April 23, 2019

Peace-Inspired Art: Tree of Life

Inside Ricardo Basta’s jewelry store in Century City sits an elaborate Tree of Life pin on a wooden stand.  A plaque on the base reads: “What we have in common is stronger than what divides us.” 

The pin, Basta, said, was designed to promote world peace. It took three years to make and as such, Basta, 60, was unaware how prescient it would become in the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018 in Pittsburgh. 

Rather, he said, it was his multicultural background that served as his inspiration for the piece. His grandfather, uncle and mother were Holocaust survivors who escaped Germany and moved to Argentina in 1937. Basta’s Italian father grew up a block away from them in Argentina, where Basta was born.

“My mother’s Jewish and my father was Catholic, so I was able to get along with everybody,” Basta said. “If there was an event in the church, I went to church. If there was an event in the synagogue, I went to the synagogue.”

Basta said he believes people too often use religion to divide rather than unite one another. “The Muslims, the Jews and the Catholics come from the same place, the same God,” he said. “It’s just one is still waiting for the Messiah, the other one got the Messiah and the other one took the prophet as the Messiah. The only difference is the messenger. If we all think of the same thing as our God, why are we fighting so much?”

“The [tree’s] roots are 18-karat gold, and represent our roots in the world; the stone represents the desert [in Israel]; and the base, of course, is me.” — Ricardo Basta

Pointing out the details of the pin’s design, Basta explained that the diamond-encrusted “eye” at the top of the coral tree with jade leaves represents God looking over Jews, Catholics and Muslims. Below, each religion’s symbol, created with yellow diamonds, has the word peace in its native language: Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic. Tiny doves made from palladium (a silvery-white metal) represent peace. The base is made from a wood called Curupay, which comes from Paraguay. 

“The [tree’s] roots are 18-karat gold, and represent our roots in the world; the stone represents the desert [in Israel]; and the base, of course, is me,” Basta explained.

A third-generation jeweler, Basta runs the family business with his cousin Ernest Jr. and his wife, Karen. Daughter Sarah, 26, son Andrew, 24, are also involved in the industry.

Basta’s grandfather started buying and selling jewelry in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. After fleeing Germany in 1937 to Argentina, Basta’s uncle Ernest Sr. became an apprentice jewelry maker at the age of 12. In the mid ’50s, Ernest moved to California. When Basta moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19, he trained under Ernest. 

To date, Basta has won close to 25 American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) awards for his intricate, unique designs. 

“I love the process [of jewelry design], and I love the beauty,” Basta said. “I like the challenge of it. I buy stones, and I have no design in mind. I just grab a stone, a piece of wax and I start carving. I wing it.”

In his quest to spread his message of peace, Basta plans to donate his Tree of Life to the Vatican Museum or somewhere similar. 

“You can’t put the amount of work that I put into these pieces into a calculator because they are unsellable,” he said. “How do you figure if something took you three years? How do you create that into a price?”