LAST TREE DREAMING
Youth worker Azeema Caffoor tells all about an arts project that’s wild, bold, eccentric and firmly planted in local heritage.
Oak trees are the bearers of dreams – lovers carve their names into them, swings are suspended from them, their branches reach out towards the sky. They outlive us, yet we can see in them many aspects of the human condition: growth, renewal, ageing and even disease.
The idea evolved: the project would connect this tree with the once mighty Selwood Forest, recorded in 894AD as covering the whole area from Stourhead to Frome and spanning the Somerset, Wiltshire and south to the Dorset borders. All that now remains of Selwood Forest is fragments and place names around Frome. Hence the last tree dreaming….
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the charity Young People Frome £40,000 to aid the project.
In July 2014 a group of Frome Community College’s students began debarking the tree, and preparing to carve or ‘tattoo’ their designs of aspirational symbols into its heartwood. The students have been working with wood sculptor Anthony Rogers and eco-poet and Forest Schools leader, Helen Moore, as well as other people with specific skills in National Trust Stourhead, Somerset Wildlife Trust's Selwood Living Landscape Project, Tate Modern, Bath University, and Frome's multi-talented community.
'Stourhead: View Over the Lake' by J.M. Turner, 1798.
A mighty 250 year old, 11 tonne, 60 foot oak tree finally storm fell just below Stourhead Gardens in Turner's Paddock in late January 2013.
Discovering that it had featured in a painting by Turner when the tree was just 30 years old, local artist Barry Cooper began to conceive of a heritage project involving young people. There is something about a Barry Cooper idea, whatever it is, that’s irresistible and I, along with others, were soon drawn in and we found ourselves applying to the Heritage Lottery for funds to make it all happen.
Project sketch by local artist Barry Cooper.
Students at work putting symbols into the fallen tree.
The project has worked with over 600 young people and included learning in a wide range of subjects: ecology, local history, landscape gardening, civil and timber engineering, painting, drawing, sculpture, poetry and film-making. Young people have had a chance to explore the heritage of Selwood Forest and learn about the history of Stourhead. They have also had the opportunity to develop skills in woodcarving, bush craft, curating an art exhibition, collecting oral histories, conservation and archiving and some have visited the Turner Collection in Tate Modern, London. In addition young people have taken part in a 15km walk through forestry land.
In August the 60 foot oak will be re-erected at Frome Community College, involving an extremely large crane and some serious engineering. Once re-planted it will remind us of our lost great forests and our past relation to trees and timber and the creative, sensitive craziness that sometimes makes the unusual happen. Powerful things: dreams.
This article was written by Steve Macarthur, Cheese and Grain Director and charity consultant.
All pictures taken by groups affiliated with the Last Tree Dreaming project.
A trailer for a film produced by Frome Media Arts CIC and Last Tree Dreaming in association with Frome Community College and Selwood Academy.
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