Bark is a particularly beautiful material, it handles like leather, has rich textures and colours. It can be harvested only once a year, a short window of time in spring when the sap’s rising.
I cut sweet chestnut and willow sustainably in the woods near where I live in Sussex. Wandering the woods for a while til I find just the right limb, so that I have minimal impact on the trees. I make offerings before cutting: a gesture of reciprocity.
Removing the bark, there’s a gentle ‘pop’ as it comes away. I lick the bare wood, and taste the sweet sap. My fingers and nails become stained by the tannins in the bark, and by the end of the day my hands and forearms have the familiar ache from repetitive working.
What does it mean to have an intimate connection to the plants, seasons and land where we find ourselves? There is an embodied process in harvesting and using foraged materials. A rhythm and relationship inherent in the act of making. It’s a counterpoint to the pull of our increasingly digitalised and disconnected lifestyles.
The natural growth twists and variations in thickness mean the bark dries in unpredictable ways and sometimes distorts too much. 30% of the pieces I make end up being un-viable for this reason. This makes the successful ones even more precious and valued.
A bark container looks and feels like a hollow tree in your hands. I celebrate the pure barky-ness of the material.
I use many other wild plant fibres: responding to the seasonal variations, a dialogue between hands and plants. Read more about my process of foraging plants.
Read about how I forage for wild clay.
Sometimes I use the bark fresh, working with its natural curvature. Often it has lichen or other interesting marks and features.
Storing the bark for a later use. It smells beautiful: a musky, woody smell; reminiscent of a dirt-floored timber-framed barn from long ago.
Know the ways of the ones who take care of you. Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer. Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity, for what you have taken.
Robin Wall-Kimmerer from ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’
Harvesting in spring.
The natural vibrancy and rich texture of bark. Each piece unique, each connected directly to the land. Echoes of ancient processes.