'Origin of Chisels' was a 6 week wood carving residency at Cabilla Cornwall.
Cabilla is a 200 acre multifaceted expanse of land, hosting rewilding retreats and leading the way in conservation and rewilding initiatives such as the reintroduction of Beavers.
The project was incredibly unique and presented an amazing opportunity to work with the original woodcarvers of the world; Beavers.
With special permission, I worked with fresh, wet wood gathered considerately from the Beaver enclosure. The wood is covered in teeth marks and gnawed into shapes scattered around the woodland. It was a fascinating and immersive 6 weeks, living onsite and regularly visiting the beaver woodland to gain inspiration. I began the residency by talking to staff at Cabilla about the Beavers, learning about their building techniques and their similarities to our human way of life.
I also went down to the woodlands to write and draw whilst sometimes hiding out into the evening to observe the beavers in action!
Beavers became extinct in the UK in the 16th Century due to humans hunting them for their fur, meat and a substance they secrete called 'Castoreum'. Castoreum has the potential to aid human health and flavour perfumes. There is now a large population living in Scotland and the numbers in the UK are slowly increasing due to similar reintroduction projects to that at Cabilla.
For more on Beavers, visit the Rewilding Britain website
In light of the negative effects of Climate Change and its effects on biodiversity and communities around the world. Plus our over exposure to chemicals and health compromising substances and activities like pesticides and our addiction too screens and unhealthy life styles. There is a continued need for nature to return as our healer, teacher and leader.
As a passionate traditional crafter, I aspire to live harmoniously with the natural environment and seasons. I wish to share ways of respectfully returning our sense of purpose and community back to the land we dwell and advocate for the sensory and medicinal benefits of being exposed to natural materials and processes. A project centred around celebrating the presence and inspiring work of a key stone species essential to progressing British woodlands into a healthy state is an incredible honour.
My video of a Beaver named Sigourney, one night in November.
The whole idea of the beavers being woodcarvers got me thinking... beavers are the origin of the chisel, the wisdom keepers of woodland management, the first whittlers and architects. It is a rare opportunity for a sculpture artist who works with wood to collaborate and learn from the ancestors of sustainable woodland living and tree carving. Looking to the beavers for inspiration feels a step closer to the origins of the way we build our houses, live within an ecosystem, and create from the materials on our doorstep!
To find out more about my process and thoughts, read an interview between myself and Cabilla here:
To find out more about Cabilla, click here: www.cabillacornwall.com
Well-being & life lessons from Beavers.
Beavers as teachers, they are not only important to rewilding our woodlands but also incredibly inspiring through their craft and way of being.
Beavers have an amazing sense of purpose and deep intuition. Through observing the beavers and reading about their habits, it is clear that through evolution, like many animals, their purpose in life and what they teach their offspring is an instinctual and loving matter. Beaver babies known as 'kits', are taught survival and building techniques, balancing daily activities from feeding to play to rest and maintaining their fur and dams from day one for 3 years until they go off on their own. They are so deeply connected to their intuition in relation to their part in the eco system, I think its safe to say their well-being levels are high. Maybe if we all tried to live a little bit more through our bodies while listening to our intuition and what really feels right, rather than through our heads then our general sense of purpose and well-being would be improved.
Everything a beaver does feeds their purpose and benefits their environment. Beavers' daily activities: wake up in cosy lodge they've carved out in the river bank = eat wood for nourishment = fell a branch or tree = able to drag branches = build dam with branches = create pool on river = pool submerges the entrance to their lodge in the river bank = makes it harder for predators to access their safe space = wake up in cosy safe lodge to do it all over again. While all the time encouraging the development of new species and biodiversity, plus improve their chances of survival due to their dam making and craft skills.
Challenge to Perfectionism
The work of the beaver is honest; they don't hide their workings-out, they leave things raw so we connect straight to them as the maker. The activities of beavers raise questions about perfectionism, celebrate naturalism, and encourage the value of what I call medicinal aesthetics. Where textures are raw and should be thought of as beautiful, they use their teeth to carve out stories of intuition and survival in the trees that surround their homes. Through the making process, I had to decide whether or not to tame their markings and make them fit into a preconceived perception of what's 'correct' and 'finished'. Objects, surfaces or shapes that vary, have rough edges or are broken in places are often considered imperfect.
In the sculptures I have honoured leaving parts natural to look at and touch. I believe these are medicinal aesthetics that teach us that we also don't have to abide by these beauty standards and rules! Beavers also challenge our perception of 'the British woodland'. Considering beavers have been a part of environmental evolution in the UK since they crossed over the Bering Land Bridge in the early Oligocene which was as much as 33 million years ago. It is hugely undermining of nature to suggest they don't belong here and that the effects they have on woodlands are wrong. Woodlands that beavers inhabit have many horizontal trees, boggy areas, mud slips and to the typical British understanding of a woodland they look generally 'messy'. We can learn from the reintroduction of beavers, that what appears to look 'messy' is actually healthy and natural. Bringing this awareness into your own life could reduce stress about appearance and upholding unrealistic and also unhealthy beauty standards which could over-all be an improvement to well-being.