How does one share a piece of the big story of this place with the young people in our lives?
One way is by sharing living traditional arts. That is what I do as a plant-fiber weaver and artist. Everything I have learned from my generous teachers was given to me with the hope of keeping three important things alive. One: to keep alive the native plants and natural ecosystems where they grow. Two: to listen and give opportunity to teachers who can enrich the world with the culture, science and art contained traditional ecological knowledge. And three: to make opportunities for students to practice living art forms to complete the circle and carry that knowledge forward in their own ways.
This year when invited to teach at IslandWood, an environmental learning center a ferry ride away from Seattle, Washington, I taught the making of Clam Shell Rattle Necklaces. Students learned to make hoops from limbs harvested in the lowland forests from Western Red Cedars; to make netting from NW sweetgrass that grows in estuaries; and to make nature beads from willows, swamp dogwood, and various native shrub stems.
Welcome to the IslandWood Art Studio!
First we meet the cedar limbs. We peal the leaves off and use the stems of scouring rush to clean off and smooth the bark of the limbs.
IslandWood keeps the student groups to 12 students, and provides each group with an awesome graduate student group leader, from their graduate student program at IslandWood, and another adult chaparone, so that counting me, there is an elder to student ratio of one to four. This is a beautiful way to present experiential knowledge to young people.
I was able to share with students the voice and images of my own Suquamish teacher, Ed Carriere, through the movie “Clam Basket – A Story By Ed Carriere”.
Our lesson plan with a little clam biology!
Here are my simple visuals on paper plates.
There are a lot of steps. I have 12 students for 2.5 hours. Even so, it is a challenge, but the students are highly capible. With myself and the two other adults available to aid and support them, we can accomplish a lot.
Here is the first group of graduate students who also get to take my workshop. These are the mentors and guides for the 4-6th graders who come to IslandWood now. These talented teachers will go out into the world and find new ways to connect young people to the relevance of art, culture, environmental science, and a stewardship ethic.
After a considerable amount of organized chaos, we did it!
These are some of my favorite moments.
Most students like making their own “Nature Beads” out of willow, red osier dogwood, forsythia, or bamboo. I love to listen in to their conversations as they work, and hear how they help each other.
To make something useful and beautiful, especially out of common, humble materials, is empowering. This feeling of “knowing how to make, or do something”, will transfer over into other new learning experiences in those young people’s lives.
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Taking a moment to reflect, all on their own.
The 2016 IslandWood graduate student workshop, week 2.
Week one, I figured out I was short on time for making netting on both sides of the clam shell rattle, since a few groups didn’t get to plant their cedar trees. So I improvised, using circles of “Moonrock” paper, so students could “sew” their clam shell rattle into their protective hoop/net enclosure. This gave us back enough time to engage in the completely different type of experience that tree-planting is.
I like to give everyone a “diploma” at the end of our time together. I usually give them a scroll with my “Gatherers Creed”, or a quote, or poem about the earth.
Then, we plant cedar trees.
Every year I have come to IslandWood, each group of students plants a cedar tree. Here is a link to a nice blog that one of the parents wrote about their experience at IslandWood: http://handstories.typepad.com/blog/2015/04/dos-ugushash-tiya-aykyos-these-baskets-are-our-teachers-islandwood-1.html
In the fourteen years I’ve been an Artist in Residence here, students have planted approximately 140 cedar trees throughout the forest at IslandWood. I am grateful to IslandWood for supporting my work, and connecting me with such awesome young people!
This next circle of seasons I’m hoping to spend some time documenting many of the lessons for young people that I’ve developed over these past thirty years. My hope is to create a simple resource/guide for teachers to help them incorporate cultural plant-fiber use knowledge into the lives of their students.
I’ll keep you posted, and if you have any ideas of how I can make a DIY guide that is useful to others, please send your thoughts my way!