This May I had the opportunity to bring a freshly cut Western Red Cedar tree with me to IslandWood so the young people I worked with each week could learn first hand why this tree has been, and still is, so highly valued by the Local First Peoples whose ancestors have lived along the rivers and shorelines of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years.
The Cedar trees, my sweet husband cut down for me each week to share with students at IslandWood, were trees we had planted 20 years ago. Every year since I’ve been a cedar weaver, we plant at least 30 cedar trees. I had not ever anticipated being old enough to be able to gather bark from the trees we’ve planted, because I thought a cedar needed to be at least 50 years old in order for it’s inner bark to be useful for weaving. But I learned this wasn’t exactly true. Because these two young cedars were getting too big for their location, last winter I started asking them if they wouldn’t mind being transformed; cut down, handled by young people, and woven into necklaces considered to be treasures that would be taken into the homes of many families. Would these two young trees allow the students and I to remove their bark and divide it in layers in the spring? I hoped!
The Artist in Residence usually comes in on Monday to set up the art studio and move into the guest cottage. I like to bring in an exhibit of plant ID cards that two of my dear friends painstakingly made for me years ago. Linda Strickler and Jennifer Dixon were in the first group of docents trained at IslandWood in 2002. The docents help in all the programs at IslandWood and also guide visitors on tours of the campus. As a way to help themselves learn about native plants with useful fibers, and also to help me, they made these beautiful native plant ID cards which I use every year.
I bring in cedar baskets that I’ve made which students can touch, smell, hold, and look closely at. I usually post the basic lessons I’m there to share, so any visitors can read the concepts behind the art process that students are experiencing with me.
It is wonderful weather both weeks. Almost too warm the first week. It is important the I keep the tree moist so the bark can easily peal off. I’m all set up and begin by teaching an inservice each Monday for the docents and graduate students.
The art project this year was weaving a cedar pouch necklace. The students learned the generous nature of the Western Red Cedar in the spring. That even a twenty year old tree would have enough inner bark to be removed and divided into layers; and that the cedar limbs could also be used to provide bark and wood to use in creating an art object.
Following are pictures of the 4th through 7th graders from Emerson K-12, Adams Elementary, The Evergreen School, Emerson Elementary, Brighton School, and the grade school I attended so many years ago, North Beach Elementary. It was a privilege working with all these young people.
First we apologize to this tree.
We carefully pull a piece of bark off. I’ve already scored the pieces to make sure I have enough for 50 students.
Using butter knives I’ve collected from rummage sales, we carefully start a cut in one end so we can divide our piece of inner and outer bark into two thinner pieces.
Students practice and get really good at dividing the layers. Already learning patience from this slow growing, water and shade loving tree.
While some students are preparing bark, others are making beads out of Red Osier Dogwood twigs, while others are pealing and shaping a cedar limb to support the weaving as a simple loom.
Scouring rush is provided to use as sand-paper. Below students and parent helper are cutting rounds of cedar wood.
I tried to get at least one picture of each group. I was able to share with 8 groups over the two week stay.
Every student was exceptionally smart, creative, and helpful!
Each group was considerate, helping each other through the frustrating parts of learning to do something new.
Making nature beads has always been something I noticed that the students love to do. Sometimes it is hard to get them to stop making them!
The opportunity to meet so many shining young people; to be able to offer them the gift of getting to know the nature of the Cedar tree; handling, smelling, and weaving with it’s beautiful leather-like bark; well, it is hard to top!
I know the life of the cedar trees we cut down is present still, living in the small pouches of the nearly 100 young people I chanced to meet at IslandWood this May.
The material things we create together may become lost or broken, but the knowledge and the experience cannot be lost.
Teaching young people how to use tools properly is something they always seem to appreciate.
All these groups were so fun to work with. And the teachers and parent chaparones were exceptional.
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Eight groups of students, eight baby cedar trees planted this week at IslandWood!
My simple instruction board!
Thank you to everyone at IslandWood for providing the opportunity for artists like myself to be able to share our love and passion for nature and the creative process. And many thanks to the two young cedars trees that showed us all the meaning of generosity.