will be in Vancouver in June to create an installation at Van Dusen Botanical Garden for this year's exhibition Touch Wood: http://www.duthiegallery.com/touch-wood-at-vandusen-garden/
He is sending out a call for volunteers to help with the weaving/construction/fabrication of a large freestanding sculpture, Salix Iterum
, or 'repeating willow'.
Alastair is one of those very rare individuals whose creative genius is matched par for par by his technical pedigree; he embodies all the most powerful qualities of artist and craftsman.He doesn't say enough about himself, so here is what they say about him on the website for Basketry and Beyond
, an international three- day weaving conference happening in Devon, England. If you are interested in basketry and/or sculpture with natural materials, a chance to work under him is an opportunity like gold.Volunteering in Vancouver will start Monday June 3rd
when the truckload of willow arrives at the garden, and will continue for ten days minimum. If you intend to come at the beginning please email Alastair to co-ordinate:
Passes to the garden will be arranged .
I stumbled upon this artist in the course of some research that I was doing: Heather Gabriel Smith
Her woodcut print 'Beaver Pond' came up in my search, and I had one of those shining, almost unbearable moments of creative resonance, when I feel who I am and how far my path, and I don't know if I'm up to it.
Though I like to draw, I could never settle myself to working two-dimensionally; I could never express what I wanted to. I don't think it was for want of skill, more for want of heart and trust -- I tend to get a little cerebral and graphic, not 'painterly' enough.
Happily, now I know Heather Gabriel Smith is out there, creating her beautiful and exquisite imagery that expresses all my empathy with the forest.
About a year and a half ago I was at the Museum of Anthropology and saw an object that has fired my imagination ever since: a single, fitted shoe, similar to a"Croc" in shape, but woven out of satiny, silver birch bark and finished on the inside as well as on the outside.
"How did they do THAT??"
Amazingly, there are still artisans in Russia who know how to make these shoes, and I was able to learn from a book published by master craftsman Vladimir Yaresh: Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark.
Last spring I spiral-stripped the bark off of an ornamental cherry tree that had been felled in a park near my home. The bark was incredibly tough and supple -- more like leather than tree bark -- and I knew exactly what I would use it for.
Thanks to the LFAS alumni exhibition
-- a full-blown art show at the Roundhouse with over 90 artists -- the bark I had stripped a year ago finally got off my shelf and made into shoes. Though they're going to be displayed on a wall or a plinth at the art show, I'll be wearing them around after that.Thanks to my friend Sharon Kallis for the photos of me and my shoes in-progress.
This little pic-ditty has gone viral -- I picked it up from the Facebook pages of a couple of friends of mine, and if anyone can tell me where it came from, I would like to give credit where it's due.
(Reposting is why I've started to put watermarks on all my images.)
This construction is not a basket, but it COULD have been; and since my friends Joy Witzsche
and Todd DeVries
and I will be teaching a Bike Basket workshop
in time for Bike Month in June, this bit of inspiration is apropos. After all, besides the glory of having made a basket yourself, being able to customize your bike basket to the shape (and purpose) you want is surely the the second most compelling reason to try it out. Personally, I've been toying with the idea of weaving an enclosure around my bike... guess I'm starting to feel just too old to face the damp cold anymore!
The Urban Weaver Studio
is growing flax this summer. Flax yields linen, which is a fibre both long and strong enough for rope, and fine and soft enough for clothing. Folks with a sunny plot of at least 8'x10' can go ahead and 'grow-along' with them -- complete instructions posted on the blog. Flax is one of the oldest known cultivated crops.
Flax has the reputation of being tedious and laborious to process, and there's some truth to that. The flax has to go through retting & scutching in order to separate out the woody parts even before the fibre can be got at. I did some scutching and heckling last summer at Ross Farm
in Nova Scotia, alongside the excellent Farm staff members, and weaver Lesley Armstrong of the Atlantic Natural Fibre and Dye Association
, and it was sweaty work. When the engineers and inventors of the industrial revolution created processing equipment, they made it for cotton, which could be imported cheaply, and left the pretty blue flax fields behind.
But Cotton, grown industrially, is incredibly vile -- roughly a third of all pesticide use is attributed to cotton, and vast amounts of water. Entire regions in Honduras are now barren thanks to overproduction of cotton. Linen and Hemp seem less resource-intensive, and can be grown in Canada.
But would a straight switch to linen and hemp on an industrial scale really be better for the environment? or is that greenwashing, taking advantage of the fact that consumers are so easily duped? ('Bamboo fibre', case in point...) Business in Vancouver
reports that a British Columbia-based company, Crailar Technologies, has patented a process which makes linen more suitable for use in knit fabrics. They've just opened a plant in a flax-producing region of the Carolinas, and hope that their fibre brand will become an industry byword of quality, like 'Gore-tex' or 'Tencel' or 'Lycra' (not that any of those labels is green... quite the opposite).
But how is the linen grown? on a five-year rotation, to allow the soil to rest, or with intensive petrochemical inputs?What's involved in that 'processing'... is it a chemical process? mechanical? how much energy does it consume? where does the wastewater go? and is it going into a garment that is designed to catch a cheap one-season trend?
People in our culture are not going to seriously set about to grow their own fibre by choice, not until the view out our windows looks more like our favourite dystopian novel setting -- and by then, it won't be a matter of choice. But it's important not to let those skills die -- as they can and do, over the course of only one generation. It's also important to educate ourselves about resource consumption, and to be cautious of trusting the processes that we cannot see for ourselves, and to learn to value the work of the hand and the spirit that moves us to create, regardless of the toil involved.
I've had environmental ethics on my mind lately; I realized that I am, indeed, an 'environmental artist', because the thrust of my work, all my research and tinkering, drawing and dreaming and teaching -- the reason that I get in front of a class -- is that I want to influence how we approach the natural world. I want to help shift the way we interact with the natural world.
A professor of mine at art school once said that she felt that I had some kind of a mission, and she didn't know what it was. At the time, I really didn't know either; but I have this feeling that my mission is beginning to coalesce.
So with my eyes open to my purpose, I've been discovering the tools to help me on my way. Today I discovered the Center for Ecoliteracy
(from a trail of links that began with an Etsy newsletter, which I find ironic); and from there, I found Jeannette Armstrong.
I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of her before -- and sad, too, that she and her work are not better known here in Vancouver, since she is from the Okanagan.
I'll be busy reading over the next few weeks, and hoping to channel a bit of her as I teach my workshops in the coming months.
I really appreciate the Community Arts Council of Vancouver
; I don't get out to many events, but when I do, I am always rewarded.
In the case of this project, which took place in the last week of January, I got to work with Alastair Heseltine
and a slew of other awesome folks from around the Lower Mainland and Squamish to create a forty-foot-long snake made of willow.
The highlight was working together to carry the finished snake from the courtyard at the Firehall at Cordova and Gore, through Chinatown, to the Sun Yat Sen Gardens at Keefer and Pender. We were marshalled by a couple of musicians playing a concertina and a wild-art-horn, and we sure held up traffic!
The snake was elegant and amazing as it slid into the ice-crusted water of the pond at Sun Yat Sen Gardens
The Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES)
is holding a celebration to mark its 25th anniversary this coming Sunday, February 3rd.
This registered charity's aims are conservation, education and outreach. They operate the Stanley Park Nature House
, near Alberni and Chilco on the shore of Lost Lagoon, and host a plethora of events and programs on an almost continuous basis.The SPES partners the Vancouver Parks Board in the stewardship of Stanley Park, meaning that they advise the Parks Board on the park's ecological issues and provide support by coordinating teams of volunteers to help with habitat restoration.
The SPES is also very important to the Urban Weaver Studio
, and vice versa; the SPES hosts monthly invasive species pulls from Stanley Park, and the Urban Weaver Studio receives much of that organic matter (primarily ivy, but also yellow flag iris, holly and mountain ash) as raw material for the Urban Weaver programs. As part of the festivities, my friend Joy and I will be there representing the Urban Weaver Studio, showing project samples and teaching you how to weave with ivy!We'll be on the plaza near the Nature House from 11am to 1pm. It's drop-in, and it's free!
I get a huge rush from making shoes. I love warm feet, and I know that other people also enjoy warm feet and appreciate it when I make socks and slippers for them, so I always feel that I'm doing something beautiful AND useful when I make a slipper or a sock; and I'm smug in the knowledge that a handmade slipper or sock of natural materials is truly a delicious luxury that few have the skills to create.
But there is a darker side to the thrill I get from making a good slipper; and that is that being able to cover one's feet in functional footwear is a very basic survival skill -- at least for those of us living with Canadian winters (even South Coast winters).
Last spring when I was at the Museum of Anthropology I came across a diagonal-plaited birch bark shoe
that took my breath away, and started me on a trek to learn about them and figure out how to make them myself. Woven shoes! I learned that they were originally from Russia and Scandinavia, and meant as an overshoe, to be worn over heavy woollen stockings and gaiters. I expected that they would be a lost tradition, so I was amazed to find that the knowledge of how to make them is still very much alive; and downright giddy to learn that master birch bark weaver Vladimir Yarish has published full project instructions in his book
I can now make diagonal-plaited slippers out of a variety of materials and without referring to the instructions. Of course, the slippers that I've made so far are delicious confections, and would never take the place of a good pair of Bogs for outdoor wear for a coastal winter. However, they are quite nice, and who knows where this will lead? I figure I could make myself a stylish pair of something -- cedar, perhaps? -- that would be just as good as my traditional ballet flats for summer time....
These are single-layer diagonal plaited 5mm 100% wool felt, with a suede sole and rabbit fur trim.
These are 100% wool, wet-felted, with a leather sole.
These are double-layer diagonal-plaited wool/rayon craft-weight felt -- they show off the playful and magical structure of the diagonal plaiting really well.
There's an old reptilian part of my brain that is constantly working in scarcity-survival mode, so my adrenals really get a workout in the winter when it's cold and dark and the landscape has almost nothing to eat in it. So, it was lovely to receive these gifts from the land and sea, to remind me that I can choose to see abundance instead of scarcity:
First, a massive chunk of precious yellow cedar:
There were some pretty big storm surges near my dad's place at the end of December, and the beach was first stripped of all its usual driftwood, and then graced with an abundance. I found this nice big chunk of yellow cedar and felt electrified by inspiration -- it reminded me of those wonderful 'Swedish Fire' logs that they make at East Van gatherings, such as the Night of All Souls at Mountain View Cemetary and the Winter Solstice Lantern Festivals. I immediately began to cherish the long-term ambition to carve my family a beautiful house-post, covered in magic runes and patterns inspired by weaving.
I put my back into it and managed to manhandle the thing down the beach a ways and up to the bank beneath my dad's place, where my dad and I later tethered it with a rope.
This is a fairly substantial log for a small person like me; it's a good 12" in diameter and over 6'6" long. My dad figured it was roughly 400lbs, so he went to work to borrow a block and tackle for us to hoist it up the bank, but found the gear locked up for the holidays. I hope that the log sticks around til Easter; we usually go over for a visit then and I'll have the chance to help my dad get the beast up the bank and into the back of his truck.
Next: Bull Kelp:
This was something else we found on the beach: a massive bull-kelp anchor, and the mass of bull kelp that went with it. First Nations used to make fishing line with the stapes -- line strong enough to haul up 400lb halibut, I hear! I wish I'd remembered to pack some of the stapes home with me.
Finally: Red Osier
Red osier dogwood is just gorgeous. I found a big pile of some cuttings that somebody made beside some sort of chain link meter enclosure, and so I accepted them as a New Years' gift, scooped them up and carried them home. I've tried to weave with this plant before but I was unsuccessful, in spite of how (or perhaps because of how) desperately I wanted it to work out for the pretty colour. Since then, I've had a lot more experience with its cousin, willow, and have a much better idea of how to approach it.
So these are the gifts I received from the world, which reminded me that there is abundance here.