As part of Welbeck School’s Children’s University project we were asked to give some aspiring students the experience of woodwork.
No one imagined that the wood in question would be enormous, raw trunks of willow, birch and oak tree, with bark, twigs & leaves still attached. Undaunted our charges took to splitting, chopping, drilling, shaving, smoothing and shaping by hand, with tools older than all of our combined ages.
After a few afternoons these gorgeous, tactile objects emerged, and those brave enough tested the strength and geometry of the joints in the only way that counts. It was so good to see parents, teachers and the other children gather around to marvel.
It’s possible that once these beautiful stools make it home, to be treasured, the glowing, burnished surfaces will be painted fluorescent orange, green with yellow spots, but that is entirely as it should be!
Wishing everyone a hopeful January 1st, and a year that might begin with “a happy sound… Love!”
Remembering back, 6 years ago working with amazing young people, classes 1, 2 and 4 at Greenfields Community School, working together to weave a whole world. 80 triangles sawed & stuck & woven into a geodesic wonder. Four all too short afternoons spent making & thinking about this beautiful Earth and dreaming up new ways we can grow into the people ready to love it and each other.
Of course most of these young folks already knew how to do this without thinking at all… And we were schooled far more than they!
Just taking time to remember another beautiful weekend carving spoons with a keen cohort of fresh whittlers.
We so love witnessing the way people’s appreciation of their own abilities shifts and changes over the day: Invariably when folk pause for a moment, look up from intense concentration and realise that somehow a curved, smooth spoon shaped object has emerged butterfly-like out of it’s rough branch cocoon, there’s a kind of disbelief, sometimes an audible yelp of delight and surprise!
These moments happen over and over, each time a deeper feeling that we are capable of more than we know, that skill creeps up and pounces on us, but we have to chase after mastery.
Once the din of axes had subsided, surrounded by fresh heaps of wood chips, the sound of birdsong and the quiet curling of fine shavings from the knife, thoughts of the ordinary world were mere memory & talk turned philosophical…
Finding the shape
The simple contentment that comes from slowing down and making something functional, beautiful & tactile, with your own hands, moving towards mastery of unfamiliar tools (and autonomy & responsibility in life), working with living material… Creating a unique object, made to last: Carving a spoon is a radical act.
Doing all this in such good company, held by this beautiful land: Positively revolutionary!
Beautiful work this past weekend, creating simple seats, from cleft wood, growing as dear trees that defined our horizon only weeks ago. A giant ash that has already defied many attempts to bring it to the ground judging by the twisted, scarred and buckling trunk & silver birch half a century old or more, battleground for local crows & magpies. Felled by our neighbours in the church then sawn, split and transformed into perches of a different order, A Goliath and two Davids, given a second life by three meticulous makers: Shaping perfectly fitting joints, flowing forms with skill and uncommon sensitivity.
Remembering friends gathered by a well fed fire. Kettle boiling constantly, whistling a wedding march.
It was a beautiful way to spend a December day, a privilege for our family to join in the Nag Do (not a stag do) celebrations before Jeff and Jo’s wedding.
Over the day rough cherry logs were split, carved and shaped into a fine fleet of drinking vessels. One like a sleek ship, ready to set sail, another delicately carved with five finger hollows, to perfectly fit the maker. Others, rough hewn giants, deep bowls – all the better for the generous whiskey measures that seasoned the wood (and our livers) as the tools and sun went down.
We interrupt this broadcast for some mild metaphysical musings…
Wrangling with the tangling of the warp and weft of the universe. Beginning the day in a mood that felt something like this:
What to do? Spring is here apparently so some cleaning is in order, inside and out.
A few choice pieces of ash, crabapple and cherry from the firewood pile, swiftly turned into a tower of spindles. Liquid ribbons billowing from the wet wood like spider silk. The mind unwinds and muses on the Fates, those weyward sisters creating the cloth of our lives, and somehow after a few hours at the lathe, bobbins all wound & the whirling stilled, a kind of order emerges out of the chaos. A better place to start weaving a new tapestry.
On Sunday it felt as though the world had run right past spring and into summer without stopping or looking back. The air was so warm, but the acid green hawthorn leaves, cherry blossom and bluebells coming through planted us firmly in the season.
Carving spoons is a wonderful way to connect with the here & now: You have to be totally aware of your body, the tools, the wood, the form you are trying to find or imagine out of the tree…
It is always a special moment to notice the changing quality of sound – the heavy drumming of axes slowly giving way as the almost silent, meditative work of whittling away everything that isn’t spoon commences. If the birdsong weren’t so clear and lovely, & the woodchips so deep on the ground you could have heard a pin drop.
It was a real gift to be able to share time with Simon (already an accomplished whittler by any measure) and a glad company of his friends and family. May these spoons serve you well, either in the cooking, eating or as a reminder of spring’s inspiration.
After looking at the work of M C Escher, Fiona at Mencap was inspired to make these two wonderful woodcut memento mori.
Carving into the smooth limewood was a challenge at first, getting the right angle, shifting weight & muscle, but by the final cut Fiona was nimble and expressive with the tools, even surprising herself. She produced a small run of 4 prints each – SkellyWeg, and The Flower of Love! Now there’s a tale-in-the-making…
We’re hoping to run some woodcut printmaking courses in the New Year, so look out.