The world's first free-range sculpture, David Nash's Wooden Boulder has been on the move for 35 years

For 35 years, British artist David Nash mapped the progress of Wooden Boulder, his ‘free-range sculpture’, as it journeyed down the River Dwyryd in Wales. But now the gargantuan oak sphere has vanished...

After graduating in 1967, David Nash has been living and working in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales, where he enjoys constant inspiration from the Welsh landscape. It is here that he creates sculptures by working with trees, wood & the natural environment. He has even created works from living trees; his artistic concepts focusing predominantly on the relationship between man and nature. 

His most intriguing piece has to be Wooden Boulder. Critics describe it as land art but Nash excitedly refers to it as a 'free-range sculpture', seeing as it has been making its way to different locations by itself for the past 35 years. The artist did not initially mean for his sculpture to turn into the bold, artistic statement it has become today, making the story so far all the more fascinating. Read the full coverage in a recent article by James Fox for Christie's magazine, or our shortened version below...

 

Wooden Boulder had been resting peacefully in the upper end of the Dwyryd estuary since 2013. Nestled in the lee of a small island, it looked like it had settled in for the long haul. But the heavy rains that lashed so much of Britain in August 2015 produced unusually high tides that somehow dislodged the artist’s great ball of oak. Nash has been looking for it ever since.

Isolated from the prevailing trends in British art during the 1960s and 1970s, Nash found his own voice as an artist. He worked almost exclusively in wood, fashioning abstract sculptures with axes and chainsaws. Success grew: solo shows in Britain and then abroad, critical acclaim, and ever-growing sales.

At the end of 1977, Nash’s second long-term masterpiece came into being, although its genesis was as violent as it was unplanned. That winter a brutal storm brought down the limb of a 200-year-old oak tree high up in the valley. ‘It was by a public footpath so it had to be cut down,’ the artist recalls. ‘I knew the owners of the land and managed to wangle getting the job to do it.’ 

Nash cut down the tree in the spring of 1978 and chopped the trunk into a roughly-hewn ball that was about three feet in diameter. He planned to roll the ball down to his studio and work it up into a large-scale sculpture. But that was easier said than done: the ball weighed at least half a ton and had the potential to wreak havoc if he lost control of it.

Nash concluded that the safest thing was to transport the boulder down the hill in the neighbouring stream. But his bright idea quickly backfired. Within minutes, the boulder was stuck. It had become trapped halfway down a small waterfall, and despite repeated efforts it wouldn’t budge. A defeated Nash was left with only one option: to wait until the object moved by itself.

He had been waiting six months when a surge of rainwater finally pushed the boulder into the pool below the waterfall. This was the opportunity he’d been hoping for. He fashioned a makeshift net and hauled the boulder out of the pool. His sense of triumph, however, did not last long; a few days later some mischievous teenagers pushed the boulder back in again. Nash removed the boulder for a second time and rolled it to the top of the next waterfall along the stream. 

It spent a year in that spot, which the artist recalls as being particularly beautiful: ‘There was a wild plum tree next to the boulder, so in the spring it was covered in little white petals. It was lovely.’ Nash’s perspective was clearly changing. He was no longer determined to get the wood to his studio; he’d realised that the journey itself was the artwork.

Nash filmed, photographed and drew what he now called Wooden Boulder for eight years in that second waterfall, until its tale embarked on a further twist. The owners of the land on which it had settled were selling up. Nash was worried that the new owners would either prevent him from accessing the stream or dispose of the boulder altogether.

‘I decided I had to intervene for the sake of the story,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t let it end there.’ So one day in 1988 he gathered some friends together, and they rolled the boulder across the property line to safety. It remained in that position for another year, when a further storm carried it several hundred metres downstream.

Wooden Boulder sat in a quiet part of the river near the valley bottom for four or five years, until in 1994 yet another storm took it farther down the river, where eventually it got trapped beneath a road bridge. Nash knew that the river authorities would soon remove it. ‘I was faced with another dilemma,’ he says. ‘What was I going to do with it? I’d got it to the road. Was now the time to take it back to my studio?’

Nash claims that his questions were answered by the boulder itself. ‘It told me: “If you take me back to the studio I’ll dry out and I’ll crack. The story will be over.”’ So Nash rolled it around the bridge and released it downstream again. Wooden Boulder wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Six months after placing it on the other side of the bridge, Nash was visiting the piece with his son when they saw to their amazement that it had left the water altogether and was sitting mysteriously on the bank. It had survived, they discovered, yet another close call. The river authorities were halfway through removing the artwork with their JCB when a local farmer — who had warmed to Nash’s unusual activities over the years — shouted: ‘You can’t do that, boys. Apparently it’s art!’

The farmer may not have understood Wooden Boulder, but he’d gone a long way to saving it. And when a group of admiring students later rolled the piece back into the river, it was on the move again.

Wooden Boulder first disappeared in November 2002. ‘That was a momentous event,’ admits Nash. ‘I’d got so used to it being around.’ Nash and the locals spent more than a week searching for the piece. The park wardens even put up a ‘wanted’ poster around the estuary.

Ten days after its disappearance, however, Nash received a phone call from a friend: ‘Davey, have you lost your boulder?’ Nash’s friend had found the piece on a sandbank. Over the next six months the boulder was in a constant state of movement, travelling up and down the river on an almost daily basis and settling wherever the rain, wind or tide took it. Wooden Boulder had become what Nash excitedly called a ‘free-range sculpture’.

It disappeared again in April 2003, and though it was briefly sighted in 2008, it was gone for the best part of a decade. Nash presumed that Wooden Boulder  had gone out to sea, and he gave up hope of ever seeing it again. 

In August 2013 he received another decisive telephone call from a friend. Nash put down the receiver, jumped into his car and hurtled off to the Dwyryd estuary. When he walked out onto the riverbank, he saw a local family staring at his long-absent masterpiece. Nash looked at Wooden Boulder — which he estimated had travelled as much as 50km up and down the river before settling — and was cheered by its belated homecoming. Was it back for good? Or was it, as Nash suspected, simply making a ‘final lap of honour’?

It is 38 years since David Nash brought Wooden Boulder into the world. Their lives have since progressed in parallel: both have grown older and craggier. Nash has observed, photographed, coaxed and protected his piece with the love and care that one might typically expect of a parent. Indeed, in his less guarded moments Nash speaks of Wooden Boulder as though it’s an errant yet ultimately lovable son. But like any good parent, Nash is just as dependent on his offspring as his offspring is on him.

‘Wooden Boulder underpins everything I do. It’s where I’ve really got it,’ Nash confesses. ‘It’s probably my most satisfactory statement as an artist.’ He may well be right. It is now recognized around the world as one of the most original and important sculptures of the past half-century. It is a profound rumination on the relationship between nature and culture, time and place. And like all great works of art, it defies easy categorisations. Is it land art? Performance art? Conceptual art? Or is it just public sculpture?

It is perhaps all and none of these. Where is Wooden Boulder now? It could be reclining peacefully in a secluded stretch of the Dwyryd. It could be strangled by branches or buried beneath silt. Or it might even have escaped into the Irish Sea and be halfway to Dublin. One thing, however, is certain: David Nash will keep looking for it. ‘It is where it is,’ he says, with a twinkle in his eye. ‘It hasn’t vanished; I just can’t see it.’



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Printmaker Alan Kitching is blurring the boundaries between handcrafted & digital art

"The craft ethos is coming back into life somehow...people want to touch it again, they want to feel that someone's made this; it hasn't come from a machine or a factory, somebody's actually sat down and thought about it and used their eyes and their hands and they've made this thing..."

Listening to Alan Kitching talk about the practice and art of his craft is an inspiring thing. A leading practitioner in letterpress printing, typography and design, Alan uses only traditional methods for printing and refrains from using technology to aide his artistic process. Alan's knowledge, talent and ongoing passion for the authentic, age-old printing process is encouraging a resurgence in the design world. Many digital designers are especially looking to the qualities found in good craftsmanship to incorporate into the aesthetic of contemporary digital design.

Writers and critics have been calling it 'a renaissance of craftsmanship'. In an age where technology dominates almost every aspect of life, the past decade has welcomed the rapid return of the handmade quality, aesthetic & process into digital design. Alan has developed a style that allows him to move and work with the contemporary times but also to stay loyal to the element of craft. Something that, upon close observation, is always evident in his quite graphic work: the imperfect, tactile, subjective, human, natural qualities that can be found in craftsmanship.

His recent collaboration with Monotype is a perfect example of how Alan can adapt and thrive in the digital age. Two of the biggest typographic forces who are at the top of their game in their respective fields; one works with his hands, the other works with technology. Monotype are global trailblazers in type and home to some of the world's most popular typefaces including Times New Roman, Gill Sans and Arial. The collaboration with Alan is first and foremost a celebration of type, but it was also a chance to see what qualities the handcrafted element can bring to typefaces that were conceived digitally.

The collaboration process

Alan collaborated with Monotype to produce a collection of work that would pay tribute to five influential graphic designers of the past century: Tom Eckersley, Abram Games, FHK Henrion, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Paul Rand, honouring their life and work. He chose individual typefaces from the Monotype archives for each designer, he then created his own hand-cut letters out of card to be used on the printing press. He produced five pieces for the exhibition that all feature overlapping type; choosing distinct colours and compositions that would represent the work of each individual designer. The monographs were then mass screen-printed and made into leaflets to accompany the exhibition.

The finished pieces blur the line between handcrafted and digital art, even so, on close observation the craft element shines through in the finer details; a brush stroke or a tiny bleeding of ink into the paper, these are some of the unavoidable and beautiful qualities of handcrafted that can add depth and character to the art of digital design.

'The element of craft has been lost in design, to see Alan's work re-invents that.'

- James, Creative Director at Monotype

The final monographs by alan kitching / monotype

The final monographs by alan kitching / monotype

We have a fantastic print workshop coming up at Gather this year, run by our good friend Nick Hand. Have a go at this beautiful craft yourself & book tickets for Gather here

Alan's latest book, Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress, was released in April this year. Read more about the beautiful book & Alan himself in an article by It's Nice That

The video below shows a glimpse behind the scenes of the Kitching/Monotype collaboration process, well worth a watch!



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100 chairs in 100 days and its 100 ways, an extraordinary story of design by Martino Gamper

A recalled dialogue from some time ago:

Martino: I will make 100 chairs

åbäke: What, the same one 100 times?

M: No, they will be different. They’ll be actual size 3D sketching, somehow, you know, instead of drawing on a piece of paper.

å: Sounds great. Do it in 100 days then.

Renowned for his cross-disciplinary and culturally responsive approach to design, London-based Martino Gamper came to major acclaim with 100 Chairs in100 Days.

Some ten years ago, the London-based, Italian-born furniture designer initiated his project, 100 Chairs in 100 Days. He made a new chair a day for a hundred days by collaging together bits of chairs that he found discarded on the street or in friends’ homes. Blending found stylistic and structural elements, he generated perverse, poetic, and humorous hybrids. The project combined formal and functional questions with sociological and semiological ones. Or, as Gamper put it:

‘What happens to the status and potential of a plastic garden chair when it is upholstered with luxurious yellow suede?’ 

The project was all about being creative, but within restrictions—being limited to materials at hand and the time available, with the requirement that each new chair be unique. Gamper's ‘three-dimensional sketchbook’ brought him international recognition. The project was exhibited in London in 2007, at the Milan Triennale in 2009, and at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, in 2010.

'There is no perfect design and there is no über-design. Objects talk to us personally. Some might be more functional than others, and the emotional attachment is very individual.' 

buy the book   here

buy the book here

Words adapted from an article from Martino Gamper's website, find it here



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Looking to trees, flowers & seaweed, Hazel Stark uses all natural dyes for her textiles

Hazel is a London based designer-maker creating unique textiles through natural processes. In researching and developing her natural dyeing methods, Hazel has tried and tested formulas that can produce exquisite colours. She works with only natural ingredients: from trees, plants & flowers to seaweed.

Hazel decided to leave the big smoke to spend a Summer with us working as a Pizzatipi chef; helping to come up with tasty salads, desserts and pizza specials. That was three years ago and she's been a great friend of fforest ever since. We are huge admirers of Hazel's work. We got to learn lots about it during the time she spent with us at the Pizzatipi, so it was a no-brainer that we should invite her to share her knowledge and artistic skill with us and our fforest Gather guests.

Last year, Hazel led her brilliant natural dyeing and indigo dyeing workshops at fforest farm; foraging for plants and flowers to then be used to dye fabric. Hazel's workshops are insightful and fulfilling as a result of dyeing fabrics naturally with plants and flowers foraged by your own hands. You learn so much and are astonished at the array of beautiful colours you can produce from natural dyeing recipes. We're very excited to have Hazel back with us for both weeks of Gather this August.

Nettle, blackberry & ragwort



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Nick Hand revives & celebrates the artisan craft of letterpress printing

Nick brings age-old machinery, technique & skill to his Gather workshops. Now considered an artisan craft, letterpress printing is beautifully revived and celebrated by Nick and his letterpress team, and then shared with our eager Gather guests.

Nick will be joining us for the 2nd time at Gather this year. He will teach you all about the art of printing with presses, an authentic mode of printing that is often overlooked in today's digital world. But it is an art-form that should never be forgotten. Printing in this way creates more than just a beautiful finished product, it becomes an art from start to finish. Every element of the process needs artistic attention: choosing your paper, letters, ink, composition... a satisfying and utterly fascinating workshop with beautiful outcomes.

A bit more about The Letterpress Collective...

Bringing slumbering presses back to life to engage with artists, writers and community projects in Bristol. The Letterpress Collective teaching both type composition and printing skills.
The Letterpress Collective has spent 2013 gathering beautiful wood and lead type as well as collecting amazing printing presses including a lovely Heidelberg Windmill Platen (winched out of the store MShed by dockside crane), a Stephenson Blake proofing press and a set of nice little Adana hand presses.
Silently, and without anyone really noticing, the last commercial letterpress printer shut its doors in Bristol in 2012 after maybe 600 years of continuous work in the city. This is our chance to learn from the last of the printers and compositors in the city so that a new generation can understand and learn the thrill of working a small press and seeing your creation in ink on paper.

find out more about Gather and book your tickets here

Visit the letterpress collective website here



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Matt Sewell: A career in illustration and writing sparked by his love of birds

Artist, illustrator and author Matt Sewell is a keen ornithologist and friend of fforest. His eye for capturing the beauty of birds through his unique illustrations takes the act of bird watching to new heights...

Matt has built a brand around his birds; selling his designs in big name department stores and smaller independent shops across the country as well as on his own website. His illustrated bird books are a delight for the eyes but are also informative so appeal to bird watching enthusiasts and illustration fans alike. He brings his birds to the masses in his 'Spotting & Jotting' workshops, a feature at fforest Gather 2016 that was a huge success. Bringing together grown-ups and little ones to learn about the surrounding bird-life at fforest and to learn how to draw and paint them with Matt. He will be joining us again this year at fforest Gather to share even more of his expert bird knowledge and artistic ideas. 

We asked Matt a few questions about where his love of illustration (and birds!) came from...

Did you do a degree in illustration or did you just have a passion for drawing and birds in particular?

I did a degree that focused on animation and illustration and have been a freelance illustrator since the late 90s. Nature and birds in particular have always featured in my work but it wasn't until I wanted to have a bit of a break and a new direction that I started focusing totally on birds, after a year away in Australia in 2007. 

If you were a bird which one would you most like to be and why?

Swallows are cool, they have fun together, are great flyers, look very cool, travel lots and hang out together in a big communal family.

Where would you like to travel to study the animals or birds?

India!

Is there anything exciting in the pipeline you would like us to mention?

My first children's book called 'The Big Bird Spot' published by Pavillion, I have created loads of amazing landscapes to lose yourself in and spot birds and other wildlife. It will be out this spring and I can't wait to see how it goes down!

Matt will be back with us at Gather this year, to find out more and to buy tickets click here

Pre-order Matt's first children's book here



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Swallowed by the sea

New year sand circle on #Mwnt So windy and blowy Filming with help from @milo_herbert12_

A video posted by Sian from fforest (@coldatnight) on

On spring low tides Marc Treanor draws incredible designs in the sand. We're lucky enough to be close to one of his favourite beaches to use as a canvas. Each design takes roughly three hours to complete and is drawn using the most basic of tools. We spoke to Marc to learn more about his artistic process...

1. Roughly how long does it take to complete a design?


It can take anything up to three hours to complete a design. Any longer and the tide is on its way back and all will be lost before it's completed...! 


2. Whats tools do you use in order to create your sand circles?


The tools are actually very basic and comprise of sticks, rakes and string. I create a giant drawing compass with the sticks and string so can produce very accurate circles. The sticks are used to draw the lines in the sand, the string can also be used as a straight edge if stretched out between two sticks. The rakes are then used to rough up the surface of the sand giving the contrast of light and dark. If the light is right this can be quite dramatic creating a strong black and white image. 


3. In a nutshell, what drives you to produce sand art?


I suppose the drive is my own pleasure at creating something on the sand. It is a three part process: the first is the mental work of translating the design onto the sand and this can take a lot of concentration. Second is the physical side of drawing in and raking the surface. In some cases the designs can be up to 80m wide so this can be a lot of raking! Lastly is the contemplative side. When all is complete it is nice to find a high point and sit and watch as the design is swallowed by the sea. There is something strangely moving about this part of the experience. Maybe it is a nod to our own limited time before we are absorbed back to where we sprang... 
 

What a delight it is to have such extraordinary artistry right on our doorstep! 

www.sandcircles.co.uk

 



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