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On the Upside – A Few Beautiful Things Made from Wood – if a King Penguin Can Be Called That

Blurry Type

I can’t see that

…was a phrase which seemed to crop up rather regularly on a recent trip to London. Cue myopic hilarity from myself and friends who’s eyesight is degenerating but who haven’t quite mastered the art of remembering their glasses.  Still hoping, perhaps, for the twenty twenty vision of yesteryear and incredulous that this thing is actually happening.

So, wine lists and menus in cafes and restaurants, exhibition texts and departure boards at train stations became something of a mystery. I even got lost with a friend in Walthamstow in search of the refurbished William Morris Museum as I could neither read the A to Z or grapple with my friends iphone as she valiantly drove us through the chilly grey wastes of east London.

I won’t do a review of this most excellent museum, as fellow blogger Hamer from the The Rowley Gallery has done one here which inspired me to make the visit.

After the bad news about Herald, I thought I’d balance it out with something more uplifting.  One of the great things that has happened since I have more time to think, is that I also have more time to look. Slowing down really makes you see stuff in detail, whereas visual appreciations before were more momentary, passing by at a great rate in an unmemorable blur.

In this post I just want to share with you a few beautiful things which have been made with craft, the kind of things that William Morris and his gang would have approved of very much.

have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful

is his most famous quote, but I quite like

the true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life

First up then is this oak swill basket, which came into my possession recently as a present. There is only one person left in the UK who is making these and you can find out about him and them here, including a fascinating look into the history of these amazing baskets.

I reckon it will last a lifetime.
Oak Swill Basket

Oak Swill Basket www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comOak Swill Basket

Secondly, this yurt maker crafts these wonderful nomadic houses by steaming hand split local ash. I love the form and the clever way it is all put together… shame to put the canvas on really…

Yurt in Field

Yurt Workshop

The yurt maker also made this wonderful curved stair rail, also steamed. Every time I grip this as I go up and down the stairs I am aware of what went into making it.

Steamed Ash Bannister

And the brackets for the stair rail are hand made in a small forge in Devon, where the metal worker also makes woodburning stoves to any specification.

Metalworkers Workshop

Metalworker with Gutter Brackets

These aren’t the stair brackets these are the gutter brackets…but you get the picture

Thirdly, I have been meaning get our books onto shelves for quite a while as they are still languishing in piles. So the other day I started dusting them off and came across this lovely set of King Penguins.  Ok, not strictly speaking made from wood, but there’s no shame in expanding the criteria to get into the Beautiful Things post. What a joy and a pleasure to rediscover these treasures among the dust (MUST get bookcase).

I wonder if all the books of the future will become more like art. Perhaps most of our reading material will be consumed on e-readers but books may become beautiful objects to collect and savour, like paintings.

Arachnophobes, there are spiders ahead.

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Lastly I like wood because it’s really useful. Here’s some chestnut fencing.

Chestnut Mortice and Tenon

Chestnut Mortice and Tenon

And I saw these handsome wild ponies the other day, the beauties of Bodmin Moor .

Wild Ponies on Bodmin Moor

Wild Pony Bodmin Moor www,

30 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, how lovely! I don’t know what I find most exquisite — the basket, the rail, the books, the ponies… just beautiful, all.

    March 10, 2013
    • I know, it’s hard to choose…but the good thing is, we don’t have to 😉

      March 11, 2013
  2. I, too, love that quote and if you can combine the two you are laughing ;). Beautiful tactile things always make me want to reach out and touch. That basket, the yurt and that gorgeous wheel of a stair rail…your beautiful old house wouldn’t want anything but these beautiful things… (well, maybe not the yurt 😉 ). Books…NOW your talkin’ girl! I adore books. Books are treasures and I recently had to part with some to make room to display the books that I truly love and it was like paring away and flensing myself. Oh that fungi book is amazing! I love fungi (I think I must have been mycellium in a past life…shows how far I have come eh? 😉 ). I am always amazed to see things like chestnut fencing. Chestnuts are exotic here and I am just about to plant out a stand of them on Serendipity Farm (if it ever starts raining enough to soak the soil and make it soft enough to work out what is rock and what is soil…) and they will be treasured parts of the family. I wonder if one day the small chestnuts that we are about to plant out might themselves be fences? Those sturdy little ponies remind me that I am going to have to start thinking about more robust specimens to plant out if we are going to maintain tree/shrub and “other” plant life on Serendipity Farm…no rain for months is doing strange things to the land. It’s physically shrinking and contracting and you can see the plants shutting down their unnecessary processes (like flowering and new leaf growth)…we haven’t got any rain on the horizon either. It’s sad when my whole ethos is tied up with grey clouds and me doing some sort of manic rain dance on the deck… come to think of it…do you reacon it might work? I am just about desperate to try anything! By the way, those gorgeous pumpkins and their gorgeous creator gave me 3am inspiration for my 50 pumpkins this morning…”Ta Mate :)”

    March 10, 2013
    • I will do a rain dance too. Come here you ominous black clouds and go to TASMANIA tra la la… 😉 I do remember drought and it is not fun. Hope it breaks soon.

      The books are amazing aren’t they? I love the fungi one too – the colours are just stupendous. Though I quite like the spider one, with the actual size drawn in pen below…

      As long as your chestnuts are sweet ones and not horse ones, you’ll get some posts…here they are used as a classic coppice tree, with a rotation depending on the size of the poles needed. Actually you might like this this guy built his house from mostly chestnut, including the roof shingles! The making of the house is on a TV programme, well worth a watch

      March 11, 2013
      • We watch Grand designs here in Aus. :). We have 2 horsechestnuts that Steve grew from seed but we are going to give them away. There isn’t enough room for horse chestnuts AND sweet chestnuts and I grew HEAPS of sweet chestnuts. They love it here in Tassie and will be planted out if it ever starts raining. I have a strategy for their survival. I am going to plant them with a watering tube to deliver water down into the soil to minimise water loss and maximise their growth chances in a long dry summer (fool me once!) and we will plant them with 4 haybales surrounding them and some irrigation pipe shoved into the haybales to form a pair of interconnecting hoops that we will cover with ex fishfarm netting to both protect the trees (tasty yummy delicious trees…) from the natives and anything else marauding on Serendipity Farm (think Earl needing to relieve himself…). We can then plant directly into the haybales, think lettuce, strawberries and herbs and the haybales will act as barriers to keep soil moisture around the trees root system over summer thus less frequent watering…a win-win situation. We will also be planting out our carob trees, hazelnuts, walnuts, figs and avocado trees so BRING ON THE RAIN before it’s summer again! 😉

        March 11, 2013
    • Oh, maybe you share my irritation at KM then! Or perhaps it’s just the format…all that talk of disaster to build up the tension. Bored. And I’m obviously thinking that you get similar exchange of TV programmes as we do – we only have Neighbours and Home and Away (which I won’t have knocked by the way 😉 ) Though we did get Prisoner Cell Block H which became a bit of a cult classic…and also recently The Slap, which I very much enjoyed.

      The plan for the trees sounds good, very permaculture no? I grew things in hay once, it was really successful.

      March 12, 2013
      • We even got KM and his tantrum taking television program about building his empire…we watched a couple of episodes and had enough of his complaining ;). I tend to only watch a few television programs because I spend a lot of time researching the things that I am interested in. I get up so early (3.30am) now that I am fast asleep on legs by 8pm and Steve doesn’t mind at all because he doesn’t have any bolshie woman telling him she wants to watch “World Movies” so he can watch his swamp alligator Texans (sigh… 😉 ). Steve loved Neighbours and like most people from the U.K. thought that we all lived like that. It was a bit of an eye opener to find out that we don’t ;). Hay is good, straw is better. I am in the process of trying to source good cheap hay/straw at the moment. I need a lot because we have at least 50 trees to plant out and that means 200 bales! We are going to look like some kind of weird science experiment from the sky…we are on the flight path of the interstate planes as they enter Tassie so I might spell something cryptic out…doesn’t hurt to make people think ;). Perhaps the formula for Phi? Always good to keep people thinking 😉

        March 12, 2013
  3. you are very lucky to have such a wonderful set of king penguins! the woodland birds looks particularly stunning. I thought the same thing about the future of books becoming more about being beautiful objects, but these things always come back to money and it would be a shame if books became only luxury items purchased by wealthy collectors. Although this is a fact of life many artisans & artists have lived with for generations. Love the Morris quote.

    March 10, 2013
    • Yes it would be a very bad thing if only the wealthy could afford a book. And the other bad thing about e books is that you can’t lend them. Lending or giving away books is a really good thing that people do. We got the books in a local second hand bookshop a few years ago. I might start to try and collect the others they are so gorgeous. The covers are so amazing too – those owls! And the woodcock. Genius.

      It’s very true about artists and artisans needing the patronage of the more well off. However, the things on this post are not expensive, (well, maybe not the yurt, but still if you were going to live in it it definitely would be a cheap option!) but still beautiful, I think people just need more time to seek out the makers. Why would you ever need another basket? £55.00 does begin to seem cheap then.

      March 11, 2013
  4. Charlotte #

    What gorgeous books and everything else You are right, taking the time to really see things brings so much visual pleasure – even with fading eyesight!

    March 10, 2013
    • haha. I know you have found that too in the scenery around where you live…constantly feeding your soul 😉

      March 11, 2013
  5. What a treat! So many beauties. Sometimes it seems the best things are made of wood. I saw your oak basket (without my glasses) and thought it was a coracle, which is strange because there’s one on my blog tomorrow. I once made some branchwood picture frames in the spirit of David Nash but they always looked better than what they framed. And I’m so glad you were inspired to visit the William Morris Gallery. There was a time not too long ago when it was threatened with closure but they’ve done a great job bringing it back to life. Thanks for mentioning my post but you need to fix the link! Also thanks for those highly covetable King Penguin books and the ponies, not wooden but beautiful.

    March 10, 2013
    • It DOES have a definite coracle shape. Though wouldn’t fancy launching it – although some assiduous attention with newspaper and tar paint, my waterproofing of choice, would render it pondworthy!

      Yes, I guess you don’t want the frame to overshadow the work 😉 I really got into hedgelaying at one time, there’s something fantastic about all those branches…

      The ponies were definitely stretching the wood theme! But that’s the thing about ideas they often seem to morph out of your hands…

      March 11, 2013
  6. What beautiful illustrations and gorgeous constructions… and scenery! LOVE the ponies!!!

    March 10, 2013
    • Thanks FeyGirl. I thought you’d like those ponies 😉

      Still amazingly frustrated that I can’t get on your blog! All these tempting tidbits come up in my reader with wonderful pictures of birds and it still has this virus warning thing. I’m going to contact my antivirus company and ask what’s going on…have to admit I’ve been a bit slow dealing with it 😉 hoping it will just resolve on its own!!

      March 11, 2013
      • That is so very strange!! You’re honestly the only one who’s mentioned such a problem with this blog! So odd…. Perhaps you have an add-on that’s causing the issue? I’ve had to delete some of my add-ons because they gave me unwarranted warnings…

        March 12, 2013
  7. Anonymous #

    Ah, beautiful things, indeed.

    The basket reminds me of baskets that were made here long ago. It would be like hitting the lottery to find one now.

    We do have local artisans continuing the art of making sweet grass baskets. I wish I had bought some years ago; they are very expensive now.

    The yurt frame would make a wonderful gazebo or arbor. It is a bit of a shame to cover it up with canvas.

    There really is something about carved wood that does make you want to touch it. You are so lucky to have that stair rail to run your hands on daily.

    I’m a sucker for books and those are illustrations are exquisite. You just can’t get the same effect from an ebook as you do from real books. There is just something about holding one in your hands. I even like the smell of books, both old and new.

    March 10, 2013
    • Gue' #

      How come that post didn’t include my name? I remember seeing it. Weird.

      March 10, 2013
      • That was weird wasn’t it? Ah the mysteries of WP sometimes… ;0

        I know what you mean about the smell of books, actually that was the first thing I did when I picked them up from their dusty pile. I’m now beginning to think I’ve been committing a crime just leaving them like that. It’s going to be number 1 on the list…!

        Now, that would be one expensive garden gazebo! On the other hand if it was your home you’d be laughing all the way to the bank 😉

        March 11, 2013
  8. Katherine Kearns #

    I have a King Penguin book on moss. The illustrations are beautiful and they remind me to stop in damp woodlands and get nose to nose with these intricate, otherworldly beings.

    March 11, 2013
    • I bet that one is gorgeous. Getting nose to nose with a moss is heaven indeed.

      March 11, 2013
  9. What a beautiful post. I’m a great fan of William Morris, for one thing. I was introduced to him years ago, when I was given a packet of wrapping papers based on his designs. I didn’t know until I followed your link that “Trellis” was his first wallpaper design. It was fun to see the original sketch. A few other of the designs were familiar, as well.

    I did a post on Morris some time ago that included the more familiar quotation. I’ve had a series of posts waiting in my draft files since, related to the quotation. I might be time to pull them out and develop them.

    The books are especially wonderful. I’ve used both a Kindle and a Nook, but simply can’t make the move. I love a book that’s taken on the nature of a palimpsest, as many of mine do. I’m a note-maker, a margin-writer, and so many of my re-read books have comments from multiple years. Not only do I have evidence of what I was thinking at various periods in my life, I can see how my handwriting has changed, and so on.

    I think the deep appeal of things like the basket, the ponies, the books, is that they are physical. It’s the one thing that might bring me, some day, to at least self-publish some of what I consider my best writing. I’m not inclined to “write a book”, but seeing words in bound form is different. I’ve had some poetry published in an anthology, and it was quite strange to get the book and see the words living a life quite separate from my own.

    I just did something crazy, with absolutely perfect results. I bought a hand-made wooden table (18x18x28, in flame birch) from a furniture maker in Maine. I’ve never met the man, I’ve never seen his work, but I know his heart – and on that basis, I bought the table. He ended up making a few, until his supply of wood ran out. This is what it looks like.

    It was even more beautiful and more well-made than I’d imagined it could be. Which brings me to my point (and perhaps another blog entry). When you deal with hand-made,, it’s often the heart that determines the outcome, even when technical skill is lacking or still developing. It’s something to think about – thanks for heading me off in this direction!

    March 12, 2013
    • What a lovely story about the table – obviously made with the heart you describe. He is quite a funny guy too, so you get entertainment as well as furniture.

      Well, if you ever did get your words into a book put me on the list for a copy!

      Glad you liked the post 🙂

      March 13, 2013
      • Gue' #

        That is a beautiful table, Shore. My hands itch to touch things like that.

        March 16, 2013
  10. I love the yurt, and especially love those old book illustrations of plants and insects (I originally worked as a natural history illustrator!). Slowing down and looking more closely is perhaps a part of growing up and realising each moment is precious (that is how I’ve come to think about it anyway)

    March 13, 2013
    • Your philosophy is certainly reflected in your work 🙂 Perhaps you’re right about being part of growing up…though this could be slightly worrying as it’s taken me a very long time in that case!

      March 13, 2013
      • Yep, me too, I’m not sure we ever stop 😉

        March 14, 2013
  11. In unison with the thinkingcowgirl fan team, I looove your pictures and wonderfully fine words S! They carried me off to another place, that mysterious reading world, where every other thought disappeared and the tea was left to go cold on the table. Good times. And cold tea. Ps. When are you home? 7 day deadline! Eek! x

    March 17, 2013
    • Can’t believe where the time has gone B! Glad you like the post…hopefully we’ll connect in the real world soon 😉

      March 19, 2013
  12. Beautiful books!!

    March 22, 2013

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