I have long admired the graceful willow sculptures created by Carole Beavis but I never believed it might be possible to create one myself.
Well, to be fair, I still don’t think I could compete with her artistic skills and vision, but thanks to one of her workshops I now understand how she turns bundles of willow rods into her beautiful curvy figures and I at this stage I reckon I could manage at least a chicken.
As I had sweetpeas in pots waiting for me to provide something for them to clamber up, how could I turn down an invitation from Zantium Studios to join one of Carole’s courses at their centre near Carsington Water?
So it was that I found myself with six other would-be crafters being shown around the rustic gardens at Godfrey Hole House by Alison Massey who runs the studios with her husband Peter.
Alison was a designer in the textile industry and Peter an illustrator who specialised in children’s books and wildlife subjects. Now they work together on participatory art projects at their studios, at schools and other art centres as well as creating bespoke mosaics and murals for clients.
The couple, who have two young daughters, formed Zantium 18 years ago and at one time worked out of Bank’s Mill in Derby but eventually found themselves the perfect home in an idyllic setting with a view of the reservoir, a ready-built separate artists’ studio and plenty of space for workshops.
“This really is the most wonderful place and we knew as soon as we saw it that it would make a lovely family home and it was the one for us,” said Alison.
At Zantium’s core are mosaics and murals but the couple also invite in other specialists to hold workshops and courses such as stained glass, needle felting, jewellery making, and of course the willow weaving.
“We love having Carole here, she is a hugely talented willow weaver. She is so passionate and enthusiastic about her craft and she passes that on to everyone who comes here. She is great fun to have around and it is always intriguing to see what everyone creates during their time with us,” said Alison, as she busied herself preparing lunch for us all.
Carole, who lives in Belper, has exhibited her work at the RHS Flower Show, Hampton Court and Burghley House.
Her sculptures have been featured in magazines and she even appeared on BBC’s Countryfile thanks to her commission to create a series of willow cyclists for the Yorkshire Festival in the 100 day lead up to the Tour de France.
Those of us on the course were pretty much in awe of the pictures she shared at the start of the course and a little unsure whether we were actually going to be able to make anything by the end of it.
However, within minutes Carole had us feeling a willow rod so we could appreciate its qualities. Natural, flexible and inexpensive, surprisingly durable and infinitely versatile. It’s no wonder it is one of our oldest handicrafts.
“What’s important is get a feel for the material first and not be afraid to have a stab at anything. Develop your ideas in what ever direction you choose. You can be as wild and wacky as you like or you can create something simple. Just fiddle with this and fiddle with that until you are happy,” she told us, having demonstrated how to get started.
Within the hour we were all busily weaving willow into the frame of a plant support and we had become so absorbed we almost forgot to stop for our very tasty lunch. Later in the afternoon we were so determined to get finished that we eventually had to be dragged away for tea and the most wonderful Nutella cake baked by Alison.
Carole predicted it would happen and warned us in the morning that we may not want to stop.
“I am a bit like the Duracell Bunny and can go on forever once I get started but it is also important to take a step back and look at what you are doing from time to time. And we do need to enjoy the cake,” she quipped.
While the atmosphere was relaxed and we were all left to go in our own directions Carole was always there to support us and cheerfully sorted us out if we got muddled or had a question.
I was apparently weaving backwards compared to everyone else, but it didn’t matter said Carole who just named it the Amanda Method. And she was right it looked just as good to me.
It was a really inspirational day and I can’t wait to have another go. None of my family believe I actually made the plant holder but I can proudly declare I did.