Last week, I stumbled on a rare and wondrous place: somewhere that made me gasp and sigh and made my heart beat faster.
As we traversed the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, en route to day three of a music festival on a sweltering Monday morning, our three-year-old began a screaming, sit-down protest which looked as though it might just beat us all. With no chance of placating her, I lead a charge into the nearest building, hoping my screaming banshee would find the nearby group of elderly tourists worse company and follow us in. The building happened to look like this:
The Museum of Economic Botany. It was an intriguing name guilded on a particularly stately building with an unassuming door bearing no signs of welcome and I had no idea what would be inside.
As soon as we had swished inside the heavy doors of the Museum and began drinking in the cool rarified air everyone immediately forgot their heat and hunger and ogled our accidental discovery. What a room!
We were in a vast room filled with gorgeous glass cabinets holding treasures (and not a touch-screen in sight). Here were all the seeds, leaves, vines, and pods my excited eyeballs could take in. Even my 6 year old compadre could recognise the revelation. “Oh Mum, you must be so happy” were his actual words and he was so right.
The Museum of Economic Botany is a glorious small museum in the oldest sense. In fact it was carefully restored in 1991 and differs little from when it was created by Richard Schomburgk in 1881 as a record of ways to use various plants and thereby how to prevent waste.
If you are a fibre nut (pun intended) your succour is weavings, baskets, fabrics, textiles, dyes, ropes, seeds, anything woven and this place will be your heaven. I was racing from case to case taking pictures with my phone because I knew our time there couldn’t possibly be enough for me to read every label and soak in all the information.
The cabinets are variously titled Palms, Fibres, Cereals, Pandanus, Aboriginal, Veddah, Barkcloth, Timbers etc. and the specimens have come from ‘every corner of the globe’. There are glass bottles and jars with tinctures, powders, dyes, medicines, oils, cases of specimens, fragments and remnants. It is beautiful.
Then at the end of the room Banjo found a wonderful untitled cabinet of curiosities which we later discovered is a sculpture by Fiona Hall called “Grove”. *If you look back to the third picture of this post, you can see it in full standing at the end of the room.
It’s a magical piece with steps to look in secret peep holes revealing old-worldy moving metal and light creations which completely thrilled my two passionfruits.
There are also mind-blowingly gorgeous old cases of labelled fruit and fungi species models all made from papier-mache.
At one stage there were four Museums of Botany like this and yet now the MEB is the only one of these to survive making it even more of a treat to visit.
The term “Economic Botany” was bemusing to me at first glance but makes sense when you look at this as a place to consider our relationship with plants and the many ways we use or abuse them. Being economical with these and avoiding waste was the central message of the MEB when it was opened and it is even more relevant today as we quest to reconcile our unsustainable use of the environment in our food, clothing and shelter. It also houses some examples of indigenous plant use from around the world which sadly soon may just be relics.
The final quarter of the room has been converted to a timber exhibition space which was showing a gorgeous series of artworks exploring the luscious shape of the exotic seed pod Coco de Mer by NSW based contemporary artist Jaques Charoux.
But we were finally propelled from the room as someone’s dreadful children began moving from piece to piece in the gallery making a gleeful pronouncements of either “boosies” or “bumcrack” and their mother turned a dark shade of beetroot.
So we left the magical Adelaide Botanic Gardens…
Much, much happier than when we came in.
it would be well were everyone to study how to prevent waste and make the most out of everything that comes in their way. By ‘studying economy’, as illustrated in this Museum, they may in time learn to ‘live like lords’. Albert Molineux 1881
Who in their life hasn’t walked on a river bank and pocketed a two-toned rock, a discarded feather or a rosy, speckled leaf, drawn by its colour, texture or unusual shape? Who hasn’t piled up river stones or beach pebbles in wobbly towers? Who hasn’t trailed a stick along the beach sand?
When I describe the boxes full of feathers, leaves, shells etc. I have amassed over the years and how basketmaking gave me a valid excuse for hoarding this ephemera, a reason to get outside and up-close with nature, almost everyone nods in appreciation. Everyone understands this elemental attraction.
There are many artists who take this fascination a step further and re-arrange natural elements temporarily in situ or assemble their findings into sculpture shown in galleries. The movement, pioneered in the 1960′s by artists such as American Alan Sonfist, is collectively known as ‘land art’ ‘nature art’ or ‘earth art’.
Sonfist conceived ‘Time Landscape’, pictured above, in 1965 as one of the early examples of modern* Nature Art. He planted ancient indigenous tree species on a vacant block in urban Manhattan creating an oasis of growth in the city and a reference to what might have been.
Many famous ephemeral works (such as those in my previous blog posts on Patrick Dougherty ) tend to be very large and involve earth moving equipment or teams of volunteers.
Australian Andrew Rogers is the creator of the world’s largest contemporary land art undertaking pictured above. Titled “Rhythms of Life”, the project commenced in 1998 and at present comprises 49 massive stone structures (geoglyphs) across 13 countries on seven continents and has involved over 7,000 people.
However Nature Art can also be so small as to fit on the back of a single leaf and as temporary as until the next gust of breeze.
Celebrated British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy has explored all ends of the spectrum with his works being created in frozen landscapes, inside major galleries and on city rooftops. He uses the magical tools of temperature, sunlight, tides and balance as his glue or his brush.
All these people, whether making an environmental statement or simply celebrating the marvels we overlook every day, are creating sacred spaces to contemplate the world and our place in it. I saw recently ‘time in nature’ listed as one of the 7 essential ingredients for happiness. Certainly, we all benefit from taking a walk or sitting quietly under a tree. Studying our surroundings and creating a work of art at the same time? Double happiness.
So to boost my happiness, I have invited amazing contemporary sculptor, Shona Wilson to run an Autumn ephemeral art workshop here on my parents beautiful property in the Southern Highlands (1.5 hours drive from Sydney airport, 2 hours from Canberra). I christened her the Goddess of Small Things in a blog post of the same name, and her gallery work is extraordinary.
Shona has agreed to run her workshop, called “Collaborations With Nature” on Saturday April 5th and we will spend the day together learning about, making and photographing nature art as well as eating a delicious communal lunch from the veggie garden. Bookings are open to everyone but places are strictly limited to 11 (the 12th is me!).
The focus is investigative, process orientated and experiential. The workshop will provide the time, space and inspiration for you to create works using only the materials and elements found on site at the workshop. I will provide a framework of ideas, and a safe and inspiring environment for you to create in a meaningful and positive way bringing with me the knowledge and experience of collecting, processing and re-assembling a myriad of materials. Your ‘keepsake’ from the experience will be in the form of photographs, writings, recordings and memory.
I will also be holding my random weaving basketry workshop at the same venue on the Friday (the day before) so if you are craving a natural high you can get a big creative hit and spend two days making with us in the bush! The link to the bookings page and all the details for the classes are up on my workshops page.
It’s going to be so lovely – I hope you can join us and we will create some sacred spaces together.
* I suppose it could be argued that any of the indigenous or tribal art using barks, ochres or the assemblage of rocks as temples or totems are the first land art.
Thanks to Walter Mason for making the photographs above of his work available for use under a creative commons license. You can see many more at his wonderful Flickr doubleyou_em Photostream. Click on all other images to open their online source.
Summer! It’s hot and there’s a lot happening. I don’t have time for many words but I thought I would give you a little pictorial of my work-life happenings over the holidays…
I have moved into a new studio! It was hard to leave this little beauty…
.. but look how much space I have now! Thanks to my papa I have perfect shelving and tool bench.
It has a little gallery at the front!
This room is holding a few of my works-in-progress and some cool bits and pieces from local friends. There are always things coming and going.
This is the awesome crew from Together Dreaming – Boolarng Nangami Arts & Culture Studio from Gerringong. I can’t tell you about the project we’re cooking up here yet but it’s a biggie!
I ran some workshops.
This one was at beautiful Royalla near my hometown of Robertson.
I knocked off a couple of overdue commissions. (with love!)
Playing with copper and patination.
I put some work in galleries. This show – New Design 2 - is on until Feb 3rd at Sturt in Mittagong. There are some amazing designers and makers in there.
I was playing with texture and pattern.
I also made these lights for our kitchen.
Actually, I made them a few months ago but realise it was time to post a pic or two.
Most importantly I did some camping and down home time with these people.
Oh and we harvested our first honey from my birthday beehive. Such sweetness.
And now I am heading out the door for a music festival and a little beach holiday with those little ones.
Into the new year with attempts at occasional stillness, new beginnings and lots of ideas being pollinated.
P.S. Delivered sculptural pieces today to Goulburn Regional Art Gallery for a group show opening 31st Jan “Efflorescent – A Contemporary Take” It’s all artists working with or depicting flora - I will keep you posted on that.
Have you been dying to learn how to random weave but couldn’t ever get into a class, or been too far away (hello WA readers!) or just can’t get out of the house? (young children anyone?!)
OR have you got friends and family members who would love a Christmas present made by hand more than anything you could buy them?
OR would you like to give someone a place in a creative workshop for Christmas so they get more than just a thing to unwrap?
Yes??? Don’t worry – we’ve got your back. Read on!
The internet is pretty much a miracle maker.
This year, I went to America for the first time ever and then I went there for the second time ever too! Purely because of online connections. I was invited to share “Dream Weaving” or sculptural basketry at the magical Squam Art Workshops. I really couldn’t have dreamed it up… We spent our time in a spectacular old family camp on a lake with masses of crafters and other creatives and we fed our hungry souls with drawing, photography, writing, knitting, feasting on delicious locally sourced food, swimming, talking and laughing a LOT.
The first time I was there, the founder Elizabeth Duvivier, asked if I could (*insert American accent) “make a pretty garland” to hang in The Playhouse, an immense creaky old timber building, for the arrival of all the guests and the “Opening Ceremony”. I loves me a creative challenge and I set to weaving something I had never made before.
After consultation with some “Squammies” about what would symbolise the event, I wove a massive green heart (I was also hoping to ingratiate myself to my new friend) and strung it with fairy lights.
We had lots of lovely feedback and one person was so moved she was all teary as she approached me; she wanted to hang one at her wedding – it was extradordinarily poignant as she had fought for the right to marry her love. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to make them for everyone who wanted a heart while I was there so Elizabeth came up with the seed of an idea that grew into this wonderful online offering Gift Of The Heart.
Online workshops aren’t even a thing here in Australia yet which is crazy because we have many people living in remote, rural and regional areas. They are such a marvellous idea as they bring the teacher into your home (well hellooooo there) and you can press pause and rewind (certainly can’t pause me in live classes!), learn at your own pace, get a friend over and do the class together in one day or take it slowly, a bit at a time WHEN IT SUITS YOU.
When you you sign up (you can use paypal) for Gift Of The Heart, you are immediately sent a password to access all seven short instruction videos, lists of all the equipment you need to get started, materials you can collect to weave into your pieces, suppliers and book lists with resources to go on and do more weaving and all the classes are transcribed so you can read through them as well. If you get stuck – I think we’ve given you so much information, I’m sure you’ll be weaving away without a worry – but I am always just an email away for any questions that come up.
We didn’t think it would be right to deny lover’s day and the workshop is going to be available until the 15th February. So you have PLENTY of time over the holidays to make a variety of hearts big and small for the people that matter in your life.
I also made a pdf voucher below for the workshop; just click on the link to download to your computer, find some nice paper, hit print et VOILA! Once you have paid for the workshop, just write the password on it and bestow some learning love on your special friend.
Now, you have an awesome orginal Christmas present to give someone (for which you have not even had to leave your seat… .. let alone find the car keys, battle the harried mothers for parking spaces and navigate the aisles of falalala). Hopefully that gets you out of a Christmas pickle or two and gives some people who can’t access live workshops a chance to get weaving.
Love to all for a hearty holiday season and many spicy kisses under the misteltoe.
Here’s what some people said about Gift Of The Heart
This makes me ecstatic! I took Harriet’s workshop last June and was blown away by the process, the setting, her in particular! I came home with all the leftover materials, harvested and dried vines over the summer. I am so getting my heart weave on!!! Thank you!
- Cassia Cogger, Manhattan
Yay! I’m so hooked on hearts! I’m working on my Christmas heart now. Thanks Harriet and Elizabeth!
- Tory Williams, Brooklyn (photographer and camera operator extraordinaire)
‘Beaubourg’ 2013 like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. The weaving on this site just keeps getting bigger!
Russian land artist Nikolay Polissky, originally a painter from Moscow, began working with local villagers in an almost abandoned town, four hours from the city, in the year 2000. Since then, he and the people of Nikola-Lenivets have collaborated on something like 20 sculptures and he now resides there, on the edge of the forest. His first, temporary works were oversized structures built singularly from snow, hay, twisted branches, woven birch branches or timber. In the intervening years, using local materials he has transformed the wasted place into a cultural centre, and the inhabitants of Nikolay Levits have become co-owners of a proud creative process which attracts visitors from around the world.
‘Hay Tower’ (2000)
‘Lighthouse on Ugra’ 2004
His more recent works are mind-blowing in their precise engineering and scale but I am particularly fond of the primitive feel of earlier creations like ‘Media Tower’ (2002) below.
‘Media Tower’ was woven in the snow but had planter boxes inside so that vines full of vegetables trailed down the structure in summer. These were harvested to feed the arts village and eventually the tower was burnt when winter came again (check out the video where the piece is set alight in the snow by a semi-naked Russian man with a flaming apparatus!)
‘Firewood Tower’ (2001) resembled an ancient fort.
It’s was lit from within to achieve this nighttime effect. Upon dismantling, the important energy source wasn’t wasted – the cut wood was used in the villagers stoves over winter.
The astounding ‘Universal Mind’ (2012) also made from timber, shows how Nikolay Polissky’s technique has been refined in ten years.
Many of Polissky’s works use traditional basket weave but none with the audacity of this mammoth 2013 sculpture. ‘Beaubourg’ was named for the suburb in Paris housing the Pompidou Centre which, along with music, inspired the pipe-like forms of this latest piece and, and like Nikola-Lenivets, Beaubourg is another area to which culture has become life-blood.
The area around the base of the sculptures have been used for festival, dance and music type performances bringing people to nature, nature to culture and inspiring awe and respect for materials and techniques being rapidly lost.
This celebration of human collaboration and nature would be a quite a wondrous sight to behold I imagine… …fast train to Moscow anyone? Here’s a map I found on his website of Nikola-Lenivets and, evidenced by the line underneath, they really do want us to visit!
I don’t think you will manage to get their without car and without speaking Russian. If you have problems getting there, we can help you, just call us.
There’s plenty more to look at on his website.
Ironically, Nikola-Lenivets apparently translates roughly to ‘Lazy Nicholas’.
I think not.
P.S. I don’t know what yet but the next post here is going to be about something very small!
Images all from the website of the artist http://www.polissky.ru/en/
I thought our woven willow work was respectably large until I saw these beauties… Ten days ago 6 amazing, 30ft, woven willow arches were officially opened at the top of The Long Walk outside Windsor Castle signifiying the 6 decades since The Queen’s coronation.
It is an old tradition to erect Triumphant Arches for the monarch. Often they were heavily decorated and opulent but made from papier mache! The minimalist woven willow design of 2013 using locally sourced traditional natural materials is more representative of todays environmental awareness and frugality.
The arches were designed by UK garden designer John Worland and woven by a team of volunteers at a local farm led by willow artist Spencer Jenkins (pictured below) and including help from Tom Hare (if you’re into willow weaving you’ll recognise him as the creator of the gorgeous woven seed pods in Kew Gardens). They were then lifted into place by crane and peiced together in situ.
The crew of 10 people were weaving on a local farm for 2 months, 12 hours a day however the arches are only going to stay up (for one’s pleasure) for two weeks! They will be sold off to raise money for the Royal Windsor Rose & Horticultural Society society’s legacy fund to pay the education of one young horticulturist each year for 60 years.
That’s some awesome creative energy being used for good.
photos: Coronation Arch Facebook Page
Dutch artist Claudy Jongstra takes the ancient skills of felting and tapestry from textile art & craft beyond into the realms of art and architecture.
Aside from producing incredible textile pieces, Studio Claudy Jongstra has a deep commitment to an ethical process. She maintains control over every step by cultivating the materials they use; keeping her own sheep, bees, growing a botanical garden and fields of dye plants. Her team utilises local resources, natural materials and keeps alive ancient skills (themes close to our hearts since Mat and I started working with Andean spinners and weavers eight years ago.)
Their beautiful Drenthe Heath Sheep. Europe’s oldest breed of which, only 1200 are left in the world.
In the dye studio Claudy and her team dye all the wool for her artworks by hand using nuts, leaves, roots and flowers which they grow themselves.
From her website: “Shortly after our botanical garden had been laid out, many insects and butterflies came to inhabit it and we realised we could stimulate bio-diversity. Logically, we took the next step in the independent production chain, namely planting our own fields of dye plants.”
“People have great careers, but they have lost their connection with nature. They are astounded to see how culture is created from nature. They have busy lives and great careers but feel a huge emptiness around them caused by the superficiality of frenzied consumption. We hope to awaken people’s deeper inner knowledge.”
If this isn’t important and fulfilling work, I don’t know what is.
If you are visiting the Netherlands: “Since 2012, Studio Claudy Jongstra rents a small, abandoned, beautiful 17th-century church in Friesland, using this church as its gallery; tapestries, raw materials, sketch proposals and mock-ups can be viewed at the church.
The church is open for art collectors, curators, architects.”
Mat and I daydream often of finding our own piece of land where, like Claudy, we can live and work in a holistic way, producing food for our family table and beautiful things to sell. In the mean time, I attended a felting workshop recently with local sculptor Anita Larkin and now in the cold days of late winter, just as tiny black Suffolk lambs are being born in our front paddock (alas not with the beautiful locks of the Drenthe Heath), I am off to the shed with the kids to dig out some old fleeces. Stay tuned for some raw shaggy woollen creations…
All images from http://www.caludyjongstra.com