Monday, August 15, 2005

Oak on Oak on Oak

Oak Bundles
Originally uploaded by notionnanny.
This week I am working with Owen Jones, known throughout the region as the “last” remaining maker of a particular type of traditional oak basket called a swill. He learned the technique from a man who was formerly the “last in the line,” and organically it became his livelihood. “I am a traditional maker,” he said, “and I feel quite comfortable in the safeness of that, as opposed to art, which is about opening doors and breaking with tradition.” Nevertheless, he was interested in my research as an artist, and we agreed that in exchange for helping him in the forest for a day, he would help me to make a basket.

On one of the most fun days I have had since I got here, Owen took me to the part of Grizedale Forest he has been working in for the past eight years, a fenced-in area he has special permission to use. There are tracks that have been worn into the earth over centuries by people doing the same kind of work Owen does. “You can feel the sense of history in these woods,” he said, “and I quite like that.” He has made a sort of outdoor studio that instantly brought to mind memories of playing in the woods as a child, the way a fallen tree becomes a bridge or a big rock becomes a stage. All around us were various interpretations of a log: log as pedestal, log as pen post, log as tarp weight, log as table, log as chair. And in tidy piles that lined each work area where a tree had once come down, there were logs for firewood, for making charcoal, and for boiler fuel, bark for leather tanning, and branches for besom brooms, all stacked up and ready to be used. Even the leafy treetops, which were of no other use to Owen, were left in piles providing future architecture for the homes of woodland creatures. One could easily imagine the pleasures of working there, especially in the wintertime, next to a crackling fire, looking out over the silhouettes of trees into the distant mountains.


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