Last year at the Spring Bank Holiday I participated with colleagues from the Peak District Artisans in the Derbyshire Open Arts event, at Beechenhill farm near Ilam, home of Sue and Terry Prince. It's a very nice venue, held in a beautifully converted barn, albeit well off the beaten track. But thanks to Sue's inexhaustible energy it is well known, and achieved a remarkable footfall.
On the second day of the exhibition a couple came round and clearly appreciated my work. We got talking and it transpired that they managed an area of ancient woodland at Shining Cliff in the Derwent Valley. They asked if I would be interested in some big old trees, including a holly which had fallen some time ago, and needed removing.
These days I am much more circumspect about what I ask for. I used to grab any opportunity for unusual or large pieces of tree, with the result that I accumulated more that I could ever use. Plus the fact that I much prefer turning the wood green, but if you have a lot in one go it starts drying out and cracking before you can use it. So I asked David and Michelle (the couple) about the dimensions of the tree (it clearly was BIG for holly), and how long it had been down etc, and we left it that I would go over and pick what cuts I wanted.
When the time came I took Christian - my head forester(!) and tree surgeon - because we both wanted to see what this ancient woodland looked like. David and Michelle live in the delightfully named Beggars Well Wood on a plot that has a whole history to it irrespective of the neighbouring ancient wood. David was out, but Michelle took us to the old holly tree which was truly enormous for holly, and I picked the sections I wanted. She then took us round the adjacent ancient wood which was owned by a London based trust set up in the early 20th century. It was fascinating, not least to hear the ideas about how it might contribute to regeneration through reestablishment of wildlife corridors over into the Ecclesbourne Valley. And Christian, who is into generating his own electricity, wanted to know more about how the disused waterpower of the Derwent was lively to be re-harnessed. We had a good afternoon.
Anyway, the agreement was that when David's vehicle had been mended, or replaced, he would bring over the sections I had asked for. And that was duly done, with the result that I acquired this large piece of holly, as well as another offcut.
Now this tree had been fallen for some time. You can see that it had lost a lot of its bark (though holly bark is always thin). Also there were serious cracks where the heartwood had begun to dry out. So my reasonable assumption was that I was not dealing with green wood, but with dead and relatively well seasoned wood. So I treated it accordingly. I cut a slice off and sectioned it into 3 turnable pieces.
The first bowl warped far more than I expected, but it didn't split.
And I went on to turn a smallish bowl. But no way was this wood as desiccated as it seemed. This was how the the bowl ended up.
That I thought was acceptable. So I went on to turn the larger bowl.
And this is what it did.
Now this level of cracking is ridiculous. It's not a bowl any more. But I like the wood. I like the structure. I am reluctant to let it go.
So I depart from the functional object. And carve it into a sculpture.
And it pleases me.
Wood, even when it is ancient, fallen, and apparently dead, still dictates what can and can't be done with it. It is still organic, containing within itself centuries of history, and still determining its possible futures.