There came a point in the project when James was no longer able to work on it, so I needed to find a new woodworker to collaborate with. Luckily, Kerry O'Toole was available to help bring the project to conclusion. He has a large studio in Grafton, which is just across the river from Woodstock. Kerry is an experienced woodworker who carves anything from large sculptures to fine details in furniture.
By the time Kerry and I started working on it, the main trees were mostly complete, and the canopy was just started. So there was a lot that I needed Kerry to work on, such as the foreground and background parts of the forest and the rest of the tree canopy.
Above you can see Kerry's initial progress and how we used tape and Sharpie marker to plan where different parts of the composition needed to be positioned. Kerry was quick to jump to the task and his style of markmaking was perfect for the remaining portions of the mural. I still needed to make one more tree -- a white birch. Also, there still remained a number of understory plants for me to shape out of copper.
By the time we had all the space filled in, the architecture firm's deadline was looming. But we were on track to meet it.
Kerry even carved his own interpretations of some of the understory plants, such as the bloodroot and trillium, while I continued to shape them in copper.
Once all of the wood elements were in place, Kerry and I worked together to apply wood stain to the completed scene. We carefully picked the tones we wanted to use, even mixing them at times. We chose darker tones for the canopy, and lighter tones for the background. It was interesting to see how the stain really emphasized the grain of the wood.
I finished the bloodroot leaves in copper and even added a bloodroot bloom out of aluminum for a different highlight. Then I finished the trillium and added a wild ginger plant in the left corner.
Once everything was in place and the copper elements were complete, it was time to adhere the copper to the wood. We did this by mixing epoxy resin with sawdust and "gluing" each copper leaf and plant. Afterwards, Kerry applied a thin coat of clear epoxy resin to the entire surface to protect the sculpture from outdoor elements.
And finally...here is the finished sculpture propped up outside of Kerry's studio! Kevin Burry built the final frame to install the mural outside the school.
After working with the students at SCES, everyone was heading to summer vacation and I was taking a 5-month deferred leave on top of that. This opened up the possibility of working on the final mural during my leave. Goguen Architecture, the company responsible for designing and building the new school, would require a submitted proposal. Everyone was pleased with the Appalachian Hardwood Forest theme and especially loved that the students had been involved in the initial conceptual process. Therefore, we went ahead with the following proposal:
Here is the original concept sketch:
In the proposal, we included some images of planed butternut boards to show the grain texture. I include an image of one of my woodblock prints, A Global Warning, to demonstrate how we might achieve the bark texture on the trees. I also included an image of some steel leaves that I created as part of another collaborative sculptural project, As the deer...
The proposal was submitted in June 2014, but unfortunately it did not get the official green light until the end of January 2015! Besides using the woodblock technique to carve texture, I knew that I would need to collaborate with a true woodworker. James Buxton and I had worked together on the As the deer... sculpture, so he agreed to work with me on the project.
The creation process started early February at the River Art Centre in Florenceville where we were able to secure some studio space. First, we had to bring in a sheet of 4 x 8' marine grade plywood as the base. We used the original sketch and the students' drawings to begin planning the composition. We would also lay out boards of butternut, make cardboard models and calculate potential depths for each element of the scene.
We started with the butternut tree in the foreground of the composition. James would combine parts of the fallen butternut boards and shape them into the tree. Then I would start carving the texture as though it were a woodblock print:
Once the texture was carved, I rolled up the wood surface in an archival quality printmaking ink:
We repeated this for each of the four AHF indicator species of tree. We would figure out a position for the next tree, James would assemble and shape the wood, and I would carve and ink the bark texture. Next up was ironwood:
Eventually basswood and white ash were added as well:
Another important element to the sculpture were the copper leaves. We cut the rough shapes of the leaves out of copper and shaped them in sculptural relief. We used the leaves that the students collected in the leaf press as the model for each type of leaf. Once the leaves were completed, we used a salt and vinegar solution to shine them up.
Ferns and fiddleheads were added:
James started to work on the tree canopy where all the copper leaves could be set, and I continued to work on some of the common trees (such as the yellow birch).
Stay tuned to see how the project came to completion.
Last spring, I was asked by the principal of Southern Carleton Elementary School (SCES) for some help getting a mural done for the new school being built (which is now the Meduxnekeag Consolidated School). It wasn't something that I could take on in my day job as a Fine Arts Lead with the school district, but I still wanted to leave her with some ideas.
One of the ideas was to have the mural reflect a nature theme that would carry from the old school to the new school. I had recently explored the Beardsley Hill Nature Preserve, which was close to the old school but almost directly beside the site of the new school.
Above are some images from the snowshoe exploration of Beardsley Hill in February 2014. Simon Mitchell of the Meduxnekeag River Association led us through the preserve and explained all about the Appalachian Hardwood Forest (AHF) and its four key indicator tree species: Butternut, Basswood, Ironwood and White Ash.
I knew that Simon and the River Association often did a lot of work in Southern Carleton Elementary teaching the students about conservation. Then it hit me that I could get students involved in the mural by teaching model art lessons that were based on an understanding of the Appalachian Hardwood Forest. In fact, this could be a perfect model of how to integrate the subjects of environmental science and art!
In May and June, Simon and I started to work with a group of Grade 5 students at SCES. We took them into the woods behind SCES and first introduced them to the tree species. We found all four AHF indicator species except for the basswood. Students made crayon rubbings of the bark texture and labelled their work. We also showed them understory plants such as Trillium and Bloodroot that are common to AHF sites.
Later, in the classroom, I gave the students art lessons on texture and pattern where they drew their own renderings of tree bark and illustrated the plants based on Simon's scientific descriptions and their own observations.
On a later excursion, we left the school property and travelled by bus to the Meduxnekeag Valley Nature Preserve, There, Simon Mitchell and George Peabody led the students through a network of trails. By this time, the leaves had grown significantly and we were able to collect samples in a handmade leaf press.
Again we followed up the excursion with a series of art lessons in the classroom. Students drew the leaves of each tree species and paid careful attention to details and line direction. Then, in another lesson, I taught the students about composing a landscape scene and how to make some trees appear closer and others farther away.
The artworks created by this group of Grade 5 students would eventually become the basis for a mural in the new school. Stay tuned for Part Two of this story...
New Brunswick Artist and Art Educator