Posts Tagged ‘woodland’

Making chairs by hand

After the successful launch of the Chair exhibition at Tinsmiths in Ledbury, I took a trip to visit a couple of colleagues who run chair-making courses to take some photos for my forthcoming presentation on 15th July about Philip Clissett and his chair-making legacy.

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First I called on Tim Gatfield, who had attended a course with Gudrun at Clissett Wood about 15 years ago and after a few years as her assistant, he purchased a woodland just north of Bath. With the help of many volunteers, he has built a beautiful set-up of workshops, round-houses and cabins in which he hosts a series of green wood courses at The Cherry Wood Project throughout the summer.

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I arrived during the last few hours of a 9-day chair-making course. Three participants had already left but the others kindly posed with Tim and his two apprentices, proudly displaying the splendid results of their time in the workshop.

A couple of years ago, after quite a struggle, he obtained full planning permission, not only for his woodland work and the courses but also for a large yurt in which he lives with his wife and their two children – a well-deserved reward for years of hard work. After an evening meal with Tim and Debs and a night in one of the cabins, I lit the fire for a cuppa and some breakfast ready to set off for my next port of call at Westonbirt Arboretum.

One of my last photos at Cherry wood was the compost toilet, situated across a suspended walkway among the trees. I couldn’t help but contrast this with a structure linked to the recent extravagant tree-top walkway recently installed by the Forestry Commission. 24 years ago, I spent a few weeks in the autumn at the arboretum with my then girl-friend Tamsin, producing baby-rattles on the pole-lathe to sell to the streams of visitors coming to see the autumn colours. How things had changed since then! Instead of a tiny kiosk with one attendant, I was greeted by a huge entrance building with automated turnstiles.

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I found my way to what until recently had been Westonbirt Garden Centre, which closed and was then used as a builders yard during the construction of the spectacular tree-top walkway.

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Now the yard was in operation as the base for Windsor chair-making courses run by my colleague Paul Hayden, who had attended one of my courses way back in 1989. I couldn’t help being stuck by the contrast between Paul’s ‘builders yard’ and Tim’s ‘woodland idyll’ but they are both equally valid embodiments of a genuine enthusiasm to convey the delights of working with greenwood.

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I took this photo looking down from the walkway as Paul was just getting underway with the start of a six-day chair-making course. Although he has been running courses at Westonbirt with his colleague Peter Murray for several years, Paul’s enterprise is about to take a leap forward when he hopes this summer, to gain planning permission to turn his ‘yard’ into a full blown green wood centre with a permanent workshop, a sawmill and a shop. With the arboretum catering for around half a million tree-lovers each year, most of whom will walk across the tree-level walkway to gaze down onto Paul and his chair-making students, I’m sure Paul will play a major role in keeping alive the tradition of making chairs by hand.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Secret Power of Trees

Having seen the best hour’s telly a month ago when Countryfile had an hour featuring British woodlands, I have just listened to the best EVER radio programme on BBC Radio 4. It was all about the benefits of woodlands for human well-being. It would have been better still if I had been on it but there you go. If you didn’t hear it, go to i-player when it is available.

This is exactly the topic that I have been banging on about for the last 35 years and it seems to be sinking in.

Call it co-incidence or collective unconscious but this morning I got up early to write the Introduction for my new book. Here it is, hopefully along with some photos from the woods where I spend my summers feeling very good. Also a link to see a pole-lathe in action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Cj_LBZkJh0&feature=context-cha

The rhythm of life!

I first discovered the pole-lathe in 1976 in a wonderful book entitled ‘Woodland Crafts of Britain’ by Herbert Edlin. Intrigued by the idea and wanting to work with wood but having very little money, I cobbled one together and the pole-lathe steadily crept into my life. For twenty years it was the mainstay of my career and ever since that first tentative treadle, I have struggled to put my finger on what it is that makes the pole lathe such a magical machine. Now I think I have finally nailed it!

Life is rhythm, rhythm is life.

Everything that is, was created in ‘The Big Bang’ or ‘The Seven Days of Creation’ or ‘Whatever’. I believe we can never comprehend how it all came about but here it is, and we have to live with it.

Life is ruled by one overriding law, expressed in different ways by different people:

What goes up, must come down

To each and every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

The concept of Yin and yang

The only certainty in life is change

There ain’t no happy times without no pain – Paul Brady

And nothing exemplifies this law better than the rhythm of the pole-lathe..

  • The start of the downstroke requires a huge input of effort during which very little happens. Is it really going to be worth it?
  • It then picks up speed and you bring the chisel into contact with the soft, succulent wood and the long smooth shavings start to glide. This is the moment to live for.
  • Then the stroke comes to an end, the action stops but all that creative energy is captured in the spring of the pole. Not death, just dormancy.
  • You have to let go, relax your pressure on the treadle and leave it to the pole to bring you back for the next episode. If you don’t let go, everything grinds to a halt.

Do you recognise this rhythm?

It is the rhythm of life – the heartbeat – day and night – the seasons – sex and drugs and rock-and-roll!ImageImageImageImageImageImage