Blethers of Giants in the Forest by Patsy Dyer
Posted on June 6, 2012 by caroline
Storytelling and hanging baskets? Perhaps not a common combination, but add a giant’s head, a forest and a few more ideas start to fly around.
Early this year I was asked by Kilmartin House Museum to become involved in the exciting national art project ‘Giant Heads in the Forest’. With events undertaken in seven sites in England, Wales and Scotland, the Edinburgh based company ‘Vision Mechanics’ created 21 giant woven wicker heads to be taken to regions of natural beauty, often infrequently visited by members of the community with a range of physical and mental health difficulties.
Near to Kilmartin in Argyll ‘The Great Moss’ or Moine Mhor was chosen as a site. Running alongside is deciduous woodland known as ‘The Tileworks’. Both are fascinating historical sites managed by Scottish Natural Heritage.
The project involved Kilmartin House Museum, Lochgilphead Joint Campus, Lochgilphead Resource Centre, and Scottish Natural Heritage with me a storyteller with botanical knowledge.
This was not an ordinary storytelling project however. It was exciting to hunt for suitable native plants. Plants from the wood and moor itself were restricted; nothing could be dug up or cut from living specimens. Luckily a local benefactor had a few trees blown down in recent storms and these, soon to be chopped for firewood, provided a wide array of beautiful lichens, lung-worts and mosses.
The choice of plants was important as they were not only used to inspire storytelling but were to be used by all participants in the ‘filling out’ of the heads, once they had been foraged.
I had visited the wood several times for ideas and although lacking ancient trees I soon discovered gentle dells, semi-rings of trees as well as witches brooms, oak apples and various sorts of trees. I created my own storytelling plant map if you like with the collected plant material placed where I would tell tales or folklore and help in the collecting.
Some of the participants were in wheelchairs, and SNH had developed level paths, allowing easy access.
The large number of participants (approx 124) including staff and carers came to the storytelling project over two days. The Giant Heads began to take on fascinating sylvan personality as mosses and lichens were added amongst the willow, with Vision Mechanics’ artists and Kilmartin staff all getting their hands nice and dirty. I had even found a tale from Essex with a giant who lived in a moor by a wood and whose head was chopped off and hung up! Other fascinating folklore facts surfaced from research. Tree lungwort (which is very prolific in Argyll) it known as a ‘frog blanket’ in the far north of America – the adults especially liked to hear about the Native American annual ritual of bathing in a bath of this simple plant as a sort of rejuvenation. When dry it is grey and leathery. When wet a lovely soft green! I may have a go one day as I feel age creeping up on me…And most suitably, old man’s beard lichen is known for magical properties; especially when found on the skull of a skeleton found hanging… gruesome but most useful!
This project was a lovely, sobering and important experience, confirming the need for art, storytelling and the natural resources out there to be imaginatively taken to the public but especially carers, staff and those who they care for.