Two basket workshops over the last couple of weeks, both very interesting. The first one was for a team from Scottish Natural Heritage at the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland. This was the biggest and fastest basket workshop I’ve ever run! The second was for a smaller group in the fantastic Portmoak Village Hall in Kinross-shire.
The SNH group had meetings and presentations in the morning and a choice of activities for the afternoon. The weather was dreich, the Big Dig on the Estate was rained off so I accepted a group of 20 for ‘Fast Baskets’, a two-hour introductory session of birch coiling and stitching. The atmosphere was relaxed, the concentration was intense, the results were very impressive…
I had prepared and tied bundles of birch twigs to speed up the materials selection process, knowing we would be short of time. I liked the creative use of the raffia binding in this piece.
Lovely use of beachcombed polyprop rope for extra texture and colour.
Alternative function for a tiny basket!
The Portmoak basket workshop was funded by the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership for the Portmoak Community Woodland team. They have been doing great work since the mid-1990s on Portmoak Moss, restoring the rare raised bog and surrounding woodland. More info about that on their excellent website: http://www.portmoakcw.org.uk
With permission (of course), I visited the Moss to collect materials to supplement my store of birch twiggage weeded out of the Lochore Meadows Country Park coppice woodland. Portmoak Moss is another undiscovered treasure close to home, I’m very glad this workshop gave me the incentive to explore it. It’s a surreal place. To get onto the Moss you have to climb a well-built flight of steps, taking you up a vertical face of dark dripping peat. At the top you look out over a landscape of grasses, rushes and mosses that could be Highland peat bog – with Bishop Hill in the background to remind you that you’re still in the Lowlands.
I think it must have caught my scent eventually. It barked and started to run further onto the bog, then stopped again to graze! Very relaxed. Is it used to seeing kind conservationists with well-controlled dogs? Or is it ill? I thought it looked a bit thin, especially around its back-end. Perhaps an elderly roe deer with poor eyesight and failing sense of smell? It ran fast enough though when it decided to go.
Back to the workshop. The materials I collected from the Moss were mostly young trees self-seeded into the peat. Removing these is an on-going battle for the Community Woodland team (hint of irony there), so my plan with the basket workshop was to offer a creative use for the little trees and their roots. It was a bit weird to be pulling up and cutting small native trees, but I looked out over the Moss with its bog cottons and red sphagnums and appreciated the need for tree control. I reassured myself with the thought “all conservation practice is a choice anyway, nowhere is ‘natural’…”
Here’s a visual record of the Pictish art workshop I ran at the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland on Saturday 30th May. I’m absolutely sure that Liz, Marek, Ali, Sophie and Sarah would be accepted as scribes and banner-makers by any self-respecting Pictish tribe…
We used illustrations of Pictish stone carvings for reference and made notebooks for storing tracings and drawings
Everyone created their own designs and tranferred them onto calico to make banners – some larger than others!
Natural mineral pigments (ochres) from the Fife coast provided rich colour for the banner designs
The beautiful finished banners (Ali has taken pigments home to finish the colourwork on his). The Pictish carved stones found the length of eastern Scotland may have been this colourful. Who knows?
There’s a glimpse of East Lomond hill behind Sarah in this photo. Dr. Oliver O’Grady supervised a successful community dig on the east side of this hill in 2014 for the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership and he thinks it was a very significant place during Pictish times. More about that on the Living Lomonds website: http://www.livinglomonds.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Big-Dig-East-Lomond-Hill-Fort.pdf
Illustrator Bob Marshall has created an amazing reconstruction of the hill fort in collaboration with Oliver. Spot the banners outside the ‘great hall’ at the top of the hill: http://www.bobmarshall.co.uk/portfolio/illustrations/east_lomond_fort.asp
And if you’d like to see (and buy) contemporary interpretations of Pictish art: http://www.ancientstoneart.co.uk/
This workshop was funded by the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership and hosted by the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland: http://www.centreforstewardship.org.uk/