent 25 years as a conservation biologist. She has extensively studied spectacled bears in the Bolivian cloud forest and other highlights of her studies included harpy eagles in the Lacandon rainforest in Mexico, duck-billed platypuses in Australia, orchids in Romania and pangolins in Kenya.
With no formal art training, Paisley began illustrating her field notes with intricate depictions of flora and fauna.
As a scientist, Paisley was attuned to nature’s patterns but she noticed the nature imagery used in interiors and fashion was often bland, abstract or inaccurate. She wondered why the amazing wild species she studied as a biologist were missing.
“I saw an opportunity to go further with wild species and conservation storytelling. I just wanted to geek things up a little bit!” she told me.
She realized she might reach more people and educate them about wonderful wild creatures, many of which were being wiped out, through the design route rather than academia.
In 2010, she received an “Ideas Factory” grant from the University of Kent, where she worked. She spent several years figuring out the best way to tell stories about endangered species and conservation. In 2016, she launched Newton Paisley — named for her late mother, Anne Newton Paisley, a High Point native who came from a family with textile industry connections.
“I love the idea of the fabric of life, like the fabric of nature, and the threads that connect us to each other and to the natural world,” Paisley said.
Thank you Jennifer for this lovely piece, and for making mr rummage through old boxes for the above photo. Turns out the late 90s weren’t as well documented photographically as things are now! The rest of the story can be found here.