Mar 202017
 

As the After the Storm exhibition continues to attract a large and appreciative audience in the John Hope Gateway, this week we are launching the much anticipated After the Storm publication. This attractive hardback publication has been designed by Alex Simpkin in collaboration with the exhibition co-ordinator Jenny Salmean. The book features photographs of After the Storm furniture pieces by Pavel Tamm, shot in the Garden on a lovely frosty week in December in the place where the original tree stood.
The book includes essays by Robert Penn (author of The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees) on forest bathing, Jonathan Rose (chair of the Scottish Furniture Makers Association) on his tsunami cabinet and myself, Ian Edwards, on the importance of disturbance in driving change. A photo essay by Patricia Macdonald on regeneration includes an aerial view of the braided river at Glen Feshie that is currently on show in the John Hope Gateway and the National Portrait Gallery.
The book attempts to link the themes of storms, regeneration and resilience with current issues in health and the environment. It argues that cultural and biological diversity are not luxuries but essential elements for restoring systems damaged by trauma of all kinds.
The book concludes with ‘Foremost among the creative crafts that we must protect to future-proof our planet is working with wood … which has the unique ability to capture carbon in perpetuity and thus contribute to establishing a more stable environment to the benefit of all life.’
The After the Storm book is available from the John Hope Gateway or on the RBGE Shopify site (https://rbge-publications.myshopify.com/) price £10. The exhibition continues in the Gateway until the 28 May 2017 admission free.

Jan 312017
 

Storm Connor over the British Isle (Jan 2016)

Storm Connor blasted the North-East of Britain with 90 mph winds over the Christmas holidays, just days before the fifth anniversary of Cyclone Andrea. Over the same period the Arctic ice sheet was at its lowest ever winter extent since records began in 1978 and snow fell in the heart of the Sahara desert for the first time in 37 years.

Scientists predict that extreme weather will become more frequent and that in future we can expect wild fluctuations in the climate across the globe. Adapting to this unpredictable weather, and the resulting flooding, drought and fires, is likely to be the greatest challenge facing life on Earth.

The key to adaptability is diversity. We are unable to predict what landscapes, species or gene pools are going to be essential for rebuilding ecosystems affected by traumatic disturbance. Nor are we able to say what creativity or particular skill-sets may be needed to help society survive a climate-challenged future. Best to heed the words of Aldo Leopold who said ‘to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering’.

Foremost among the creative crafts that we must protect to future-proof our planet is working with wood, especially the making of enduring furniture which has the unique ability to capture carbon in perpetuity and thus contribute to establishing a more stable environment to the benefit of all life.

The After the Storm exhibition, currently showing in the John Hope Gateway until May, presents examples of work from Scotland’s finest furniture makers and designers. All of the pieces in the exhibition are made from storm damaged timber from the RBGE and all of them are destined to become heirloom pieces. Now take the price of each unique piece, next divide by the number of years it will continue to give enjoyment to generations of owners and then appreciate the value for money that bespoke, hand-crafted furniture represents!

Detail from Simon Whatley’s Span Table (2016)

Nov 232016
 
Cyclonic Side Tables by Alasdair Wallace photographed in the RBGE by Pavel Tamm

Cyclonic Side Tables by Alasdair Wallace photographed in the RBGE by Pavel Tamm

I last wrote a blog about the After the Storm Project back in February this year and a lot has happened since then. The 12 Scottish furniture makers who were selected to take part in the exhibition have all been very busy in their workshops transforming the rough boards salvaged from the wind-damaged timber left after Cyclone Andrea into beautiful pieces of fine furniture. As you can probably imagine not all of the timber we planked and seasoned was suitable but in the end five trees yielded wood that meet the quality required for making furniture and fortunately this gave the craftsmen an interesting variety of colours, textures and patterns to work with. Further interest has been added to the wood by using different preparation and finishing techniques including smoking and charring the wood and applying different oils and waxes.

This week as all the pieces have finally been delivered and unwrapped it has felt like Christmas had come early. It has been exciting to see how 12 individual makers have interpreted our theme of storms, regeneration and resilience in so many intriguing and creative ways. The results have certainly exceeded my expectations in terms of quality and originality and are on a par with anything we have ever shown in the past. The Scottish Furniture Makers Association should be very proud of the talent they have nurtured in here in Scotland.

Still Water Side Table by Daniel Lacey (detail)

Still Water Side Table by Daniel Lacey (detail)

After the Storm follows in the wake of a number of highly successful furniture exhibitions at RBGE which began with Tim Stead’s Botanic Ash, presented in the Caledonian Hall in 1993; followed by onetree (2001), The Wych Elm Project (2009) and OneOak (2012) – working with a variety of partners. These previous exhibitions all focused on products from a single tree, a theme taken up again recently by Robert Penn in his excellent book The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees. After the Storm is the first time that a group of furniture makers have been invited to create something out of trees from a single event, and to celebrate the legacy from what at the time was universally regarded as a tragedy.

We are leaving another legacy of the storm in the form of a publication. Each of the pieces is being photographed in the Garden, as close as possible to the place where the original tree was uprooted, by master photographer Pavel Tamm. These images with their poignant juxtaposition between new life from old timber, and new growth emerging in an old Garden, will be published in the form of an ‘art book’ featuring essays on the theme of regeneration and resilience, including one by Robert Penn. This book should be available by Christmas and the exhibition After the Storm opens on 2 December in the John Hope Gateway and runs until May next year.

Feb 112016
 
Dalkeith oak

Dalkeith oak tree felled by Andrea in 2012

The After the Storm journey began on 3 January 2012 when Cyclone Andrea (described as a once in a lifetime event) swept across Scotland with winds reaching 100mph, blowing down thousands of trees in its wake. Some forests were left flattened and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh lost over 40 specimen trees. The vocabulary that was used to describe the aftermath of Andrea was taken directly from the language of war and few people anything positive to say about this traumatic event.

Then in 2014, at the preview of the annual Scottish Furniture Makers Association (SFMA) exhibition at the RBGE a conversation began on how the windblown trees from the storm might be used to make pieces for an exhibition which highlighted the beauty of Scottish-grown timber and the talent and craftsmanship among our Scottish furniture makers and designers. As plans for a joint RBGE/SFMA exhibition developed the focus shifted to other positive outcomes emerging from the great storm. Conversations with ecologists revealed how storms are essential for rejuvenating woodlands, creating gaps for regeneration and encouraging greater diversity of species and structure, building resilience and ultimately a healthier ecosystem.

With new partners the Forestry Commission and Edinburgh College of Art we began to explore ways of celebrating the role of storms which has led us, perhaps inevitably, to consider parallels with the human condition. People respond to traumatic changes in their life in the same was as woods: the pattern of devastation, recovery, regeneration and resilience is a familiar one. Our explorations have also considered the role diversity plays in post-traumatic recovery in both forests and people.

As these ideas evolved the partners, which now also included the Scottish Poetry Library, began to seek ways in which they could engage with artists and audiences to create positive and inspirational outcomes. The original proposal of an exhibition of furniture from storm-salvaged timbers has provided a starting point for creative ideas for community engagement which continue to grow and develop through the outreach of all the partners involved. One tangible outcome is a publication, providing a narrative on which to hang the project and documentation of explorations around the theme.

If you are interested in contributing in any way to this Project as it develops over the next 18 months please contact me at i.edwards@rbge.org.uk or follow me on twitter @idedwards  This is a good opportunity to get involved in something with a strong, inspirational message relevant to our time.