There is a huge tree in the Falkland Estate Arboretum, not far from the Monkey Puzzle tree near the Maspie Burn. I thought it was a Giant Redwood, one of those soft-barked punchable mega-trees from California. After the strong winds that brought down all the Monkey Puzzle leaves earlier this year, I found some green branches under the big tree, just enough to use for my tree project.
Today I decided to check which Redwood the branches came from, knowing there’s more than one species. It turns out to be something else altogether, probably a Japanese Red Cedar, Cryptomeria japonica. It is related to the Giant Redwood Sequoiadendron giganteum but comes from the other side of the Pacific Ocean, yes, from Japan. There it is called Sugi and is highly-prized for its timber and precious ancient specimens. It can grow up to 70 metres (230 feet) tall and to a trunk diameter of 4 metres (13ft).
I laid the twigs and leaves out to dry in the studio after collecting them. From the left: Hemlock(?), Lime, Monkey Puzzle leaves, Sugi, and one little twig from a neighbouring tree, possibly a Redwood. The Hemlock twigs (if that’s what they were) went brittle very quicky and ended up in the compost bin. The Sugi branches stayed flexible with a bit of soaking and made a very fragrant pair of baskets.
See these and the other Tree Project baskets and pods at Open Studios North Fife from 29th April to 1st May at Centre for Stewardship Falkland
I’ll be at Fife Folk Museum on Friday for our first public rag rug event of 2017. There will be more!
At the end of April I’m an invited artist at the Centre for Stewardship Falkland for this year’s Open Studios North Fife. My friend Tess Darwin is joining me, we’ll be based in the Stables Information Hub on Sat 29th April and in the Stables Craft Hub on Sun 30th and Mon 1st May.
Over the winter we’ve both been working on personal projects inspired by the woodlands and plants of Falkland Estate and we are looking forward to showing some of our finished work. We’ll also be demonstrating how we use our materials and will be happy to talk about our processes – and all things woodland of course. Tess is a City and Guilds qualified textile artist and dedicated journal-keeper. I’m hoping she might bring some of her journals and experimental pieces with her, they are beautiful artworks in their own right.
Here are some examples of Tess’s work-in-progress…
My baskets/pods are dark and wintery in comparison. Between us I think we have four seasons!
I’m still working on some interesting construction challenges with those Monkey Puzzle leaves…
This is going to be a challenge…
Big alder basket and little alder basket are complete. Now I’m working with rowan twigs and they don’t smell so sweet!
At the end of January I started a new contract with the Fife Folk Museum in Ceres. I’m co-ordinating their Heritage Arts Hub activities over the next ten months, a programme funded by Young Start and the Robertson Trust. So I get to immerse myself in the Museum’s collection and work with its dedicated volunteer team and Trustees to invent events! Fab.
I’ve been visiting the Museum for many years and last year curated an exhibition with the Woolly Tree Gang, showcasing their project work since their origins in 2012. We did quite a bit of research in the Museum for the Living Lomonds Crafts of the Hills project in 2014 and the Gang made some lovely work inspired by the collection – including several rag-rugs. This theme continues, as Museum volunteers Sue and Alison found another five rag-rugs for me to look at on Monday.
I had a closer look at this ‘half-moon’ rug, a very shaggy, slightly wonky design containing lots of tartan fabric. The Museum record card describes it as ‘a “d” shaped rag rug for in front of the fire’, donated in 2003 by Jennie Simmons of Cambo. We’d love to know more. Did she make it? If not, who did? How old is it? What were the pieces of fabric before they were cut and hooked into the hessian? Old kilts? Ladies country-dancing skirts?
Here are some close-ups:
We’ll carry on with the ‘fabric forensics’ and see what else we can find out. Offers of help welcome.
I’m planning rag-rug related activities for later in the season, keep an eye on my blog, the Museum’s website and social media for information about these and other Heritage Arts Hub events. The Museum opens on 1st April, the Cafe is open all year, every day except Mondays.
The Falkland alder basket is nearly finished and I can’t say it’s been a pleasure. The twigs twist and turn, the little purple buds snag the thread and ping off without warning. But what beautiful colours in the bark and the scent is nearly as sweet as birch.
Time to start a new project. I’m taking part in North Fife Open Studios this year, doing a ‘mini-residency’ at the Centre for Stewardship Falkland over the weekend of 29th April to 1st May. I’ve decided to create a new piece of work for the event, a multiple, composed of stitched baskets and pods; two for each species of tree I find on Falkland Estate between now and the end of April.
I’ll name the work for the number of species I find. I’m hoping for more than ’28 Trees’. That’s the number I came up with while trying to get to sleep one night after Christmas. I started with native species – oak, birch, alder, elm – and worked my way through to the exotics: horse chestnut, Norway spruce, redwood, sycamore. Some of these are old favourites, for example the birches and willows, I love working with them. They are very flexible, have interesting bark colours and sweet scents. Some trees will be more challenging, like the horse chestnut with its sturdy branches and sticky leaf-buds.
I’ll post progress reports on this blog. There is a self-imposed set of rules: baskets/pods to be roughly similar size and shape, same black thread to be used throughout, one handful of twigs to be used for each tree species: one larger basket/pod to be made first, one small one to be made from the remaining twigs. More about the reasons for that in a later post.
First two completed last week: oak. I think this is English oak, Quercus robur. That would fit with it growing in a hedge round an arable field in lowland Fife. I’m happy to be corrected on any of these twig identifications though!
In 2004 I made a series of drawings from old microscope slides on loan from the Bell Pettigrew Museum at the University of St. Andrews, for a project organised by artist and illustrator Jeannine Osborne. I worked with a beautiful set of insect wings, collected and prepared by biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948).
Thompson published his famous book ‘On Growth and Form’ in 1917 and it has influenced thinking about natural structures through to the present day. I remember borrowing an old well-used copy from the St. Andrews University library in the 1970s, struggling with the text and thoroughly enjoying the illustrations.
In 2004 we exhibited our drawings and paintings alongside the original microscope slides in the Cooper Gallery at University of Dundee and I was delighted when two of my drawings were purchased for the University collection: ‘Diptera’ (a bluebottle wing) and ‘Odonata’ (a lovely dragonfly wing with a little break on one edge).
A few weeks ago I received an email from Dundee University Curator Matthew Jarron, letting me know that my drawings were to be included in a new exhibition at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, showcasing artwork inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s work. I visited the exhibition last week and found my drawings in great company. I feel very proud to be in the same show as Wilhelmina Barns Graham, not far from one of her lovely ‘geology’ drawings.
I asked Matthew if it was ok to photograph my work so here it is, with authentic fluorescent-lighting stripeyness:
The label says these are ‘mixed media’. I must have been less specific about materials back then. I remember using pencil, pen and ink, red and yellow ochres from the Fife coast and shellac varnish. I enjoyed adding the shellac. I used it to give the drawings the same antiqued look as the old microscope slides and had a smile to myself at the time, knowing that shellac is a resin made by insects.
‘A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson’ is on at the City Art Centre until 19 Feb 2017.