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25.5.15

42 Nature Table

An old black and white photograph of a group of boys gathered around a school nature table.

I was the teeniest of tots when this photograph was taken in 1965, but I remember nature tables like this from my own school days. Jam jars featured large, as receptacles for wild flowers and (temporarily captive) frogspawn, sticklebacks and grasshoppers, and there was always an old bird's nest.

At home I had (still have) my own nature table ... a devil's toenail that I'd found on a day trip to Lyme Regis, a starfish skeleton, an owl pellet, an oak gall complete with exit hole, some iridescent starling feathers ... I was a child who habitually scanned the ground for 'treasures'.

Recently, walking with Dail Behennah, looking for similar detritus, I missed some of the good stuff she pounced on because I couldn't see it ... I seriously need new glasses. And talking with Dail I realised that I've been missing something else ... any sense of myself as an artist as opposed to a craftsperson. I had it once, for sure - after art school, certainly - but I lost it somewhere, somewhen. Are you still an artist if you stop making art? If you are an artist do you ever really stop?

Dail is a fellow nature table keeper, and another who literally gathers her inspiration from her home ground. She is most definitely an artist, and much of her recent work draws on her (now moved on from) nominal y filltir sgwar on the Pembrokeshire coast. We also share a need to accurately identify whatever we pick up - to know the proper names of things - and carefully curating our finds is as important to us now as it was when we were kids. Dail's 'best ever' was a shed adder skin, mine the starfish skeleton. I think she wins, but only just!

Do you fill your pockets with seedheads and shells and such? And do you have a nature table story you'd care to share?




Thank you so much for all your congratulations on my newly acquired grandmother status, announced in my last post. It is a wonderful thing to be, but it does take some getting used to ... I don't feel old enough but I clearly am!




Image source: Geoff Charles Collection, National Library of Wales.

Edit. My humble apologies to those email subscribers who (embarrassingly) received a draft version of this post, with omitted words and no source/the wrong date for the image ... the glitches here continue!

19.5.15

63 Happenings


Looking up, at cherry blossom, oak flowers, elm seeds, and other such sylvan wonders.

Hearing the dawn chorus a tad too often lately. The birds are so noisy they wake me up.

Smelling stinky Liver of Sulfur gel, a necessary evil when blackening copper wire. One day soon I'll show you what I was doing.

Tasting Oak Smoked (on Anglesey) Hummus from Moorish, and most definitely wanting more.

Holding my adorable two day old grandson (and struggling a little with the mix of emotions that becoming a grandmother for the first time has unleashed).

Hugging the same. And his mama. My darling girl and her darling boy.

Talking with new friends about art that challenges thinking and art that soothes the soul.

Making marks. I'm drawing again. It's been too long.

Giving away an old sewing machine that was accumulating dust.

Gathering more gorse flowers for the dye pot.

Finding a favourite book of poems by Wislawa Szymborska that I mislaid long ago.

Losing our coir hanging basket liners to nesting birds. The blackbirds are the principle culprits, they're tugging out great beakfuls of the fibres.

Sitting up late writing this blog post.

Standing in a shower of petals while photographing apple trees. I'm still finding bits of blossom in my hair a day later.

Walking by a tumbling brook and spotting a grey wagtail, a more colourful bird than its name suggests and one I'd never seen before.

Waiting to hear our resident cuckoo for the first time this year. He's late.

Listening to I Am Oak, particularly the album Nowhere Or Tammensaari.

What has been occupying you lately?

Join me, why don't you? Put together your own 'Happenings' list and let me know where to find it.



As always, the links in this post are NOT sponsored, I'm simply sharing things I like.




Thank you all so much for your encouraging comments on my last post. I can't promise to reply to everyone individually in the comments threads just now - grandbaby cuddles take precedence - but I will always answer questions and respond to those I have no other way of reaching, and the change is only temporary.

13.5.15

62 Waysides: One Tree


A favourite among our many books on trees and woodlands is OneTree, which chronicles the original 'one tree' project. A 170 year old oak, felled on 27th November 1998 at Tatton Park (Cheshire, UK) - was broken up into its constituent parts - sawn timber, sawdust, branches, twigs, bark, leaves - and distributed among over seventy artists, designers, and makers. Two years later the things that they made from the tree were brought together for a touring exhibition ... wood ash glazed pots, woodcut prints, oak charcoal drawings, a rosary of oak wood beads, leather tanned with oak tannins, oak smoked hams, a book, a basket, a yurt frame, a ladder, a foetal stethoscope, carved birds, automata, bowls and spoons, tables and chairs, cupboards and chests and boxes ... it truly was a spectacular collective achievement. But it failed to include anything that exploited the oak tree as a dye plant.

If the good folk at Tatton had chosen a cherry tree for their project the outcome would no doubt have been both similar and different ... cherry can also be used for ash glazes, woodcuts, smoking meats, turning, carving, and cabinet making. And its spring leaves and its bark - just a couple of handfuls of each - yield the colours you see here.

1, 3 & 6 cherry bark on pure wool, 7 & 11 Cherry bark on pure wool, modified with iron, 2 & 10 Cherry bark on alpaca/silk, 4 & 5 cherry leaf on pure wool, 8 & 9 cherry leaf on alpaca/silk.
1, 3 & 6 Cherry bark on pure wool, time in dye one, thirteen, and five hours respectively; 7 & 11 Cherry bark on pure wool, time in dye five hours and one hour respectively, modified with iron; 2 & 10 Cherry bark on 80/20 alpaca/silk blend, time in dye five hours and one hour respectively; 4 & 5 Cherry leaf on pure wool, time in dye eight hours and one hour respectively; 8 & 9 Cherry leaf on 80/20 alpaca/silk blend, time in dye eight hours and one hour respectively. All skeins were premordanted in alum.

Pretty huh? And I've still got little idea what to do with them. (See last para.)

Waysides was conceived as a way of seeing. It was also intended as a mapping project. But inevitably the map is, and will remain, most decidedly incomplete. In truth, with such an abundance of dye plants available to me locally it can only be a sampling project. And an aid to the development of a home ground colour palette reflective of my personal aesthetic that I will no doubt return to again and again ... a palette which now includes cherry-bark orange and cherry-bark (and iron) lime green.

True to my original intention I'm treading the earth lightly in pursuit of these hues, and so I only have a short length of each ... best suited to making small things then? My thoughts are turning to amulets and such, made mostly from the pocket filling miscellanea my Waysides walks yield and from scraps of my 'local colour' textiles. Ooh ... must dash ... head's now fizzing with ideas that I need to get down on paper ...

To catch up with the progress of my collaborator in all this, Rebecca, or to read my previous Waysides posts, just follow the links.
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