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26 November 2014

NO COMMON CRANE: A Celebration of Cranes

Last weekend I got to witness the illuminated finale of many months hard work and the atmosphere was truly celebratory and even a little festive.

Saturday was a stunning day with clear skies and surprisingly warm for late November, perfect weather for the evening's planned procession at The Willow and Wetlands Visitor Centre in Stoke St Gregory. On my arrival I must admit I was a little apprehensive parking in a field that already looked suspiciously muddy and may prove tricky to drive out of later in the dark, however the tractor parked by the gate was reassuring, these guys were prepared to tow us out if need be and after all this is Somerset, home to the best events that seem to always take place in barns and muddy fields!

I was greeted in the big barn being used for rehearsals by the two crane sculptures that were made during Somerset Art Works Open Studios. The pair were busy perfecting their 'Crane Walk' and the logistics of rubbing beaks without colliding or completely missing one another. Each crane had a team of 5 people to ensure that it processed safely and elegantly; flapping it's black feather fringed wings as it danced along.

The cavernous space within the barn soon began to fill as children from North Curry, Stoke St Gregory and Heathfield schools started to arrive and claim the various lanterns, headdresses and costumes that they had made under the guidance of artist Sarah Butterworth. You can read about one of their recent workshops here. Of course children do not tend to travel unaccompanied, so relatives and friends soon found themselves also carrying a dragonfly lantern and joining the procession - my Ma being one of them, she had a fantastic time.

To accompany this hive of activity and the last minute technical issues of insuring all the lanterns were lit was the sound of The Big Noise Street Band who were warming up and rehearsing for the first time with the children from Stoke St Gregory School who were to sing a song that they had written especially for the occasion. Leaving all the commotion, excitement and nerves behind I headed out to find a spot to watch the procession...
Due to start at 4.30 it wasn't actually that dark, Dusk was just beginning as the spectacle began and it was lovely to witness the lanterns glowing against the subtle colour change of the sky - a silhouette of a tree, heavy with mistletoe formed a serene and natural festive backdrop. In contrast the music was up beat, the children's song they had written full of fun and the audience clapped and revelled in the spectacle celebrating all the hard work that had gone into making the costumes, headdresses, lanterns and music. At this point in the proceedings I thought that if I did get stuck in a muddy field and had to get the car towed out by a tractor it would have been worth it and would only add to the evening's adventure! 

As for the cranes at the centre of all these glowing celebrations they were obviously oblivious to the dancing puppets, but I am sure if they had been close by instead of settling down somewhere safe for the night, they too would have been rubbing noses and swirling to the beat of the band.

Congratulations and thanks must go to the many volunteers and school pupils who took part in the Great Crane workshops, everyone who took part in the procession, SAW's Beccy Swain for coordinating the entire project, artist Sarah Butterworth for organising all that glue, tissue and willow, and of course our hosts for the evening, Nicola and Jonathon Coate at the Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre, I am sure everyone went home with a smile on their face.




Do check out THE GREAT CRANE BLOG for past, present and future community arts projects and events

5 November 2014


Earlier this week I was invited to North Curry Primary School to photograph the workshop being run by artist Sarah Butterworth from Emerald Ant. If you visited the Somerset Craft Centre during the recent Open Studios you may have caught a glimpse of Sarah sculpting two large scale cranes from willow and paper; others of you may have been even more hands on and joined the willow making workshops that took place.

Sarah has also been working with pupils from Stoke St Gregory and Heathfield School and from the organised chaos of willow, tissue and copious amounts of glue, some amazing sculptural forms have emerged under her creative tutelage. There certainly was a lot of glue which prompted me to borrow one of the school 'art shirts' - note to self for future photographing of workshops, wear less floaty clothes!

It was great fun watching the children as they transformed straight lengths of willow into dragonflies; working individually or together when not quite sure how to handle the new materials. Some were hindered by their big Dad sized art shirts and cuffs getting in the way - don't you just remember that frustration when you were a child!

The children didn't quite manage to finish the dragonflies on the day, they still need wings attaching and general finishing off, so we need volunteers to help out at Stoke St Gregory on Wednesday 19th November. Contact the SAW Office if you would like to help out - bring your art shirt!

The two large Crane sculptures took their initial test flight under end of Summer blue skies. However the clocks have now changed and the evenings are far darker - which is just perfect, as all the sculptures created by Sarah, the school children and volunteers require the night sky to reveal their true glowing potential as illuminated lanterns.

The children will be processing and dancing with their willow sculptures on Saturday 22 November at 4.30pm at the Willows and Wetlands Visitor Centre in Stoke St Gregory.

The event is to mark the 5th Anniversary of The Great Crane Project - a conservation programme that aims to reintroduce Common Cranes onto the Somerset Levels. An iconic bird, the crane has featured in art throughout the centuries and yet has been missing from our landscape for the past 400 years - until now, hence a reason to celebrate!

Working collaboratively with The Great Crane Project, Somerset Art Works has been delivering creative workshops within the community; connecting them to and raising the awareness of this ambitious conservation project that was taking place right on their doorstep.

Throughout the five year partnership the diverse artistic projects have created quite a buzz amongst the many participants, and the community has embraced this characterful bird back into their lives, all wishing to witness the first pair that will breed and go on to successfully raise their young.

During the afternoon you will also be able to view work from an earlier project led by artist Melanie Tomlinson with pupils from Huish Episcopi Acadamy who together created colourful dioramas depicting the Common Cranes that are at the centre of the day's celebrations.

Admission is free and the afternoon promises many attractions for all ages to share and enjoy as the procession is part of the Willows and Wetlands' annual Christmas Craft & Food Fayre which runs from 2 - 5.30pm.

And of course for a procession to be truly celebratory and uplifting you need music and this is to be provided by The Big Noise Street Band and Stoke St Gregory School Band.

I am looking forward to seeing all the willow sculptures and children being brought together for this wonderful celebration - see you there!