Our third annual Material: Wood – Art & Design, a threefold programme comprised of an exhibition, festival and hands-on making experiences. Set in our thirteenth-century barn – the largest thatched building in the country – artists and designers including Paloma Varga Weisz, Christopher Kurtz, Thomas Heatherwick, Gareth Neal, Chris Eckersley, Richard Woods, Rob and Nick Carter and John Makepeace lead a survey of some of the most inspiring contemporary artists using wood and seeking inspiration from trees. The design element of the show focused on chair design; Henry Brudenell-Bruce’s colossal, outdoor chair epitomised the spirit of this ambitious show and was complemented by designs by Russell Pinch and Christopher Kurtz.
At a time when our outlook is increasingly shaped by the information of digital media, the value of the handmade is more important than ever. Our programme illustrated that there was an underutilised means of expression in the process of making, one which connects both viewer and creator. This comprehension can be a vital part in encouraging us to look through objects to the person behind the work. Material: Wood brought together a curated collection of talks, exhibitions and makers’ courses that celebrated a material that has been part of our cultural landscape since the dawn of wood henges. Put simply, wood has driven – and been driven – by artistic and innovative thinking.
Our ‘makers-on-benches’ courses led by some of the best practitioners working today, from lofting to steam bending, paddle making and green chair crafting. We hosted a talks programme with subjects as varied as the history of boat design and how we can grow furniture rather than make it. Material: Wood was about making and about celebrating the ‘object’, with an exhibition space dedicated to some of the finest in design, art and craft. Artists included James Dodds, a shipwright-turned-painter who exhibited in the Long Gallery. His works illustrate the anatomy of boats, revealing how knowledge of trees and craftsmanship allow individual component parts to come together to the finished vessel. His paintings are rich in colour, tone and texture, moving beyond the literal and simultaneously evoking sailing’s mythical and historical dimensions. We welcomed back designer Luke Hope who hand-carves ergonomic, functional implements as well as delicate, abstract vessels. He says that he loves ‘the calm of the process…working with an organic material, revealing natural form and creating new lines and shapes’.
Workshops included chair making with artist and designer Chris Eckersley, maker and designer Dom Parish led the children’s workshops, creating steam-bending propellers modelled after the natural flying capacities of sycamore seeds, and lattice weaving with strips of willow. We were delighted to welcome Colin Henwood on 23-25 August, one of the leading restorers and boat builders who taught a two-day course in Ash paddle making, before taking his charges to the waterside on Fonthill lake and setting them sail. Nick Ashley-Cooper, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury and former New York DJ closed out the show on 8 September with a Supper Club to launch his new book ‘The Rebirth of an English Country House’, charting the restoration of his family home and a celebration of great craftsmanship. A pop-up exhibition by award-winning photographer Justin Barton visually documented the conservation process.