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Myfanwy Morris, photo: Faye Suzannah

This year for Somerset Art Weeks we are not having a preview – instead I’m showing a preview of works on WordPress and Facebook as they arrive, as a flavour of things to come. This time it’s Myfanwy Morris’s photos from New Zealand. Myfanwy is one of the artists invited to create work for Amazing Space II – her line of work is darkroom photography. The plan was that she would spend part of the summer in the darkroom here, making images of people who live and work in and around the Dove. That plan was horribly upset by HM Border Control at Bristol airport, who decided to deport Myfanwy back to New Zealand, instead of granting her a six month tourist visa which she had hoped to receive. She had been here for a couple of years on a young person’s work and travel visa which ran out at the end of April. Myf was grudgingly granted 5 days to pack her bags and fly back to NZ, during which time she raced around shooting 9 reels of film – an extraordinary achievement for someone in a traumatised state, but then Myf is an extraordinary person, and utterly committed to the Dove project. So, yesterday, less than 4 months later, a parcel arrived. So exciting – here is the unpacking.

And after that were the dozen or so mounted images that we will be showing in SAW 17. As I said, this is the preview….

This weekend just past has to count among the more extraordinary times in my life. Not just because we raised the treehouse platform, though we did that. Not just because the weather was beautiful and the meadow and trees were in their prime. But because around 20 people, from the age of 11 to 92 (yes, 92, albeit briefly in this case) had a daylong, muscle straining, totally focused, axe wielding go at the ancient craft of riving: that of splitting a huge, green oak butt into shingles, laths (strips, essentially), and pegs, all destined for the tree house. All this under the watchful eye of Richard Archard, expert lath, shingle and peg maker. Here is the story of the oak butt, and what happened to it, in photos.

The oak tree was struck by lightning a year or so ago, and its owners, Sue and Tubby Peto, had to have it felled. They very generously donated it to us – it is a lot of oak!

Meanwhile, over in the treehouse corner, the Dove carpenters were preparing – joining and pegging – and then raising the main frame that they have been making over the summer months.

While this was happening, the barbecue was on its way.

Treehouse 8

There followed a classic night of human activity after a hard working day: songs, laughs, bonfire and booze. When the stars came out they were stunningly bright, and framed by the trees around. There were even some of the shooting stars we had been promised (more a trickle than a shower, I have to say). A late night for some.

Treehouse 11

Sunday morning, and the rivers gathered, the carpenters made new joints, Jim extracted 4 curved handrails from a huge, unstraight piece of oak he had had for a while, and at the end of the day the laths (strips) became balusters (uprights between the newel posts) and we could start to imagine the full beauty of what was being coaxed into being. But how that will look is for another day: we ran out of time and couldn’t join the pieces just made, to the frame. Next time.

Treehouse 10

Morning light on the frame

Treehouse 17

New joints

Treehouse 9

Curving handrail to be

Treehouse 15

Laths loosely attached. Josh checks the gap.


People keep asking me: is the tree house up? and I reply, not yet, it’s still very horizontal. Timber framing seems to me a lot like lego. You select the pieces, or in the case of timber framing, you actually MAKE the bricks, and then you join them together, which happens very fast. Our treehouse is at the ‘making the bricks’ stage, and believe me, it’s hard work, but there’s a lot of learning in it, and this knowledge can be used in every area of woodwork. Take mortise and tenon joints, for instance. The classic, simple yet strong way of creating a join between two bits of timber. Here’s one that Josh is tapping together.22.7..14


22.7..9Here’s a beautiful mortise that someone in the women’s’ team has completed (Clare?). All accomplished with a bit of power drilling and then accurate chisel work.

22.7..6And here (at the front) is Bethan’s tenon.


22.7..4Jim has decided to create two ‘teams’ for this stage: female and male. This is to do with confidence building, but also because he has observed that the sexes co-operate differently. For instance, women ‘huddle’, he tells me.


22.7..5A similar situation with men: no huddle.

At the end of another immensely hard working day we have this, in the men’s corner


And this in the women’s22.7..13

I can start to see how this is all going to end up (‘up’ being the operative word) like the design that Jim drew up from last time’s direct design in the treehouse corner. No ‘house’ yet (that’s the easy bit, Jim assures us); but a strong, sturdy platform for whatever we choose to build on it. The surrounding trees will not be used structurally as they are too young, but will enclose the space, and may well get partially incorporated into the build.22.7..3


The end of the day


Our cook today was Faye Suzannah, who produced a great Mexican lunch and lots of cakes, and even found time to do some screenprinting in the studio in between.

Faye 1

Faye 3

Faye’s drawing

Faye 2

The photographic screen she has created from the drawing,  through which the colour is pressed

Faye 4

The printed flowers (first colour of the print)

Faye 6

hung up to dry

Faye 7

And here’s a finished screenprint of the White Field that she did a couple of weeks ago.

Day 3 of the tree house build process. Jim’s injured right ankle is quite a bit better, though still delicate and requiring painkillers (did I say? We had to cancel a weekend in June). He’s looking very cheerful, though, and bless him for running this workshop today.

8.7. 1

Setting out – for the trees

8.7 2

Introduction to the tree ‘corner’

8.7 3

Only a second before someone shins up a tree – Rosa

8.7 4

8.7 6

Clare and Marcel are up another tree, Clare is on Olivia’s ‘perch’: the original tree platform and source of inspiration for the tree house here.

8.7 5

This is called ‘direct design’,that is, creating the basic structure in situ with lengths of softwood.

8.7 7

There followed a fantastic group interaction, working towards consensus.

8.7 8

The structure is created to the group’s satisfaction.

8.7 11

To ensure the structure can be re-erected in the same place, triangularisation happens (I know, I wasn’t concentrating at this point…)

8.7 10

with the aid of this tool, I guess.

Ideas came thick and fast, the group process was wonderful, and the structure came down at the end of the day, to be rebuilt in oak another day – tomorrow with any luck.

One of the Tree House Library commissions is a book called ‘Field of Dreams’, currently in the making by Jenny Graham, who visits the White Field each time she comes to the Dove (often weekly, for the Fingerprint group of printmakers). Here are some of the pages, as she describes them on her Facebook page:

‘A few pages of the artist’s book I am working on for Amazing Space II during Somerset Art Weeks at  Dove Sudios. The piece is based on an ancient wildflower meadow near the Dove and all the prints are taken from vegetation collected (very judiciously) from the field. Coloured pages and text still to come.’

Two botanists visited the field on a hot day in June and have done a count of all the different plants there: the list numbers 112. Astonishing, and no other meadow like it for miles around. A seed bank for the future (for Wild Lea, the Dove, Greenhill and Avalon Permaculture too we hope – we’re working on it).