Around a scratched and gouged workbench a group of Syrian men (and one notable Iraqi) came together to share skills, songs, stories, and to make a woodcarving.
For some, this was a chance to reconnect with old tools that they knew so well from home, to share their exquisite talent & joy in making. Others, just learning the craft, expressed something powerful without having to speak a word. Textures etched in wood grain, our common language.
Although we didn’t know it when we began, this sculpture grew at each mallet blow, chip by chip, evolving until the end into a symbol of home, of places left behind, & what is important to carry with you and remember.
Contained in the beautiful, ornate frame, like a mirror this artwork reflects history, and hope for the future.
Pictures from last months relief carving class. Warm light, playing over subtle tactile traces, left as our students stripped away whatever wood wasn’t necessary for telling their own creation stories: Tales that sometimes shifted in the making/telling. Watching the tools move over the wood, skillfully revealing a little more of these beautiful designs each moment was as special and surprising as seeing the tide recede from an unknown and sunken treasure- it was there all along but who knew!
A more sedentary, contemplative craft than some, but no less demanding – changing angles, shifting grain, ambidexterity, staying sharp, sitting at the bench all day can be exhausting!
For folks who have joined us for the relief carving class, we’ll be starting regular weekend/after work sessions to give space to develop skills and work independently.
Over the last few months there has been a veritable procession of photographers & film makers visiting the studio, hoping to capture something tangible among the woodchips.
These beautiful pictures were taken by Barry Ainswoth as part of an ever lengthening journey he is undertaking around the country, recording small, creative workspaces: Documenting forgotten, endangered or marginalised skills, crafts and makers.
It’s strange to be on the receiving end of this kind of attention (we used to make films for other people) getting this other view is so valuable, lets us step back and pretend it’s someone else, to think ‘that looks fun’.
Using only natural light, it’s wonderful to see the studio in a totally different way, shifted sideways, reversed and reflected back – it looks better than real – more like the dreamings we had before moving in… It’s also amazing to look back at how much has already changed since these pictures were taken & how much more there is to do! Reminds us why our backs are aching.
Starting with a firm place to stand, a still point from which to safely swing an axe, the fulcrum from which to move the Earth. Carving it into new, more fitting shapes.
Ending with dog-tired, aching bodies and with a better place to sit and rest, to sit and contemplate, to sit and tell stories. To sit, and share, content and laughing. Each finished stool will return to a home that will be enriched because it was made by hand, because it will last, because the skills learned will be passed on, in one way or another.
And all this held beautifully (parents, children, makers, learners, visitors, watchers) inside our new workshop. Thankyou rain, for nudging us nervously into trusting this space!
Each year for the past ten nearly, our city has picked a cold dark night in February to get enlightened! We tried to do our little bit, along with some amazing artists and makers all across the town. The streets were full of puppets, glowing sculpture and interactive illumination. Our new studio windows proved a perfect canvas for some spontaneous shadow play… Ideas are sparking for next time…
If things have been quiet here lately, it’s because we’ve been slowly, ever so slowly climbing out of an old skin, and settling into a new one. For the past 10 years we have been working and dreaming out of this half-fossilised concretion of a shed, like hermit crabs: Scuttling off to collect, make, visit, play, but always returning to shell-safety.
Sitting at the end of the long garden, behind 2 old cherry trees, an interloper fig & shaded by a sword of Damocles apple (double edged): Each year we harvested a bumper crop & the roof gained a few new holes, Sir Issac could have proved gravity’s law 10 times over if he’d been mulling on the problem under this monster Bramley.
This place was a nest, where anyone might feel enclosed in magical creative posibility – an unwitting prototype… We shared our creative space with joy & grief both, making cradle & grave. Joined by wild ivy, several generations of human friends, several generations of robins, wrens & one bold-as-brass mouse. Spiders like black stars in clusters too many to count. Strange now to see it empty, when it had been so full. To still feel the fullness & to carry it somewhere else.
Oh Shed! We love you, we miss you. Never to be be replaced. You will live again!
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!