Ruth Thompson of Sylvan Skills, Creative Coppice WorkerFrancescaPalange
Basketry pre-dates both pottery and cloth weaving to stand as one of the oldest crafts in our human history. Baskets have been an essential part of everyday life in practically every culture on every continent and could be considered amongst the earliest decorative art forms, used for everything imaginable, from household storage to fishing.
However in the 1950’s plastic became more popular than basketry. The skills began to fall away. Basket weavers, once so many in number, and a vital part of everyday life, dwindled as the product of their craft was needed less and less.
There is still, however, a fine collection of skilled basketry artists across the world, continuing a craft that has changed very little in its methods and materials since the Iron Age. Ruth Thompson is one of those skilled artisans keeping this ancient craft alive.
Ruth, is the owner of Sylvan Skills, a business grown to share the wood weaving traditions with all ages, through workshops, demonstrations, school projects and commissions.
Ruth works with variety of carbon neutral coppiced materials such as willow, and hazel, to make a range of woven products from small decorative items, functional panels and large bespoke sculptures. All materials used are locally sourced from Northumbria where Ruth is based.
Ruth started her business in 1995 firstly learning hurdle making, moveable fence panels made from coppiced hazel or willow, often used for livestock. She then began to work with living willow, creating in situ structures like domes and tunnels that would continue to grow and provide continued habitats. Ruth enjoys it because it’s a traditional craft skill easily adapted to modern use, and can be made by anyone using simple tools.
Helping participants to create baskets or other items to develop an understanding of the flexibility and adaptability of natural materials, whilst giving participants the opportunity to transfer those observations to their own lives, is part of the journey Ruth takes to make these skills accessible and practical to a modern audience.
And once the skills are learnt, the repetitive, meditative rhythm can bring great improvement to the mental health and wellbeing of participants.
For many, the experience of working with natural materials in the natural environment is a new experience. Working outdoors therefore is seen as a key part of the learning process for her.
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