Willow sculptures galore

gruffalo5This year we’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned for several lovely sculpture projects. Some have been a lot bigger than others, a hard old slog at times, but nevertheless all very rewarding.

Gruffalo – Dare Valley Country Park
Set in 500 acres of Welsh woodlands and pasture and bordering the Brecon Beacons National Park, there stands a willow gruffalo peaking out from the trees overlooking the children’s play area. This handsome fella was lovingly created by adult and children helpers who worked with us to build the main structure and fill in with a creative bit of weaving during May 2013. The head, which took a whole day, was done at home and attached a couple of days later, hopefully no children were traumatised by the sight of the headless gruffalo in the interim.  Last reports were that both children and adults were enjoying his company.

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Willow tree take two at Pendoylan Primary School
Back by popular demand a willow tree has sprouted at Pendoylan Primary School.

Over two days all the children had a go at weaving the main structure of the tree whilst some wove beautiful leaves which were attached to the branches at the end.  Sitting in a corner of the yard the tree is a place for reflection and storytelling.

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Yes, it’s a willow Toto
We’ve been asked to do some unusual sculptures over the years but never a lifesize willow Toto. Residents of  Ty Enfys care home in Pentwyn joined in the afternoon session of weaving to create the famous furry canine as part of their Wizard of Oz themed garden display.

IMG_7552The residents are pretty experienced willow weavers as this is the third time we’ve been back to run a workshop.  Willow garden trugs are filled with the fruit and veg from the garden, at Christmas willow decorations hang on resident’s doors and at 90 years old Naomi, our star pupil had her first willow experience making a beautiful basket for her granddaughter.

Butterfly emerges at the RHS Spring Show in Cardiff
Last but not least, as part of the Wildlife Trust garden at the RHS show, we wove a giant willow butterfly. Lyndsey Maiden from the Wildlife Trust came up with the idea of having the butterfly overlooking the garden and large enough for people to stand behind and poke their heads through a hole in the butterfly’s head, making a  perfect winged photo opportunity. Slightly bonkers but right up our street. Weaving took place two days pre-show and with the much appreciated help of Leigh’s wonderful directional weaving skills, was completed five minutes before opening 🙂

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Creative Crafts Skills Awards

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Fantastic News – we have been shortlisted for the Creative and Cultural skills national Crafts Skills Awards in the category ‘Engaging new and diverse audiences in Craft Skills’.

This might sound like we are blowing our own trumpets but we thought you might like to know why! Here are some details from our application:

We are applying for this award as we are incredibly proud of our wide variety of educational, hands-on workshops and courses, teaching the art of willow weaving and basketmaking to adults and children. Our audience ranges from nursery school children, young offenders and residents of nursing homes to the general public. We have worked all over South Wales, and beyond, passing on our own skills to many thousands of adults and children. We are passionate about our work and absolutely committed to reaching as many people as possible to enable them to experience this incredibly rewarding and ancient craft. We provide high quality instruction through a variety of workshops and courses.

Willow Weaving Courses – Cover the history, cultivation and use of willow then hands-on to weave a specific item eg Willow Taster Courses and Garden Structures
Basketmaking Courses – 1 day, 2 day, 5 day Residential and Progressive Basketry Courses (3 innovative series of 6 courses offering structured progression of learning basketry skills.
Teacher’s Courses – Designed for school staff to take simple weaving projects back to the classroom eg Baskets and Crafts for the classroom and Sculpture for schools. Supported by full visual instruction pack
School Workshops – To train adults in situ and teach children a variety of willow weaving skills eg Christmas Decorations and Living Willow
Community Craft Workshops – Each participant is taught and gently supported on a one-to one basis, to weave a simple item, eg a willow heart
Talk and Weave Workshops – a slide show with examples of all our work and then instruction to weave a simple willow project, eg an oval shaped birdfeeder, achievable by everyone.
Event Workshops – mini ‘have a go’ workshops, small-scale projects such as willow star wands

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We encourage the highest of standards and always urge students to strive for excellence in their craft skills. Students are encouraged to take part in progressive basketry classes where we keep detailed records of learning so that we know which skills students have covered individually and then can advance their individual skills accordingly. Individual projects are evaluated at the end of each course and students given targets to improve on.

In 2007 we set up the Welsh Basketmakers South Wales group to ensure that students had support between courses to continue to practise what they had learned. This group, which we are still very active within, is now a thriving community co-operative with over 120 members. The group has recently won an award for their work with the judges quoting ‘I am delighted that the Welsh winner this year is Welsh Basketmakers South Wales Group. It is encouraging that in our modern world, with all its digital technology, there is not only a place for traditional arts and crafts, but that the achievements of the group have been recognized. Not only are they producing work of the highest quality, they are also ensuring that this ancient craft and artform continues, something that we should all celebrate.”

During our courses and workshops we teach skills needed to produce projects that are achievable in the time available. At a show or mini workshop we will teach participants to handle willow safely and learn a simple weave in order to produce an easy project such as a heart or birdfeeder. On longer courses students will learn specific skills to produce more complex items such as baskets or garden structures. We always stress the highly skilled nature of the craft and have high expectations of our students. Most people are extremely proud of their hand-produced items and eager to continue learning.

Since 2006 our one-day courses have provided 982 course places. 35 students have attended our Progressive courses. Our school workshops have reached approximately 5800 children. Our teacher’s courses and workshops have trained 1000 adults who work with children and young people in schools and in the community. We have worked with around 2500 adults and children at shows, most of whom have never experienced willow weaving before. Many show visitors attend courses after meeting us. We have worked with around 2400 adults and children during community workshops and talks.

Many students stress the therapeutic nature of our workshops saying they are relaxing, satisfying and absorbing. One student told us that the day she learned to make her first basket was the day she began to recover from a gruelling divorce.

These are 2 of our endorsements:

‘Clare and Mel have revived the craft throughout the area with their enthusiasm, hard work and commitment. I am particularly impressed with their “progressive” basketry courses and their work with children and schools’. Bob Summers, past chair of Oxfordshire Basketmakers.

‘They have worked tirelessly to generate an interest in the traditional craft of Basketmaking since setting up in 2006. Much of their work has been with children and in the Community. Their skill lies in transferring their acquired knowledge, with enthusiasm, to new people. There is a need to pass on these skills before they are lost.’ – EJ(Bunty) Ball, Vice President and Past Chairman 2008-2012, Basketmakers’ Association

Are we proud to be shortlisted?  You bet we are …..

It seemed like it would never end

 How many?

Awwww, how cute we said after the first few goes of making a 10cm diameter frame basket, this is a bit tedious after the 20th, please no more after the 30th and still only half way there…

…needless to say we were pretty sick of the sight of them by the end.

These 60 (yes 60) little frame baskets were made for the Forestry Commission for children to use for gathering leaves for a Forest School activity. What a lovely idea 🙂

What’s been happening ‘3’… the final chapter

AUGUST – Willow Storytelling tree, Roman Military Spectacular (just look at those Gladiators) the Eisteddfod and the Vale Show

Nearly up to date – August was quite a busy month as well with The Eisteddfod and the Vale Show. We had a rather fetching teepee at the Eisteddfod and spent a very relaxing week on the Maes Gwyrdd. Les Llewelyn, our famous Cyntell maker demonstrated for two days making a beautiful white cyntell.

What better than willow swords and shields for a Roman Military Spectacular at the Amphitheatre in Caerleon. The event lasted for two days and we were treated with fantastic Roman Soldier battles and sparring Gladiators.

Another lovely project was a sculpture of a Storytelling Tree in Dare Valley Country Park. Spread over three days the workshop was for local children who either worked on the tree or made leaves which we attached at the end.

Finally the Vale Show which is an agricultural show held in Fonmon Castle in Barry, another event we’ve attended for quite a few year’s running. Always a very busy day which this year was made joyful by the return of someone very special… 🙂

 

 

What’s been happening….

How time flies, can’t quite believe it’s six months since we last posted. So here’s a quick update on what willowing activities have come our way since March 2012.

 APRIL – Willow Crafts for the Garden, Beginners Baskets and the wonderful RHS Show
With the living willow season finished it was straight into the willow craft season which included the RHS Show in Cardiff and lots of willow courses. Willow Crafts for the Garden is always popular and although every time we say remember the size of the car you came in, quite often this happens.
Beginners basket making are also very popular and we had some lovely baskets made in April at the Heritage Coast Centre in Southerndown. We even had two lovely ladies fly all the way from America. Back to the wheelie bin for soaking though.

We’ve been lucky enough to have a stand at The RHS Spring Show in Cardiff for the last four years and although a tiring three days, it’s always a lot of fun. This year the weather wasn’t so kind and it ended up a bit like Glastonbury outside our marquee. Many thanks to all our helpers, especially Sarah who stuck it out for the three days and most importantly helping to take the stand down, something not easily forgotten 🙂 We also made a willow badger for the Wildlife Trust Garden so it seemed as if we were living on the show ground for about a week.

MAY – Willow Sculpture course, Forest School sessions and Jubilee Crown

Four herons and a dolphin were made on our sculpture course, how amazing are they!

Forest School sessions started again, one afternoon a week for ten weeks taking a group of ten and eleven year olds to experience the outdoors and learn about their environment and to have fun of course. Some lovely tree art went on in the first session, sadly rained every single Thursday afternoon for ten weeks!

We were also asked to make a replica of the Queen’s Coronation Crown for the Physic Garden in Cowbridge to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.

 

Willow Fairytale Village – Last day Planting Living Willow of the season

What a fantastic finish to the season! We have been working on a mini Fairytale ‘village’ of living willow structures at Rhydfelen Nursery School. We started on Tuesday constructing a circular boundary fedge of Flanders Red Willow which joined onto the existing native hedgerow to form a secure and secluded area for play. We then constructed a Fairy Castle (two wigwams and a mini tunnel), a woodcutters cottage (small dome), the 3 bears Chairs, a dragons den (lozenge shape) complete with dragon’s nest and eggs a dragons tail and head and a ‘spinney’ (circular tunnel which spins you round and gives you the chance to enter from one direction and come out of the other). We are also going to weave a ‘tower’ for peering up and out of.  This will be solid posts arranged in a circle which will be solidley woven with a basket weave and chunky willow.  Lots still to do but the living willow is in the ground!

The area is designed to stimulate imaginative play and the nursery plan to complement the village with props such as a dressing up rail, story books and artefacts such as 3 bowls and wooden spoons. We also plan to make a selection of crowns and wands from willow.

I don’t know about the children but Mel and I are just beside ourselves with excitement simply working on this project………… can’t wait to visit and see how the children play in it!

March is a Mad Old Month!

Lovely week, very busy again, planning large Fairytale willow play area for Rhydfelen Nursery, great willow taster course with Countryfile magazine at Dunraven, 2 days at Swansea Community Farm, a 40 m native and mixed hedge at Cadoxton Nursery and then starting 15 m tunnel project at Godrergraig Community Park and first Cyntell course with Les Llewellyn and guests from Devon, Oxford, Norwich and not forgetting Judith from Barry…..