Dave Gosling the Creative Green Willow Sculpture Tutor assured us that ‘Impressive structures can be achieved in a day’ before we had our Willow Workshop, but what he did not mention was that whilst these ‘impressive structures’ are being created some amazing creative conversations can take place across a marquee. Of course having a beautiful blue sky and being bathed in some fantastic warm sunshine also assisted in creating a very relaxed atmosphere.
The cut willow arrived some two weeks before from our supplier on the Somerset Levels: Musgrove Willow. This has been harvested from their renewable and sustainable willow beds. Easy for us, as it just came by a courier, but for the producer the setts are firstly planted, and as they begin to shoot, they are watered and weeded. The new willow bed can take up to three years to fully establish. The willows are cut in the dormant season from November, sometimes still by hand and then they are processed. Firstly, they dry naturally outside, then they are stored in sheds. To produce Buff (the type that we used), the sorted willow are place in a boiler for approximately eight hours of boiling.
The bark is then removed, either by machine or through a brake by hand. This is quite hard physical work. This is an extremely important process as it stops the rods from going mouldy. Once the bark has been removed the rods are dried, then tied into bundles ready for despatch.
Using our own natural and sustainable resources, we then popped the willow into our spring-fed pond at Clue Hill Farm to soak ready for our workshop (we turned them daily).
Tony Davies started off the day by demonstrating how to plait the willow and how to tie it, if necessary, with natural jute twine. This is the basis for all sculptures and the rest is literally down to the imagination of the individual. Armed with a pair of scissors and secateurs and their own pile of willow, our workshop attendees started out on their sculpting adventure. The level of concentration at this stage was amazing, but gradually, as everyone started to get the hang of the feel of the willow, the conversation started to flow.
What was so interesting to observe, was that by putting a dozen or so of very creative people together in a marquee on the edge of woodland, in a hay meadow, on a beautiful sunny day, some incredibly varied and very interesting sculptures started to take shape:
a basket, pig, giant pear, tree garland, large orb, dragon fly, chicken, dog, plant obelisk, stag’s head, hat – to name but a few.
We take for granted how easy it is to purchase a hand made basket to take shopping with us, but what we do not realise is the amount of design and physical work that goes in to the making of it.
As the structures started to take place the table space became too small and some people needed to expand their work out in to the hay meadow. The dragon fly was a very symbolic sculpture for Clue Hill Farm, as the pond in the woods has been and continues to be, home to many beautiful dragon flies. They gracefully fly through the workshops during the course of the summer and it is only as you catch a flash of iridescent turquoise in your peripheral vision that you realise one has just flown past.
The lunch break has become an important part of the Clue Hill Farm workshops, with our home made and locally-sourced ingredients. It is an opportunity to exchange ideas and get to know each other in a more informal setting.