A very excited young woman turned up at my workshop at the end of last year to tell me all about an exhibition she had just been working on, The Droving Project. It seemed to involve filming a group of cows being herded along an old droving road and ending up in our local village. Film, music, with an accompanying exhibition and now she was looking for someone to make cow lanterns, as big as possible for a procession?
After she left I looked at the card she had given me and started seeing large willow cows dancing in front of my eyes. The size of a cow….?
The art department at Doon Academy is littered with bits of willow from the times I have made things for exhibitions and events with the students. The after school art group volunteered to help, and between us we began to create a series of cows of varying shape and size. Bemused staff watched me hauling willow carcases through the building each week, reassuringly commenting ‘it’s a cow’.
We finally completed six cows which resplendent in LED lights paraded their way through the streets of Dalmellington to the sound of enthusiastic drumming. The parade finished with one of the most magical fire performances I have ever seen.
Over the years I have made various structures for St Ninian’s Nursery, starting with a living willow dome, followed by ‘fedges’, tunnels, and ‘twigwams’. What was once an open area of bare grass is now an exciting play space with added tyres, sand pits and growing areas. However a recent school inspection felt that there was not enough natural material in the classroom, despite the fact the children use their outdoor classroom on a daily basis!
So there was nothing to do but take the outside inside.
A tree trunk den was the commission, small enough to fit in the classroom but big enough for several small persons to sit inside.
I made most of the structure outside, well it was too nice to be indoors.
Finally we lifted it through the double doors, just about fitted, and I finished off the detail in the classroom. Suffice to say things began moving in before I even finished, there were a few teddies resident when I crawled in to trim off.
This summer I was lucky enough to be involved in an event called ‘Corroboree’, “…an art festival celebrating people, indigenous culture and ecological diversity among the Commonwealth Nations.” I did two events one at The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and the Botanic Gardens at Dawyck.
The brief was to work alongside the Maori weaver Veranoa Hetet, who does some wonderful work from New Zealand flax.
As well as Veranoa there were also some other Scottish willow weavers taking part, Lise Bech and John Cohen. I had not seen Lise for some time and it was great to actually spend a whole day in her company. More importantly Lise was the person who introduced me to basket making and was my tutor during the early years of my career.
John Cohen is doing some great work and seems to have developed an individual style in quite a short time. His first few lessons in basket making was with me and it is really great to see someone young taking on the craft with a passion and desire to learn.
Over the two days I decided to make a sculpture of New Zealand flax, not instantly recognisable, except for Verenoa who was delighted with the reference to her own material and country. However it did draw people in and gave me an opportunity to discuss the process of willow sculpture. To be honest it was too small, a large representation would have had more impact, but it had to go back in the van at the end of each day. I never did finish it.
Last year I did a commission for some ‘leaf’ gates for the opening of a new viewing platform at the recently landscaped area in the grounds of the Forth Valley Hospital, Larbert. The idea was to have a variation on cutting the ribbon, so the leaves hung across the walkway then swung open when the ribbon was pulled. For extra effect the ribbon was attached to a willow heart.
Next month I am taking part in a pop up gallery in Cumnock so I am looking for something quick to make but big in effect so I thought of the leaves. A quick trawl through my images produced these reminders which I took when I did the original commission.