27 Mar Living Willow Hut: “Living art” at North Mountain Park
Created in 2010 by Libby VanWyhe, Linda Chesney and volunteers.
Art that changes with the seasons.
Photo essay published March 2023.
Come to North Mountain Park to see a work of art that changes with the seasons, and from year to year. It is also “working art.”
“We have a couple of lesson plans that center around using the Living Willow Hut as the circling up place: for storytelling, for crafting, for making manzanita tea.”Libby VanWyhe
I call it the “Living Willow Hut,” following the lead of Libby VanWyhe, the Manager of North Mountain Park Nature Center. I will share photos with you that show how the living artwork changes through the year.
The origin story
In February 2023, Libby walked me over to the Living Willow Hut and began by telling me how it came to be. “I was an AmeriCorps intern at the park fourteen or fifteen years ago. Linda Chesney [The Nature Center’s original Stewardship Coordinator] and I were looking for exciting, creative, natural arts projects that we could do. I had been in Ireland and seen people do weaving with live willow. Linda had seen something similar.”
“After talking, we noticed that there was a stand of willow branches that needed to be cut back. So we cut them, brought them over here and planted them in the moist soil, with the intention that they would root. Willow is rich in rooting hormone and can grow roots from a damaged point.”
Building the Living Willow Hut
Libby went on: “We put the big willow stakes around in a circle, then used basket weaving techniques to bring them together in the center and lash the tips. A key construction helper was Myron Cretney, a primitive skills instructor.”
You might notice how thick the branch is in the photo above. Libby described a lesson learned in making this living structure. “The thick ones are the original willow stakes. We learned a lesson that the thicker they are, sometimes they are a little too old to root strongly and well. The original thick branches gave the hut some nice stability, but didn’t root as well. Still, they were a stable base. Later we added a bunch of smaller willow branches, which took root immediately. Over the next couple of years, basket maker Louisa Lenz-Porter and others helped improve the structure by weaving in additional twigs.”
The kids love it
It still fulfills its purpose, to have a place where you can sit with kids and do nature education – or contemplate nature and trees.Libby VanWyhe
Linda – and now Libby – have both been strong advocates of nature education for children. Elementary school field trip programs were a cornerstone of the North Mountain Park Nature Center’s work until COVID-19 put the brakes on them. Up to 2,000 local students were learning about nature and ecology at North Mountain Park each year! The Nature Center is working to develop new funding so the school programs can begin again; in the meantime, they offer service learning programs on a smaller scale. If you have any ideas, or want to donate funds, contact Libby VanWyhe at the Nature Center.
Libby said, “When we teach our ethnobotany of the Rogue Valley, we bring kids in here. We circle them up and we talk about useful plants; we talk about willow and manzanita. We usually make manzanita tea and serve it here in the Willow Hut. The kids seem to really love it. It still fulfills its purpose, to have a place where you can sit with kids and do nature education – or contemplate nature and trees.”
The Living Willow Hut through the seasons
Libby loves that the hut “changes shape and looks different every time I come out here.” Here are a few photos that show it in winter “pause” mode, bursting with summertime growth, and in between.
I enjoy sitting inside the Living Willow Hut
Some people take living willow weaving to new heights
Of a number of artistic willow structures I saw online, here is the one that most impressed me. This willow sculpture by artist Trevor Leat was installed in 2012 at Shambellie House in Scotland.
Other North Mountain Park ART photo essays:
VanWyhe, Libby. Interview and personal communications, January – March 2023.
Website thisiscolosssal.com had the photo of Trevor Leat’s willow sculpture.