Bark is a particularly beautiful material, it handles like leather, has wonderful 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 East Sussex and where I run my courses. I wander the woods for a while til I find just the right limb, so that I have minimal impact on the trees. I always make an offering 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.
An artist friend said she loves how I celebrate the barky-ness of the bark. A bark container looks and feels like a hollow tree in your hands.
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.
Quote from ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall-Kilmmerer
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