The Natural History Emporium of Mystery; story and depth of place (captured in a museum display)

This ‘Mapping Nature Museum’ is a old schoolhouse slate, sandblasted with a meticulous map of the Don valley brickworks, beside a display table (installed on a heritage metal lathe) of artifacts and specimens found on the Evergreen Brick Works site. Families, school groups, volunteers and others are able to leave clues in chalk for future visitors that will build a beautiful, living map of natural experience. As a formal program, the boxes are opened allowing people to touch the specimens and use leading questions on cards to jump start the inquiry for teachers and visitors. As a story-building and educational tool, this map and display will soon include a treasure box where new samples can be left by the public and then rotated into the museum, reflecting the interests of the current visitors and the seasonal changes in the space.

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.

se this work in its natural habitat here.

ingrained: tracking the grain of plywood with ink.

topographies of grain made with ink black walnut dye following grain on plywood.
topographies of grain made with ink black walnut dye following grain on plywood.
"In the pine top of my work table, 
the dark knots are boulders standing up in the river of grain,
 sending eddies and ripples spinning downstream, 
delivering the driftwood thoughtof a new journey to be taken, 
through trees." 

Roger Deakin, 'wildwood, a journey through trees',
 pp.32, Penguin Books, Toronto, Canada, 2007.

This will become a cycle of 50 paintings within the next three months, which will be mounted so that the water systems that are mapped out of the existing grain drain into each other and become a real document of the grain, i.e. a map of the landscape and conditions which the tree originally grew in, as well as an imagined topography created through the inferrence of grain patterns into landforms and features.
After spending literally years following the symbols of maps while traveling and sometimes without the assistance of visibility, like on the tops of mountains, i have used the symbols to guide me safely to shelter. this training made it impossible to not imagine these landforms in the plywood grain, as soon as i sketched them out i began to see rivers, lakes and water-systems, mountains, and could infer where i would look for clean water or shelter.
both the process of tracking grain in industrial plywood, understanding what different lines may indicate in terms of climate or sunlight and the process of imagining topography into grain resonate with the desire to square up and subjugate natural organic forms to geometric, and therefore human-centric patterns. making round spiral grain lay flat with glue and heat. imagining the bridge you would build over the river, the rectangular house on the cliff, which catches southern light, etc.

i am certainly not knocking the desire to square up nature, since the countless hours trying to master broad axes and hatchets, to achieve those straight lines needed to say, make a table out of dynamic cedar grain, would make that insult a little insincere. what i take issue with, and reflect through these paintings is that more often when you ask someone to define what wood is, it comes in 2″ x 4″ instead of growing out there somewhere.

outside of these political views, its quite calming and fun to follow a pattern, especially one which can reveal new insights into how trees grow and what the activity of mapping expresses about our intentions towards wilder landscapes.

speaking of which, i am now going out to discover some tracks left by creatures dwelling in the ravine, by the marks left in this, toronto’s first real snowfall!

why living knotworks?

living pussy willow

living pussy willow

This knot was harvested in cassandra public school while the snow was blowing over a workshop on planting a living willow tunnel for the evergreen all hands in the dirt forum. In four months I have woven around 150-200 knots mostly from the material harvested at cassandra.
Since I was 12 or so I have been drawing celtic inspired knotworks mostly drawn from the book of kells and similar, though I would get through a letter sized knot and lose patience after 3-4 hours, because the drawing had a predictable end.
As I have said elsewhere the willow knots are waste material because of the way the were pruned or chewed in years past, and are not prime for fencing or basketry. Each break in the leader shoot produces two or more off-shoots which are the structural basis for each knot, and there are few options for weaving and tying these knots other than in the configuration I have made them. The only limitation to this statement is that I have noticed through time that as I become proficient and evolve different means of attaching willow to itself, different patterns evolve.
This, coupled with the awe-inspiring male or female catkins (or in the case of the dogwood I am working with now rosette style flowers) followed by leaves, brings the impetus to continue making knots far beyond my early drawings.
I am not sure if you have looked at the book of kells, but many of the illuminated knots represent animals, people or other symbols, and in this practice I will continue to create increasingly representational forms.
The first experiments have taken forms of insects, but recently I made a small beaver out of red osier dogwood.
Literally every day I am learning from the progressive revelation of growing stems and leaves, which I think of as knots growing out, like problems solving themselves.
I will post more revelations as they progress, hopefully into massive scale living representatives of animals subsisting on willow and dogwood in the don (like the beavers living in the mud banks of the don-1.5m long!).

One knot at a time though. 🙂
Morgan Zigler.

willow also from cassandra public school

willow also from cassandra public school

http://www.foolishnature.org

‘leftover and invasive’ tree baskets

I was commissioned, through my role as ‘animator’ in the children’s garden at evergreen brick works, to find some free, functional solution to children compacting the roots of newly planted trees in the garden.
each one of the baskets is made with a different technique and material. this is black locust removed from competing with native shrubs on the brickworks site by tuesday night site stewardship volunteers, installed and woven in chimney court by volunteers for the saturday public program.
This odd one is made of oak posts which i harvested when an old tree fell on rosedale valley road during a storm in 2009, long wired boughs of pine and spruce which used to be wreathes, were woven over, and then we put up a sign that said “WANNA PUT CLAY ON THIS FENCE? PLEASE DO” and they did. many kids with their hands, through their parents or with sticks used old clay left over from the cob house pictured in the background, to finish installing this ‘clay’ tree basket.
this wee fence is made in the style of the ‘brush hut’. this conventional survival shelter is based around the idea that if you are going to make a shelter out of sticks, and just tie them together at the top, there is little head room in the space, unless of course you use 18′ poles as in a tipi. so instead you make two rings of uprights and infill between with any form of brush. thereafter you lay your rafters on top and have more formal ‘walls’ and a roof, without relying on more complex building technologies. this is also designed as a kind of loose parts garbage collector, since in chimney court we put much emphasis on building and rebuilding shelters out of sticks, we have hundreds of orphaned sticks just laying about. this design allows for the orderly clean up of the childrens’ space, so they can build the garbage into something useful.
this last one is situated at the entrance to chimney court, again the manifestation of the educational principles of evergreen, the not-for-profit organization who currently runs the evergreen brick works project, where i have been working in multiple roles for 6 years. This is an adaptation of wattle and daub, a hilariously named medieval technology of building walls, where you begin with the wattle, a loose term for a kind of weaving with small sticks, and then daub it! with cob. cob, in case you have not been indoctrinated into the natural materials of the environmental art/education uprising yet, is a natural building material that utilizes and takes advantage of the inherent qualities of clay, by mixing it with sand, so it shrinks less, and some kind of fiber like straw for structural integrity. it is applied with water as the vehicle, and dries by air, making one of the most widely applicable building materials the world over, since it does not require a kiln to fire the clay.

 

 

as seen on:

http://www.bestgreenblogs.com

finding a way to make a fence from the land

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this is a 6 month project, which may seem a little extreme for a smallish fence, but it was all harvested by hand through connections with landowners @ http://algonquinagroenergy.com near mattawa, Ontario, and build with hand tools. This 150′ fence was designed from British hazel ‘hurdles’ which were 6′ high and were staked into the earth as garden or sheep fencing for at least two thousand years. This patio for Cafe Belong is instead sunk into rough cedar logs with sugar maple upright to make it modular and portable.

to begin, in February to harvest from 400 acres north of Algonquin park was ambitious, but to find the necessary connection to a piece of land, o be able to visit and understand it, who lives there what has grown where and why is half of what is important, and without the pointers to understanding, there is little inspiration to continue creating things that i harvest.

this willow was cut off of a five acre site which had been entirely graded 5 years ago, and even though we had access to gas powered machinery such as the infamous ‘brush hog’ it did not seems to help, the process of selection being so slow and refined, taking only those saplings of a certain age or width meant that we could not just cut the entire thing down, but picked the trees one at a time. there is no machine more efficient than the head, heart and hands for this.

6

 

4 months later in June i am still installing fences, benches and arbors out of the leftovers. above is Access Alliance Children’s Garden, installed in May of 2012.

i even went so far as to construct a fence in two dimensions as a bench for Merchants of Green Coffee, though as the season progressed the material, pussy willow, white ash,  and sugar maple, would progressively dry out and become harder to work with.

please see the story as it evolves in its natural habitat:

http://www.foolishnature.org/homely/environmental/wood/wood.html