Sophie Courtiour working with living willow

I love living in the west country as there are so many things you see here, even travelling on the A303 or the M5, that you simply don’t see in other parts of the country. I spent my early adulthood in London and had never seen a willow structure of any kind until I moved down here in my early thirties, it wasn’t long before I had living willow soaking in my bathtub, but that is another story. These days I am pretty used to seeing incredible sights like willow horses and the beasts on the Blackdowns. At least that is what I thought, until I came across the Cathedral!

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (2 of 14)

Two weeks ago on one of those rare sunny (but windy) Sundays, my daughter and I decided to go on a bike ride. We had to do something as we could no longer hibernate. We ended up going down to French Weir in Taunton, popping into Tesco’s and then taking a funny turn which got us down to Longrun Meadows. I had heard about the regeneration project going on down there, but had not imagined it was quite as good as what we found.   Riding along a path that can only be described as a country lane with meadows of grass

and trees along either side, yet still almost in the town centre, we decided to see if we could ride along the river/stream. So a little bit further we went, until right in front of us was the most awesome sight that took us completely by surprise. It was a huge willow sculpture, bigger than any I have ever seen before, and it was living and breathing willow.

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (13 of 14)

You could tell this because it had just started to bud and was beginning to be covered in the most beautiful green leaves. As we cycled up to it, it became apparent how much work that had gone into it. From far away it looks magnificent and awe-inspiring and as you get closer you get to see the intricacies of the way it was crafted. I was quite stunned. What was really lovely was that there were quite a few people there, having a rest from a long walk with their dog or a family out on their bikes; bikes strewn and children lying on the floor looking up at the blue sky cathedral ceiling. It was quite obviously a restful, peaceful place, somewhere you can go and contemplate and be still. It was also fun and exciting and full of laughter from children – a hub of all kinds of emotions. Apparently, the ‘green cathedral’, measures 30m by 16m (98 ft by 54ft) and is made from living Somerset willow, which means that it will continue to green up over time. It was finished in June 2011 and is of course now really coming into its own, in 2013. It is easy to see why the vision for the cathedral is that it is used for plays, performances or yoga classes as it will appeal to so many different clubs, societies, and individuals.

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (4 of 14)

When I got home I had to look it up. I had no idea what it was called, didn’t know it was called the cathedral when I was there and didn’t know who had made it. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Sophie Courtiour and Stefan Jennings were the willow artists responsible, especially since we are so lucky to Sophie coming to do an arts and crafts workshop weekend with us at Halsway Manor on Friday 24th May to Sunday 26th May 2013. Sophie is a willow sculptor based in Cheddar who has worked with willow for over 10 years and has been involved with some really big projects. She is responsible for the leaping deer on the A303, the Willow beasts on the Blackdown Hills AONB and a 7 metre reclining lady in Weston-Super-Mare. 

Sophie will be running this two day workshop using willow grown locally on the Somerset Levels. Participants are welcome to use the comprehensive folk library at Halsway Manor with a view to creating their own mythical beast though the workshop will cater to any ideas and all levels of ability. There is no need for previous experience and you don’t have to be arty but you will need to be prepared for any weather as we will be working outside.

Taunton Cathedral living willow hires (12 of 14)

I can’t wait to see the creations that people will come up with. We have no idea if they will want to make their own or do a joint piece of work, where it will go or what type of willow beasts that will suddenly be popping up on the Halsway Manor grounds, but rest assured there will be photographic evidence as I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We are very excited to be welcoming Sophie to Halsway Manor and very much look forward to seeing what the course participants come up with.

Don’t forget that you can come for the weekend or as a day visitor – there are plenty of options. So if you think you would like to learn the art of making willow structures, then contact the office@halswaymanor.org.uk as soon as you can to secure your place or have a look at our website for more information Halsway Manor and if you get a chance, go and have a look at the living green cathedral. It really is very beautiful! 

 

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Arts and Crafts Weekend Friday 24th May 2013 – Sunday 26th May 2013

One of the things we are really excited about at the moment is the Arts and Crafts weekend that we have planned for the weekend of 24th to 26th May. It should be so much fun! We are so lucky to have been able to get all these fabulous artists in the same place at the same time, and we can’t wait to share them with you.

All levels of experience are welcome. Whether you are already an artist and want to try something new, or a complete beginner wanting to ‘have a go’! Choose from five workshop options and be inspired by the beautiful setting of Halsway Manor. You can immerse yourself in the weekend by staying at the Manor, or come along as a day-visitor, whichever suits you best. All materials are provided unless stated otherwise on the website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk 

So, what do we have on offer? We have Printing with Jim Munniona well known, full time Somerset painter and printmaker. Felt Making with Sarah Meikle. Sarah Meikle has worked with a wide range of crafts over many years, and is an experienced teacher and creative therapist. Covering a variety of methods we will make both practical and decorative items using a wide choice of colours and wool fibers. Sculpture with Melanie Deegan who originally trained and worked as a woodcarver before the desire for a more flexible approach to sculpture led her to discover Jesmonite, a non-toxic resin that perfectly suits her requirements. Sketchbook and iPad Art with Alison Jacobs a a specialist in detailed animal studies in acrylic and, in complete contrast, is a painter of landscapes out of doors in an impressionistic, expressive style. This workshop combines her passion for the Somerset countryside with her latest obsession – inspired by David Hockney – in creating iPad art. Willow beasts with Sophie Courtiour a Somerset artist known for her large public willow sculptures including leaping deer and the beast on the Blackdown Hills, and a 7 metre reclining woman in Weston-Super-Mare!

So as you can see there is something for everyone! If you would like further information, then please don’t hesitate to give us a call or email, or just connect with us on twitter and facebook! We have a page set up for the arts and crafts weekend, as hopefully there will be all sorts of fabulous photos we can set up during and after! Arts and Crafts Facebook event