Ash Tree Stream will enable children and staff to use visual arts processes to learn about Ash trees and Ash dieback disease, outside of the classroom, and within the context of local cultural heritage and climate change.
The project will provide an opportunity for children to meet and learn about the work of a professional artist, many of them for the first time. James will support the children to develop new artistic skills through documenting their experiences of Ash Trees and their place in their local heritage (Andover is thought to get its name from ‘‘on dubr’ meaning Ash Tree Stream).
New artwork by James and the children, along with project documentation, will be shared with the wider school community and the public, through an exhibition at the CAS exhibition space in central Andover in Summer 2020.
Together with Andover Trees United Education Officer Becky McGugan (funded through the Ernest Cook Trust), James will support teachers to explore the value of art within outdoor learning, as a way of enabling learning through the whole person – their body, emotions and imagination, as well as intellect.
“After declaring a climate and ecological emergency earlier this year, and taking part in a recent National Assembly with Culture Declares Emergency, I am keen to use my work as an artist to promote awareness of the crises that we face, and what each of us can do about it.
This funding from Arts Council England and CAS will enable me to develop a new body of work through my own research into Ash trees and Ash Die-Back, and ways of working with schools/communities and their local trees that can be applied to other towns. This comes at a time when an appreciation of the need for and value of trees within our communities is increasing in the face of climate and ecological breakdown.“
James Aldridge, Artist – October 2019
Please do come back and follow our progress here, and keep in touch on social media by searching for the #AshTreeStream hashtag.
If you would like to tell us about the Ash Trees in your area, or share your own Ash related artwork, we’d love to hear from you, just go to the Contact page and send us a message.
One Ash is a project from Andover Trees United, working with the Englefield Estate near Reading. It is from the One Ash project that the idea for Ash Tree Steam first emerged, as I discussed with Wendy Davis (ATU Director) her vision for engaging local schools in using creative ways to learn about Ash Trees, and how we could enable the children to develop an emotional connection with trees too.
Last week saw the One Ash tree being felled at an event that involved schools, artists and craftspeople coming together to celebrate the life of the tree, and explore how its wood might be used. You can read an account of the day on the Englefield Estate website.
The day before the felling I visited the tree for the third time (I had previously visited to start planning school sessions, and to develop my own ideas for artwork). This time I was to work a class of Year 3 children from Andover C of E Primary, who I had met previously during an Ash Tree Stream session.
This new One Ash session was a chance to link the two projects together in the children’s minds; bringing together the techniques for recording and responding to trees that we had experimented with in school, and applying them to this this particular Ash tree.
As Becky supported groups of children to measure the tree, learn about its root system, and consider the benefits of sustainable forestry, I offered the children an opportunity to give thanks to the tree.
On a rope around the tree we hung thank you cards, made using prints, rubbings, drawing and writing, with the children thanking the tree for a range of things, from giving us oxygen to giving homes and food to animals and birds.
Children sat between its roots whilst they made their artwork, or on nearby stumps, and when it was time to leave, two children spontaneously gave it a hug. One boy also ran back and gently placed a stone on which he had drawn a face, at the foot of the tree where he had been sitting, before backing slowly away.
On the day of the felling I was excited to share the experience with the children. As the tree came down, people cheered and clapped the foresters. For me it was a poignant and moving moment. As the tree that I had witnessed children thanking and hugging the day before crashed to the ground, I felt my chest tighten, and I walked forward to touch and quietly thank the tree myself, before taking away a few black budded twigs.
I also retrieved the stone with the face from the sawdust at the base of the tree, and handed it to the teacher of the boy who had left it there. He hadn’t been able to come to the felling and it seemed the right thing to do, to save it from being trodden into the ground, and honour the connection that he had obviously felt.
As everyone wandered back to have lunch and try out different activities at ‘Base Camp’, the wood from the tree was sawn into rounds and planks. It will now either be given to artists and craftspeople whilst green, or seasoned for a couple of years before being taken away for furniture making etc. ATU are putting together information on their website on all the artists/craftspeople involved so I will share that soon, and an exhibition of all the work made will take place in 2022.
I thought for a long time what wanted to make with my piece of the tree. First of all I felt that I wanted to make work in collaboration with the tree, rather than actually use the wood, so I tried strapping my camera trap to the trunk and leaving it for a few days, but I only got one photo and that was of a human (Wendy). Then I thought about how I could take the tree to meet people who couldn’t be there, by taking a round from the stem to events, workshops and other meetings, sharing the tree’s story and triggering conversations about trees, climate and biodiversity.
So that’s what I’ve done. I have a piece from the trunk of the tree, which I have sanded on one side, and which is currently sitting in my house, waiting for its first outing. I’ve started taking photographs of the grain/rings and been exploring the similarities and differences between the wood and my own body. But primarily, I’m going to take it to different places and to meet different people whilst documenting our journey together.
In the meantime I’ve tried using my camera trap on other ash trees, with better results, and am developing a series of photographs titled ‘The Ash Looks Back’, showing the animals that live alongside Ash trees (including us). I’m going to be showing the first version of this series at the Happenings Exhibition at The Walcot Chapel as part of Fringe Arts Bath in May, and possibly at The Sylva Foundation as part of Oxfordshire Art Weeks.
In my funding bid to Arts Council England I said that I wanted to use Ash Tree Stream as a way to carry out research and develop new ways of working with trees, that wouldn’t be possible without funding. My work with the children of the 5 schools, with Andover Trees United and CAS (Chapel Arts Studios) lies at the heart of this work, whilst my research into Ash trees, and new ways of working with trees in general, gradually makes its way out to feed into other exhibitions and events.
At the same time as all this I’m (still) reading The Secret Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It’s taking me a while as I keep stopping to add post-its and underline relevant passages, and its stuffed full of those. I’m learning a lot and I’m loving it.
Our second session with the Year 8 Art & Photography students from Harrow Way, saw us walking to the nearby Charlton Lakes, and basing ourselves around a group of young Ash trees.
Before leaving school we had recapped on the student’s ideas from the previous session, showing them how we had taken these into account in the planning for this session.
I shared images from artists such as Ana Mendieta and David Nash, who had used found materials in their arts practice in different ways, and then Becky demonstrated how to make a frame for weaving from sticks and twine.
The frames were used on our walk to the lakes to introduce the group to a way of documenting journeys and places through incorporating found materials. We wanted this session to start to make links between Ash trees and the wider ecosystem, by weaving together the different elements that make up the whole.
Once at the Lake we split into three groups and took part in three main activities:
1. Making artwork around one of the Ash trees, using found materials gathered nearby, bringing the attention of members of the public to them.
2. Looking for animal footprints around the lake, identifying them with a tracks/signs guide, and choosing the best ones for casting with plaster.
3. Using drawing with charcoal/pencil/found pigments, and photography with phones, to record the elements of the Ash trees’ local environment that stood out for each student.
After walking back to school, each student selected the photos that they wanted to be printed off, and wrote their reflections on the day, all brought together within the sketchbooks that they started during their first project session.
We finished off by discussing what we might do in our third and final session in May. One boy was keen to find out more about Ash Die Back Disease, where it came from, how long it had been in the country and what the signs are that a tree has become infected. It really struck me the way that he had started to realise that trees were living, breathing beings that could grow sick just like us.
So in our next session in May, we will revisit the subject of the disease itself, and possibly look to extend some of the activities that we have already tried out, depending on what they have moved on to with their teachers. It’s obviously a little way away so we will be keeping in contact with Mrs Collins their Art & Photography teacher, and planning through discussion with her.
Initial thoughts are that we might change the scale of the mark-making and use very large sheets/rolls of paper with mixed-media to document their experiences in groups. Or we may respond to their obvious enjoyment of creating a temporary installation around the Ash tree, by moving to a site where we can have more and larger resources available, to create large site-specific sculptures/shelters.
A couple of weeks ago, all the teachers from the 5 schools, plus Andover Trees United and CAS (Chapel Arts Studios) staff, were invited along to the CAS Chapel in Andover for an INSET (professional development/sharing) afternoon.
We wanted to make sure that everyone understood the thinking behind the project, had met the other project partners, and had a chance to share how things were working in practice.
The session was a combination of reminding everyone of the aims of the project, facilitating hands-on activities to explore the trees of the surrounding churchyard, and discussing the role of art and outdoor learning in the Primary and Secondary curriculum.
We explored the value of art as a way of learning about the world through direct multi-sensory experience, and the additional value of taking that learning outside to interact with our immediate environment.
As we will be holding our Ash Tree Stream exhibition at the CAS chapel from 11th to 25th July this year, it was also an opportunity to show everybody the space, and discuss with CAS Program Curator Susan Francis what might be possible.
We want an exhibition that will prioritise the voices of the children, through sharing sound/video/quotes alongside artefacts and photographs from the project sessions. The specific design/curation of the exhibition however, will be decided upon much later in the project, when we’ve seen where the project sessions and the children’s interests have taken us.
As part of our discussions on artful/creative approaches to learning, we looked at the value of child-led or child-centred ways of working. As the three sessions within each school are spaced out across the year, we want to enable the work taking place within these project sessions to ripple out into the wider school community, and on into the children’s families/homes, rather than take place in a bubble.
To do this we are aiming to engage the children in ways of exploring, noticing and making, which are relevant to them and their needs/interests. We are involving them in documenting sessions by recording their investigations in their sketchbooks, involving them in planning sessions wherever possible, and supporting their teachers to follow where this journey takes them,making links with their ongoing classroom-based learning.
‘Exploring nature with (a) child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.
…I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the (adult) seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.’
Each child that is involved in the Ash Tree Stream project across the five schools, has a sketchbook that they are using to record their experiences of Ash Trees and the ecosystems of which they are a part. We use them in project sessions and they are encouraged to take them home and use them in lessons too.
Lucy from Portway Junior School took her sketchbook home over the Christmas holidays and wrote this poem. Lucy didn’t give the poem a title, so I’ve given it a working title of Tree Seasons, until I can check with her if she has an idea for a different one.
It’s winter time and the sun shines. The trees are bare, they’re dark and brown; Like giant twigs on the ground.
It’s spring time. The flowers are growing, and the sun is shining. On the trees the leaves are showing, in the branches the birds are nesting.
It’s summer time. The sun is hot its very warm, the trees are full of leaves. I climb up the tree to hide and pick apples while I play.
It’s autumn time, the trees are changing colour; red, orange, yellow, brown before they fall to the ground.
The One Ash projectis a sister project to Ash Tree Stream, devised and run by Andover Trees United to support children to learn about sustainable forestry practices through direct experience.
Ash Tree Stream evolved out of an invitation from ATU Director Wendy Davis, for me to develop a programme of creative learning for the children involved in One Ash, linking their experiences of a single Ash Tree on the Englefield Estate near Reading, to Ash Trees living and growing in their own local environment.
‘Inspired by The Sylva Foundation’s‘One Oak’ project, Andover Trees United’s ‘One Ash’ project continues to develop learning in the natural environment by bringing attention to the plight of tree disease and, in particular, ash dieback and nurturing a greater understanding of sustainable forestry management.
Andover Trees United’s volunteers and partner schools will gather at a woodland in Ufton Nervet on the Englefield Estate near Reading on Thursday, February 13th 2020, to learn about how woodlands are managed…The Andover school children who will watch the ash tree being felled first visited and connected to the tree as part of an outdoor learning project in 2019, ‘Meet the Trees’.
The children will be able to follow the journey of the tree as it is worked into new forms from furniture to tool handles to woodchip for smoking River Test trout.’
Andover Trees United Website
I’ve visited the One Ash tree once already, and will be spending more time with it in the next couple of weeks. I’m going to site my Camera Trap near the tree and try to record some of the animals that live within the ecosystem that it supports.
I’ll also be working with one of the schools (Andover C of E Primary School) as they visit the tree prior to felling, to help the children make connections between the two projects, and use art to explore their emotional responses to/relationship with the tree.
If you’d like to find out more about the One Ash project, please follow this link to the ATU website.
Gathered on the grass in your mottled, welcome shade down at the end of the sweltering garden, we toast the newlyweds’ happiness here. Glorious tree! I gaze up at your tiny twigs and bright leaves’ tracery against the summer sky. Beneath your cool umbrella I’ll rock each new-born’s pram, push the swing ever-higher as summers pass, tell the children stories of you long ago, a sapling struggling in a long-lost hedgerow.
Your fine foliage will fade and flutter down upon the see-saw, slide, the trampoline, around your ivy-clad, divided trunk, the pond where every spring we’ll hunt for tadpoles, tiny frogs and signs of life among the bulbs we planted at your base before the snows brought jauntily-dressed snowmen, keeping pace in stature with the children. I feel you keep the family safe, that you watch over them, magnificent, strong ash.
But now we shiver, gathered here to watch the moon’s eclipse beneath your curving limbs’ black lacework, your tapering tips pointing to the starry sky. They’re moving on. I stoop to gather leaves to press and keep, to try to stop the stabs of sharp, surprising grief.
SP January, 2018
Thank you to Sally for this heartfelt poem about the relationship between an Ash Tree and her family. (paired with a photo of my son and his friend in their own favourite Ash Tree).
‘I try to convey the beauty of the ash and its connection to our family, but I would be very pleased if sharing the poem could help in some small way to publicise why trees matter to us, the need to save these beautiful trees from ash die back and protect future trees, and the importance of current efforts to plant more forests.’
Although the focus of the Ash Tree Stream school sessions is very much on the Ash Trees of the Andover area, I’m enjoying linking my own Andover-based research with learning about the place of the Ash Tree in the wider UK landscape.
With the popularity of the earlier ‘Your Favourite Ash Trees’ post, I decided to add a new post to accommodate all the images, memories and other contributions that are trickling in via social media etc.
If you’re in the Andover area and you’d like to share a local Ash Tree, that would be fantastic, and I’ll set up a new post specifically.
In the meantime the first tree to be added to this post is this beautiful big old Ash, from Summergill Brook, New Radnor. The photograph was taken by Nigel Pugh and shared with us on Twitter by Woodland Trust Cymru:
‘Photo… is an Ancient Ash Tree recorded on the Ancient Tree Forum from New Radnor, Mid Wales. Close to its upper age limit, girth 5.7m. This tree has been holding this oxbow together for centuries!’
Nigel says of the tree:
‘I was told it may of been an ancient Ash tree silvopasture by Jill Butler due to the horizontal branches, imagine that restored there… I love the idea of living Ash Trees, ancient remnants of Ash Silvopoasture, that may not have Ash Die Back. There’s some seed to propogate from with the owners permission. Deep soil, flood plain, ancient, healthy ash?’
This delicate print by artist Shona Branigan was shared with us via Twitter. Shona writes:
‘The Ash Tree overlooking Swaledale is ancient – she’s listed on the ancient tree register. She lost a major limb in 2019, and I was lucky enough to have been given 2 slices which I have now printed’
Please do get in touch if you would like to share your own Favourite Ash Tree.
Imagine a “Perpetual Choir” of humans singing for 24 hours non stop across our Earth for the healing of the 90 million Ash tree and all her relations. You bring your Choir, your family and friends to an Ash tree and sing song of beauty and healing. We create together a wave of beneficial and regenerative sound.
It’s been brilliant to have people responding to Ash Tree Stream posts by sharing their own favourite Ash Trees on Twitter and Facebook, and writing poetry.
To start off this evolving post of contributions here is a Haiku written by John Hawkhead on Twitter:
the old ash
turned to ash
This latest photograph shared by Dan Lombard (@ViperaDan on Twitter) shows perfectly how Ash Trees offer homes and habitats to a range of wildlife:
‘My favourite Ash tree in N. Yorks, home to breeding Little and Barn Owls. Similar trees in the Yorkshire Wolds, Ash is the dominant tree species there due to the underlying chalk geology and lots of trees like this offering excellent habitat for nesting birds.’
Thank you to Jo Echo Syan for sharing this photograph of her favourite Ash Tree, at home in her garden, via Facebook:
This next Ash Tree was shared by Julia Brigdale on Twitter. Julia says ‘Here is one of my favourite Ash Trees, I see it every day from my kitchen window, and walk to it many times throughout the week. It has a rain receptacle which my dog makes use of.’
Simon Houstoun posted this photograph that he took of sculptures made by the artists Ackroyd and Harvey from Ash wood:
‘The Ash sculptures by Harvey & Ackroyd, are located high up on the North Kent Downs. They are a celebration of ash trees and a memorial to the devastating effects of ash dieback on the most common tree in the Kent Downs. Seen against a setting sun they are very special.’
If you have an Ash Tree that is significant to you, in the form of a photograph that you’ve taken, a piece of artwork or a poem, and you are happy for me to share it on here, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I drive past a particular Ash Tree on the way to my son’s school. It’s part of a hedge that runs along a single track road, near where we live in the Pewsey Vale, so not the easiest place to stop. I’ve cycled past before and admired it, but never stopped to poke my head inside the hedge or spend some proper time with it.
Today I thought I’d cycle out to this Ash Tree, wake up my brain and body after a festive season of rest and chocolate, and begin making new artwork for Ash Tree Stream. I’ll be back in Andover next week exploring and responding to the town’s Ash Trees, but for today I was staying local.
I took paper, printed with images of the Ash in the hedge (taken from my car window one day in anticipation of coming back when I had more time), and a few mark-making materials, then set out to meet the tree properly for the first time.
It’s a beautiful old gnarled and twisted tree, about 10 feet wide and stretching around 20 feet or more along the hedge. Inside the hedge clumps of thick moss cover some of the bony knuckles, and today there was a distinct smell of fox wee.
A badger path made its way through the hedge, a pigeon’s stick-built next was slowly filling with dead leaves, and yellowhammers popped up and flew away as I arrived.
Although I’ve not been in Andover during the Christmas Holidays, Ash Trees continue to call me to notice them wherever I go, and as well as walking and cycling to map my local Ash Trees, I’m also continuing to read any books that are Ash Tree related (all suggestions gratefully received). At the moment I’m reading An Epitaph for the Ash by Lisa Samson.
Samson describes her book as ‘…a rallying cry to pick up your walking sticks, pens, paintbrushes and cameras, then record and enjoy what we have while we still have it’.
I’m not an Ash Tree expert, but am really enjoying using the project to focus my arts practice on a particular area of research, and learn about Ash Trees while they are still here.
My favourite facts from the last couple of weeks that I plan to follow up on are…
Ash Trees can sometimes be Hermaphroditic
Yggdrasil the Norse Tree of Life was an Ash Tree – ‘Yggdrasil is an immense ash tree that is center to the cosmos and considered very holy. The gods go to Yggdrasil daily to assemble at their things, traditional governing assemblies. The branches of Yggdrasil extend far into the heavens, and the tree is supported by three roots that extend far away into other locations; one to the well Urðarbrunnr in the heavens, one to the spring Hvergelmir, and another to the well Mímisbrunnr. ‘ – Wikipedia
In a couple of weeks I’ll be facilitating a professional development (Inset) session for all the teachers involved in Ash Tree Stream, with Becky from Andover Trees United, at the CAS Chapel in St Mary’s Churchyard, Andover. And then from February the school sessions will start up again.
In the meantime, if you have your own favourite Ash Tree please do let me know, either as a comment here or by using the #AshTreeStream hashtag on social media.