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.
"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!
pirates will be popping up and learning about the floods in the don valley in the children’s garden at evergreen brickworks this coming spring. will they learn how to survive pirates? or will the pirates teach them high sea survival….time will tell.
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.
To try and find the right wood that is 4-6′ long in pencil to pinky-finger thin in almost branchless shoots that will weather the sun and rain for more than a year or two for outdoor building and sculpture does my head in!
Growing here there are dogwoods, of the striking reds and pale yellow greens, though they have usually been planted stem by stem in the few trca plantings that the city can afford and are anything but branchless. They will outlast willow birch and poplar, especially if the bark is intact, though I have the feeling that their color will bleed to a mordor black.
There are, cultivated in a few hundred ultra manicured front gardens in toronto, multi-stemmed hazel trees. They shine almost golden, and I am enamored by the beaked-hazel, which I have seen but twice in and around the don in the last five years. Most of the hazels you see are horribly pruned out of season and above the ground, since it is somewhat counter-intuitive knowledge that this short beauty will not last twenty years without being cut back down to the ground.
Here grows the principle problem with finding stems of the length I need to produce useful garden fencing and furniture; that without pruning to make the stumps more competitive and multi stemmed, they tend to divide oddly. If I could run around at night, in the right season mind, and bring these beautiful trees back ‘into cycle’ it would solve the problem of the right wood.
Another more capable and equally as water/sun resistant as hazel is the locust. There certainly is an incredible amount of work involved in removing the paired thorns of the black locust. Many days I have set out with grand schemes of processing this tree, and have switched to more useful tasks within the hour. This tree, the black locust, is unfortunately brittle, and does not take to twisting into rope to secure corners of fencing or whathaveyou. The bark is amazing, though mildly toxic, and has similar qualities to cherry or elm barks (used for chair backings, leatherlike).
Though I love the willows, unless they are planted as live structures (putting 8″ of the stem in the ground in late fall early spring, and caring for them well over the first year) I think they will rot out in 5, depending on how much sun they get to degrade the bark.
This problem evolved out of trying to make animal enclosures, and you would not invest in a massive amount of willow hurdles unless they were going to last. Hazel can buy you another 5-10 years, and I would assume locust is about the same. This is of course without treating the wood, which could be done with a turpentine produced as a byproduct of traditional charcoal production.
The list grows short, though maples, ash and others like chestnut or even yew would do beautifully, though I would prefer, in most cases to leave these tall competitive saplings intact for the most part (except for some singling or light thinning).
When I built the fence at belong, I harvested roughly 200 8-12′ thumb sized sugar maple stems per acre. This provided the uprights, numbering around 160, for the 1000 pussy willows that were then woven to make a 155′ fence. I would not have harvested more, since there was 3′ of snow and it looked like the deer and rabbits were doing enough thinning of the stems, and had their own version of forest stewardship well in hand (so to speak). Also it pays to be selective in material, since I was almost selecting to the mm to create something that was thin enough for willows to bend around but thick enough to withstand being upright. Regardless this abundance of young trees does not exist in the g.t.a. Obviously.
It seems to be a long road, enculturing the use and stewardship of branchwood to create an alternate economy in outdoor fencing, charcoal, living structures in todays urban cityscape.
One stump at a time.
after purchasing bulk willow from a supplier in southern Ontario who buys from landowners in Quebec, i collaborated with evergreen learning grounds and andreas merker to deliver a three hour workshop in Cassandra public school in NE Toronto where we built a 15′ living willow tunnel. during the workshop i took half of the twenty associates who consult for school boards (installing natural play spaces across the country), and walked over to a stone theatre with a horseshoe boardwalk above out-of-cycle willow shrubs of multiple varieties. we harvested much of what was in the way of lunchtime monitors being able to see the kids through the brush, a.k.a. to improve sight lines. this brush was full of willow whips of purple and yellow, green and red, each cut multiple times (to improve sight-lines) in the past, and so were rendered useless as living fencing or tunnel material, and indeed for baskets as well. after spinning little circles in some leftover pencil-lead thin stems, i had the idea to sculpt these malformed specimens into little representations of bugs and animals, eventually embarking on monstrous living deer and eagles, etc.
these specimens were stored outside in the cold winter we’re having, and were brought indoors to defrost before being woven into these distinct patterns which emerged (again from being trimmed in a specific way over multiple years). each cut by pruners in years past, trying to see the children through the willow, produced uniform deformities, which evolved through the careful priming and bending with my hands, into about 150 little critters, which can be seen at: http://www.foolishnature.org/homely/environmental/wood/wood.html under the heading: Living Knotworks.
If one takes a dormant willow sculpture, and entices it indoors into a bucket of warm water for two weeks it will produce large catkins and then leaves, and can then be kept indoors over the last few months of winter to learn and observe from as it grows out its knots. I have been potting these works in glass vases, and they are currently for sale @ cafe Belong located at550 bayview- evergreen brickworks in the don valley; Ossington Ideal Coffee-ossington 1blok S of Dundas, W side, and soon also available at Broadview Expresso, broadview 1blok N of Danforth, E side.
Pay them a visit if your in the neighborhood.