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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.

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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.

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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.

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Morning light on the frame

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New joints

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Curving handrail to be

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Laths loosely attached. Josh checks the gap.

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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.

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Setting out – for the trees

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Introduction to the tree ‘corner’

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Only a second before someone shins up a tree – Rosa

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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.

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

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There followed a fantastic group interaction, working towards consensus.

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The structure is created to the group’s satisfaction.

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

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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).

 

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Jim arrives with a load of oak…

Fast forward nearly 3 weeks from the first workshop, and Jim Blackburn turns up with a trailer full of green oak timber, an amazing sponsorship gift from his suppliers. So it was all systems go with the introductory course to green woodwork timber framing on the bank holiday Saturday just past.

First, a fascinating and informative presentation about timber framing – this has all been going on for hundreds of years, and we will all look at old barns differently from now on, as careful inspection reveals a multitude of information on when, who, what, how…

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Jim’s introduction to Green Oak Framing

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The good old Dove kitchen table! With cooks Faye Suzannah and Lois Wulff in the background, waiting to reclaim the space for lunch.

An introduction to tools followed, and then a demonstration on how to lift heavy timber without hurting yourself – all about gravity, levers and fulchrums (fulchra??)

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Lifting practice

followed by lunch – this has to be an essential part of every communal activity.

And then: outside to practice marking up the timber and then cutting it, working in pairs:

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Jemma and Marcel

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Ange and Clare

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Zan and Jya

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Bethan and Joe (and Jim)

And something very important has stayed in my head since Jim’s presentation: that this ancient craft of timber framing is precisely still relevant today because of the fact it HAS to be a group, communal activity, and that these groups were – and still are – often itinerant, spreading and sharing their skills and methods across borders and ages, a free movement of people, ideas, trade, knowledge – yes, come on everyone, bring it on!

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The day after the workshop: I got back from an unexpected few days away, to find 8 carpentry ‘stools’ stacked in the back garden. The workshop had taken place the day before and this had been the scene in my studio:

It had become a carpentry workshop: for the first time in 30 years or more, since the days when woodworkers Roger Frood, Jon Swayne and David Beech inhabited it one after the other. This time it was Jim Blackburn, long time associate and one time resident of the Dove, with the first of his inspirational workshops, and 8 keen participants ranging in age from 12 – ??. After the introduction to woodwork in the studio the class moved into the garden, measuring, cutting, fixing….

Brilliantly, the first person to twig that the pile of ‘practice’ pieces mounting up beside him was going to become a trestle, or stool, was the youngest: Zan!

And so the trestles took shape at the end of an exhausting but demonstrably inspirational day, awaiting their usefulness for the rest of the project. Thank you Jim, so much.

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Faye’s apple blossom sketches

Easter Sunday, and artist Faye Suzannah and dog Mango came to stay for a week’s residency in the Door House. The perfect week to choose, with blossom bursting out all over, as here in the Whitefield

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Happy dog

and here on the ash trees (sorry, not blossom: embryos already! A fecund tree)

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Ash trees getting on with the business of procreation

Other artists were attracted to the Nature bounty that is going on:

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Corinne sketching in the Dove Meadow

Meanwhile Faye was making excursions into a poly tunnel

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A tropical world, and it’s just next door.

where she sketched the flag irises (not often you find a pond in a poly tunnel) and became intrigued by the entwined fig branches

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Figs and Flags by Faye

while I was mesmerised by a falling peach blossom that never made it to the ground:

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Frozen in time

On the following Saturday it was Artists’ Book Club Dove day in my studio, and after discussing our current book theme ‘Repetition’, we drew a new topic for the month ahead out of the pot: ‘Tracks’. Which made me think of the animal tracks running through the flowers on the Whitefield, so we made our way round there after lunch; across Wild Lea (which I wanted to call Broad Lea because it is always broad whichever way you look at it and therefore in need of a panoramic photo. The Dove used to be known as Broad Moor farm not so long ago and you can see why from this photo)

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Broad Lea? Getting wilder, anyway

The sheep have been ‘borrowed’ from a nearby farmer: they are large, and so I’m told, prize-winning Charolais sheep that are grazing the tough rye grasses that were planted on this field over the past few years. But new grasses are appearing fast, and we are hoping for a gradual change to meadow grasses and flowers. Then into the Whitefield with its glorious carpet of cowslips (a cowslippy year, said a friend).

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Making tracks through the Whitefield

Back to base via the Dove Meadow, where Clare hopped like a bird onto Olivia’s ‘perch”. This little platform that we put up last year is to be the start of the Tree house project starting this coming Saturday, 6th May, places still available in the enthusiastic group that is forming around this venture…come and join us in the trees!

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First venture back into the trees