The Eternal Herbarium

During my recent trip to Boston, I visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History, where I was blown away by an amazing exhibit of glass flowers by Czech glass sculptors Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka.  Initially working on marine invertebrate sculptures after encountering a jellyfish and being inspired to re-create it, Leopold Blaschka, he began working on botanical sculptures after being contacted by  George Lincoln Goodale, who was in the process of setting up the Harvard Botanical Museum.

From orchids and pitcher plants to grasses and willows, the Blaschkas’ work is phenomenal in its breadth and detail – some of the sculptures even show galls and the parasites that cause them, transverse sections of stamens and plant cells.  Incredibly, this work was all done with the most rudimentary of tools – melting, twisting and crinkling glass over a flame.  There is an incredible youtube video showing the Blaschkas at work.

You don’t have to go all the way to Massachusetts to see their work – you can see some of the Blaschka marine glassworks at the Natural History Museum in London (admission is free).

All Good Things are Wild and Free

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo days ago I made a pilgrimage that I have been waiting to make for over 25 years.  You see, I grew up in the USA, and while that meant that in general my literary education was somewhat limited to American authors, it mean that I was exposed to some writing at a very formative age (16) that had an immense effect on the adult I would grow up to be, the career that I would choose, and how I would spend my time.  I went to high school in a small town in Florida, and amidst the typical  backdrop of a fairly normal high school education, I had one of THOSE teachers – Mrs Kauffman for both English and Creative Writing.  Mrs Kauffman said that she thought that I would like some of her favourite authors – Walt Whitman & Henry David Thoreau. (In hindsight I think it was more my tendency toward Civil Disobedience that she saw in me, rather than my future as an ecologist, but either suits me fine!) Her recommendation changed my life – and so on  the morning of December 11th, my 40th birthday, I stood (with my brother and my husband who had made the trip with me) on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts in the softly falling snow.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” -HDT

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We had first visited Thoreau’s grave, which is in the overwhelmingly peaceful Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Light snow was filling the air, but not sticking to the ground.  I paid my respects to Henry’s grave which was surrounded by pens and pencils thrust into the earth in tribute, and then went down to Walden Pond itself.

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There was a replica of HDT’s cabin which he built on the shore of Walden pond in 1845, and in which he lived for two years, largely turning his back on society.  Henry was on a quest for simplicity, and the cabin, which contained a small desk, a stove, a chair and a bed, was certainly minimalist by anyone’s standards! I felt a wash of trepidation on his behalf at the thought of the cold, labour and solitude, and no small amount of envy at the same time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was an immense privilege to  walk through the woods of pine and birch (which apparently were considerably less dense in Thoreau’s time at Walden) and to feel like I’d had a glimpse of insight into this incredible place which acted as such a catalyst to the Conservation movement.  There is no wonder that it is held so dear in the heart’s of Thoreau’s fans – that people do as I have done and make the pilgrimage to Walden.  Makes one come over all transcendental.

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” - HDT

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I’m back in Blighty now and happy to he home for Christmas, excited about the turning of the seasons.  I have a few more blog posts coming up about my trip to the US, but in the mean time, please do have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful, simple and fulfilling new year.

-Morgan x

Blue Christmas

I absolutely LOVE this bluestem willow (Salix irrorata) – made a wreath and small English Randing basket out of it today and I’m just delighted.  its so lovely to work with and looks as if it has been sprayed with spray-snow!  Perfect for Christmas decorations.  This is a natural bloom that appears on the tree at this time of year.  Made quite a few wreaths today, which I’ll post another time, but this week marks the start of the Christmas season.  I’m doing a few workshops around the Walsall area – check Whats On Walsall for info if you fancy coming along.

Pine Cone Bleaching, Part 1…

So I tried an experiment – bleaching pine cones.  The internet claims that it works – I am now thinking that something is lost in translation somehow (like, for example, I ‘dried’ my cones for 30 minutes in a 200 degree oven, and only later realised that the website was American and would therefore have been in FAHRENHEIT, and had actually nearly made charcoal.)  *rolls eyes*… But undaunted, I will try again with a stronger bleach solution and a 100C cooking temperature.  Here, anyway, is the process – updates to follow.  Also, watch this space for updates on my new pet project – 60 cuttings of the luscious Bluestem Willow (Salix irrorata – thanks to Mark for the ID!!) that I harvested earlier this week – you can see it in the wreath photo below.  Hoping to do a Bluestem Christmas basket in the morning if I get time before the first of this year’s Christmas decorations workshops.  Tis the season………

Heather Be Thy Name

Had a go today at making an English basket using heather from Brownhills Common.  Thanks to Dave Knowles (aka Obi Wan) from the Forest of Mercia, who advised me on twisting and binding down with white willow, I managed a nice first attempt.  The rest of the basket is made from Dicky Meadows Willow (a variety of Salix purpurea) which I thought worked really nicely, and although it is a bit waxy, I just LOVE the glaucous colour.  Going to use this basket for my Christmas Tree base this year!

 

Indigenous Basketry

I’ve been on a couple of museum trips recently – to the V&A museum in London (where I photographed the bats in last week’s post) and yesterday to the World Museum in Liverpool, where there are fantastic examples of indigenous basketry from around the world.  I thought I’d post a few of my favourite photos from the trips, which consist largely of coiled baskets. (European & Celtic baskets are usually made by weaving willows or other materials, whereas many new world baskets and traditional African baskets are primarily coiled baskets – more akin to sewing than to ‘basket weaving’, but nonetheless requiring an astonishing amount of skill.) My favourite by far is the Vancouver Whaler’s Hat – although I love all coiled basketry and marvel at the time and patience required for even the smallest piece (You can take a look at my first coiled basket here – made from Pine Needles – which took me about three hours!) I am really beginning to develop a love for Canadian / First Nations basketry.  Anyway, hope you enjoy the pics!

Hedge Over Heels

*You’ll probably notice that I’ve been consolidating a couple of blogs, and many of my basketry posts are now here.  I need to go through them and sort our feature images, etc., but please feel free to have a rummage through this year’s posts.

‘Tis the season for (amongst other things) basket making, as hedgerow materials are abundant during the autumn.  From Willow and Dogwood to Bramble and Ivy, there is a wealth of natural materials out there to be found, harvested and made into baskets.  I have been doing an intermediate basketry course recently, and we’ve been looking at coppicing / harvesting natural materials to make baskets.  Here’s a few photos of last month’s hedgerow basket (made from green, yellow and buff willow – the buff is bought willow, which I used to ‘tighten up’ the natural materials, which will shrink as they dry.

 Watch this space next week for tips on harvesting, preparing and storing natural materials for basketry…

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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