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We were approached by a customer a few years ago asking if we could design and create a series of large bespoke laser cut murals and a gate, based on the life cycle of an Oak tree through the four seasons. It was an exciting but daunting project at the time as we hadn’t produced anything on this scale before. She wanted the pieces to focus on how nature changes throughout the year, including animals, and the legend of the green man; these would form the focal point of her garden in near Carlisle. We were given fairly free reign as to how we went about the design, and kept in touch regularly with feedback and ideas. I began by making the time to do more of something I love anyway, drawing from nature. I can remember sitting in a holiday cottage in Northumberland on a bleak January morning, the wind howling outside, looking out at the bare trees and drawing them in ink on my sketchbook. I knew straight away what I wanted the winter scene to look like!
In ancient European folklore, the Oak tree is sacred. It was believed to have a close connection to the gods because of the regularity with which they are split by lightening compared to other trees. (It is now known to be because of the Oaks’ high water content, and the fact that it is often the tallest thing on the landscape). Druids performed their religious ceremonies in Oak groves, in which Mistletoe was often an important part. Mistletoe grows well on Oak, and it was believed that the Gods put it there during lightning storms. Crowns of Oak leaves were worn by Kings and Roman commanders alike; through history the Oak tree has been revered for its longevity and strength and is a much admired part of British woodland today.
I wanted the summer Oak tree to stand tall and proud; to be shown and celebrated at it’s most magnificent as the central piece of the project. Standing at 2 metres tall, we deciced to split this largest panel in two, joining invisibly at the back - it added some complexity to the design process but was a lot easier to transport! I spent a lot of time drawing different Oak leaves in my local woodland, and studying the shape of the trees and their branches. However much of my imagination I would use throughout the project, we felt that by starting with a good understanding of the subject, I would be able to create something the customer would love. In this summer panel I’ve included Swallows, wildflowers and butterflies to show the countryside in full bloom. The trunk of the tree features the face of the green man, a mythical being representing the re birth that occurs in nature every spring/summer. It’s so interesting to me now that we live in the countryside, how much more I notice every little change in nature through the seasons; I suppose when we lived in the city the natural world is so much more in the background. These bespoke laser cut panels are a reminder that no matter how modern day urban humans’ lives are pretty consistent throughout the year regardless of the season, nature quietly carries on its cycle as it has done for millennia.
The gate, though making up the fourth panel showing Winter, was a project in itself with it’s own set of challenges, in part due to the size and weight of it, (the finished piece was 2.5 metres in height) but also the difficulties of ensuring all measurements were correct as it needed to fit precisely in between two different buildings. Countersunk screws were used making sure the locking mechanism was hidden neatly within the frame, and we had to allow space and design fixing points for the wood to be bolted at the back.
The customer was delighted with this project, and we are really proud of it because of all the challenges we overcame. I loved the summer Oak tree so much I had it printed on vinyl as a piece of wall art to decorate the twins' room!