The Underfoots are a collection of creatures from various places around the world. They are all manifestations of the overlooked, mossy intricate worlds underfoot.
this painting (captured with a horrid tiny broken phone camera) depicts the ‘don valley brickworks park’ which encompasses the “Weston Family Quarry Garden” or the quarry restoration by the T.R.C.A., and “Evergreen Brick Works” on the redeveloped industrial pad.
mud creek is the stream which trickles its way down from mount pleasant cemetery, crossing under the belt-line trail (built atop of a 50’s railway built through the valley) to terminate in the ponds. mud creek was diverted once for use in brick production, again to make way for the railway, once more when the trail was leveled out of the railway, and finally 10-12 years ago when the trca began the pond restoration. giant crack willow have swelled ambitiously along the lower stretches of mud creek, sucking up the abundance of nutrients washed down from human activity in rosedale. crack willow do send out clusters of showy seed into the wind, but they have a more obnoxious method of propagation: they replant themselves. many species do this obviously, but on certain slopes you can trace the evidence of successive generations of willow or apple, growing to a certain size and then dropping significant branches downhill/downstream where they root quickly back into the ground. moving upstream, or towards the top of the map, there is a stout bunching of oak, in a branching stem pattern suggestive of past harvesting, which has fallen over a large pool of oddly blue/green water, where mud creek emerges from its subterranean adventures in a spiral steel pipe. where mud creek merges through the successive ponds, down under an electrical building (oddly) before being divided in two and into the Don river i have seen giant prehistoric looking snapping turtles with all kinds of growth on its back, beavers, muscrat and countless other wild signs of regeneration.
when first approaching the capacity for the ‘don valley brickworks park’ to fuel educational activities by the charity which redeveloped the site, Evergreen, we realized the experience and learning gained by kids in our first experimental programs needed a way to be recorded. the first foray into mapping the park was carried out through google map, foot, and historical sources. hilariously we found that a pond indicated on public maps was actually a shadow cast by a hill on the google map. many such intricate crossroads between the published perception of the shape of the park and its reality when walked through. this silkscreen map then was mounted on paper and used to record the significant sightings and experiences of kids in the first green city adventure camp at the brickworks. from these initial mapping exercises, time was taken to reflect upon the most appropriate materials and venue for recording this ‘dirt time’ in nature, and displaying it to the public. eventually, a year or so later, the ‘Natural History Emporium of Mystery’ was installed near the boundary between Evergreen Brick Works and the Weston Family Quarry Garden. The Emporium features the same map lines sandblasted into an old schoolhouse slate for use with chalk, and a nature museum display mounted on an old 21′ heritage metal lathe from the brickworks. see the emporium here.
the painting pictured is one more iteration of interpreting the ‘don valley brickworks park’, trying to trace trough time the meandering of mud creek and its many inhabitants.
This project is about discovering the natural community of the Brick Works, orienting participants in public programs to the yields of the naturalized space, and creating a culture of storytelling around it. All of these specimens are artifacts that in the future could become fossils, but they are able to be the inspiration for stories today that are shared and used to facilitate a deeper connection to place. By physically connecting the map space and specimen display, there will be an open invitation to experience nature, history and storytelling from every individual experience (whether or not visitors are directly participating in formal Evergreen programs). The culture of the Brick Works will continue to grow and evolve as these stories, artifacts and places become interwoven in this artistic interactive display.
Installed in with funds from Evergreen’s Interpretive budget in 2011, the interpretive display was crafted by Charles Jevons (Swordcraft.ca) and the slate map sandblasted by Cobalt Fabrications. the Concept of a personal/public nature museum is well articulated in the book: coyote’s guide to connecting with nature. This project is a collaboration with Lee Earl, outdoor educator at Evergreen Brick Works.here.
with sticks grown purposefully in a garden of willow and dogwoods, or as the forester’s of the early british countryside would call, a coppice, this wee beasty overlooks visitors upon entering.
see a video of the teens who helped harvest the willow here:
the earth science of this art lies in the ability of willow and dogwood to reproduce through any dormant (leafless) cutting or twig. then specific rods are chosen for structural form and placed as to fill in the sculpture as they grow.
thereafter individual willows will leaf out and change the form of the sculpture as it grows in the most unpredictable shapes, which can then in later years be trimmed or further woven in as a seasonal project. kind of like farming pretty trees, but in inspiring shapes. think bonsai.
check out other willow work here:
while creating more work in terms of seasonal trimming can seem like adding inputs/chores/more energy into yard maintenance, willow actually is one of the most productive crops that can be grown in an environmental education center/school-ground. i hope we all know by now that there is a clear disconnection from the seasonal nature of land based activities, meaning that many urban dwellers wouldn’t, as common knowledge, know that garlic should be planted before the first frost outdoors to get that jump on spring it needs. it is therefore productive to plant and cultivate species of easily maintained willows, who benefit and are encouraged to grow if cut in the winter, since this helps children and adults to reconnect to seasonal work and gain memorable insights into reproducing plants and trees to foster an understanding of how to become more self-resilient. can’t argue with that. ha.
next onto ‘the beaver’ at the other gate.
as seen on:
These images are from the ymca in brampton, ontario, who have empowered evergreen to reform the toddler and pre-school outdoor daycare spaces with some space suitable for healthy kids to grow in; a living landscape of plants, trees, and details which makes me greedy to have something similar when i was a kid. it is an odd desire, since i grew up in salmon arm, b.c. and my elementary school had forests attached to it to the tune of about 5 acres. so evergreen has now commissioned me to design and build out a brush hut, whose structural spine is a 4′ cedar fence, and each side of the fence dividing the toddlers from the pre-school kids has a little hut.
All of the material was sourced from an adjacent property called cedar glen, and when i initially arrived i thought i was looking for two trees (for the brush huts) and enough willow to make 2 fifteen foot willow tunnels. When i arrived the willow was in short supply, and what maple i could find was either relatively rare on the site, unless it had been recently cut down and was sprouting up again, a process called coppicing. (more precisely coppicing is taking advantage, and creating annual cycles between coppice areas which you cut down, of trees which re-sprout from the bark collar after a tree is cut. it is an old technology of farming trees which has been practiced for over 2000 years.) the property being called ‘cedar glen’ you could guess which young saplings i was cutting out. that’s right, the eastern white cedar. there is something infinitely satisfying, and somehow right, or ethical about using the materials of small scale forest management to effect such beautiful little children’s spaces. I walked through the woods, populated with large black cherries, white ash, and literally thousands of small cedar saplings, growing together as if for comfort. others call this growing competitively, though it was useful to release the larger cedars of their competition while harvesting for the willow, now cedar tunnels. it may be a stretch of the imagination, but i sincerely believe that this ethic carries over into the material, and thereafter into whatever is created out of it. this balance of the application of differing traditional technologies through understanding different uses of the living pars of plants and trees is, in my opinion, of great effect to children learning, since more intellectual concepts may be harder to ‘sink in’ to their excitable minds.
in the coming two weeks, which mark the beginning of june, i will continue to upload images of these shelters. right now you can clearly see the woven grape vine, cut by a crew of 250 volunteers at cedar glen, the maple, ash, white pine and other upright structural poles, though what you cannot see in the image is the small binding cedar rope, laboriously made from the inner bark, and lashed in to prevent kids from getting their limbs stuck in the hut.