Saturday 16 October 2010

Moving On

Tempus fugit and Urban baskets tradition recycled will close at Walford Mill Crafts in Dorset next Sunday 24th October in the evening and is not planned to re-open in the South of England. So this is just a gentle reminder that there is only one week remaining in which to see it. The next showing is in North Wales and is being divided between two galleries Denbigh Library Gallery and Ruthin Library where it opens on the 15th January 2011 and will run until March 12th.

If you have already seen it and you would like to tell me what you thought of it, please do, either here, publicly, or by emailing me or, best of all, if you are planning a visit please write something in the visitors book. That way both the gallery and I get to know your thoughts and both of us can learn from them. As I said in an earlier post my work is meaningless for me unless other people engage with it one way or another.

There are still opportunites for other galleries to have the exhibition either in the UK or abroad, so if you know of a gallery that seems appropriate please tell me or Christine at about it.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Basket News

Yes, I have fallen for this one many times forgetting that "baskets" to a Francophone are a type of lace up sport shoe, presumably something you might wear to play basket ball in. Converse All Stars are a typical example but, the game of basket ball is also often abbreviated to just basket and is very popular in France, hence the demand for 'Basket News'.

I first encountered this linguistic trap some years ago when an attractive French man asked me (in English) what I did for a living and I told him I designed baskets. The ensuing conversation was quite strange because he seemed, unusually, very impressed with my chosen career and I hoped, by implication, me. However, he appeared quite disappointed when he learnt that I wasn't undertaking commissions for Nike, Adidas etc. It finally dawned on me what was going on but I decided not to tell him.

Monday 4 October 2010

Chiswick Eyot Osier Holt

Hek Khaleeli, a friend and much valued patron, sent me a link to a BBC news item about Nick a 67 year old man who has been living on Chiswick Eyot for the past 6 months and it has spurred me to write about this very special place.

I first learnt about the Eyot from Tony Kirkham in 2002. At the time he was responsible for the Arboretum and Horticultural Services at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and he had just agreed to let me plant my grown home experiments in the nursery there. I needed to get hold of willows for the experiments but, buying them was not an option because, I wanted them to be local and readily available in order to be true to the philosophy behind grown home. He told me about this little island in the Thames covered in pollarded willows that he thought used to be cut by basket makers. It sounded incredible to me as I had lived in London for 28 years, making baskets for much of that time, yet knew nothing about it.

My first visit to the Eyot in March 2002 was in the company of Diana Hutchings who at the time was a volunteer at Kew and had been instrumental in helping me make contact with Tony. She also knew about the Eyot and kindly offered to show me where it was and to help cut some willows. Hidden behind the Fullers Brewery just off the thunderous A4 was a piece of basket making history that seemed poignantly beautiful to me in the mix of sunshine and snow that we had on that day.

I had been researching the history of willow cultivation in London for my thesis and had found very few records of osier holts anywhere in the greater London area. I was convinced that there must have been many small plots of land used for cultivating willows for baskets around the edges of the city but could find very few references to any. Those I had found were either of nurseries or plantsmen in Chelsea and Hackney who sold willows for cultivation or of its natural occurrence documented in studies of the Flora of London and its counties. But here in all its wintery beauty was the evidence that, at some time in the not too distant past, basket makers had cultivated these osiers.

The Eyot is a tiny island that is covered with water twice a day at high tides but that you can easily walk to at low tide. The Thames rips in and out of there very fast so you have to be acutely aware of the state of the tide when you visit . Diana (pictured here) had found out the time of low water and we squelched across the mud and climbed the bank. The soggy ground was a jetsom lovers paradise, thick with the detritus that is thrown or blown into the river and growing majestically out of this mattress of refuse were the pollards. We spent the next couple of hours cutting common osier rods in the sunshine keeping a wary eye on the rising tide.

Subsequent research revealed that the Eyot had been planted and cultivated for basket making between about 1800 and 1935 when the last person granted a right to cut the osiers went out of business and the island was subsequently taken over by the local council. The demand for baskets in the area had come from the numerous market gardens in the area that needed containers to transport their produce downstream to the markets of the city of

Since 1949 the willows have been managed by the Old Chiswick Preservation Society in order to prevent further erosion of the island. Another incentive for the locals to cut the osiers, however, is that they block the grandstand view from the houses on Chiswick Mall of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. It seemed too strange a coincidence to discover that one of these handsome houses overlooking the Eyot is called Walpole House!

There is a good account of the history of the Eyot in the following publication for anyone interested in doing more research.
Pape, David, Nature Conservation in Hounslow Ecology Handbook 15, London Ecology Unit 1990, ISBN 1-871045-11-8

This is the BBC clip which shows the island and Nick constructing a shelter for himself from the osiers.