Weaving Willow Encourages Growth

By: Catie Anderson, curator of education on June 26th, 2019

Last week, artist Bonnie Gale returned to the Woodson Art Museum for an artist residency and to pay a visit to Living Willow Dreams, one year after she and assistant Jonna Evans installed the living willow structure in the Museum’s sculpture garden. Living Willow Dreams offers a lush, green garden-retreat where visitors can take a moment to sit and observe the busy, although often overlooked, activities of summertime garden inhabitants. Bees, butterflies, and birds are regulars in and around Living Willow Dreams, which served as home base to a brood of chipping sparrows, who fledged in mid-June, and left behind a delicate nest, carefully woven in amongst the willow leaves. Living Willow Dreams appears so natural and peaceful in the Sculpture Garden, one may not even consider all of the planning, preparation, and labor that went into its creation. Such is the case with many artworks that transport viewers to quiet, reflective places. 

During Bonnie’s residency, workshop participants found out firsthand the challenges and rewards of working with willow, which was graded, soaked, and bundled for ease of use. Museum members at the Connoisseur, Collector, and Benefactor levels joined Bonnie Thursday evening for a lesson in weaving a decorative star, an attainable project and welcome introduction to working with willow that I enjoyed making alongside members.


Friday’s Polish Bread Basket workshop involved participants working with five-foot willow rods, which had to be carefully and tightly woven into a hexagonal pattern of overlapping paths and curves. While the process required persistence, the results were beautiful and rewarding.

A random-weave garden sphere proved to be the perfect project for group bonding on Saturday afternoon. The hours flew by and the classroom filled with stories and shared laughter as workshop participants built up layers of twisting willow, while Bonnie encouraged the group to embrace the organic design and ever-changing forms of their woven spheres.

The scale and dimensionality of Bonnie’s studio workshop projects increased once again on Sunday, when ten novice weavers spent the day erecting pea cage trellises for climbing garden plants. Museum facilities team Dave Jones and Ralph Fisher constructed ten jigs to stabilize sixteen sturdy rods that served as the basic structure of the tepee-shaped trellis, which when placed atop tables for weaving tested the limits of our classroom ceiling height.

While keeping on eye on the overallbalance and shape of their trellises, the participants wove groups of willow rods in and out of their structures to create striking bands of pattern reminiscent of double helixes and tiered towers. Sunday’s workshop concluded with ten impressive and functional garden sculptures being carefully loaded into the backs of cars before being placed in participants’ gardens. I hope they’ll serve as quiet reminders of the benefits of hard work and braving the unknown . . . be it a climbing plant or a budding artist, how else is one to grow?


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