Reforesting Scotland, 24, Summer 2000 ~ Artists in Wood  
The Scottish basket-maker, Lizzie Farey, produces exquisitely turned and elemental wood weavings
relating a world of nature, which seems to sit between some perfectly finished natural process and the
intricate guidance of the human maker. Her various spherical willow nests, and on occasion other forms, emanate an exterior of calm presence intertwined with inner spaces filled with action and movement.
It is almost as if a dry wind has blown along an autumn
lane, picked up loose fragments of hedgerow life and rolled the willow balls into being, depositing each to
be found and smoothed by human agency. She is,
she says, "...working from the inside out. They start
in chaos and work towards stillness. That dynamic quality nourishes me while I am working. A friend describes the balls as 'moving in stillness'."
Along with willow, Farey uses many other woods, often from hedgerows; hazel, birch, ash, dogwood, larch or briar rose. Some are spherically self-contained balls, whilst others continue outwards; branches dancing
with their seed-heads intact. Farey's immersion in wood, and specifically willow, emerged after a period of working with stained glass in the early nineties. She had begun to find "the medium of glass too brittle and sharp and the soldering of lead too polluting".
She visited her sister-in-law in North Wales for a weekend, who was also basket-making, and returned with two baskets she'd made herself. Excited, she bought two bolts of willow and continued. "I found such a contrast with the glass - the yielding, flexibility of the willow, the woody smell - almost like incense - and the natural colours were a delight and led me on to work for hours and hours, developing a relationship with the wood. Things began to flow in a way that I had never experienced with the glass." She moved to an isolated house in an area of hills, with larch, spruce woodland, planted willows and dogwood in the garden.
"The grace and beauty of the willows matched the surrounding landscape. It made sense to me to be using and working with a material that was natural to my surroundings. I used to spend hours walking and exploring the woods and hills and this led me to start weaving with materials other than willow, such as heather, bog myrtle, field rush and wild raspberry, that grew nearby. Apart from willow I've found that by working with and watching the larch tree grow, l've begun to form connections with it. The larch is a very slender tree and very dancey indeed. Watching the new growth in spring is so delightful."
"I can weave the knobbly new twigs into bowl shaped baskets. Recently I've found similar connections with aspen, which is also tall and slender. There's a tremulous quality to it that I relate to." Farey's sculptural nests may appear a significant remove from traditional basketry, but look at their bases and those age-old traditions are clearly visible at the core. In this sense, her work sits within a wider local Scottish tradition of basketry. She also makes traditional baskets, fruit and bread baskets, creels and log baskets using traditional weaves with home-grown willow.
The willow balls and other forms sit in and explore the space between land and nature art and its older relation, the basket-maker's craft. Farey's work can be seen, alongside other, often female, Scottish-based wood weavers - Lise Bech, Valerie Pragnell and Sally MacIntosh, for instance - as extending the craft of basketry into the realm of nature art. It is a new tradition touched by the remaining wildness of the Scottish landscape. "There is a close connection to natural materials here. It may be the Celtic experience, but there is a natural ease of relationship between basket-makers and their landscape and its plants."
To an extent there is a 'tension' between basket-making's original functional realm and remit as carrier and container and its contemporary flight towards abstraction. An interesting middle-ground is occupied by those working alongside the holism of the land and nature art. Farey is an admirer of both Chris Drury and David Drew, as well as in basketry, the Japanese Hisako Sekijama. Each path connects with the year's round, and with its archaic past of the rituals of the passing of the seasons. "There is a connection developing between the new forms of basket-making as aesthetic expression and land and nature art. Both are products of a changing world.
Nature art firmly roots you in the here and now, and has an arresting quality that the creative process of basket-making also has. I would like to see more of a crossover between one and the other; some of the age-old techniques could be useful to the nature artist. I wish we could come together more. It may all fizzle out. It would be nice to bring the two relationships together, share the weaves which each group knows separately, and bridge a part of the gap between the two. A nature artist, Stuart Frost, came to one of my traditional basket courses and seemed quite threatened, especially at first, although in the end he opened up. It seems like never the twain..."
There is a sense in which both land art and these new departures for basketry are pushing at the boundaries of traditional technique, making a new third space. Its position is confused as it is both and neither craft, nor as it is usually described, exactly an art form. Similarly, you might ask whether the process of the making of a form, or the end object itself, is craft or artwork? Or again both. Farey acknowledges this: "Its such a fine line. These days, we like to say we're artists, but it's different - we're not relying on the old forms", she states at first, before later talking about how weaves which continue to be passed on after thousands of years across cultures ensure the survival of the traditional basket form.
"However, with the new ecological consciousness, and with new basketry materials and many exchanges of old techniques across continents, basket-making is growing beyond its traditional roots towards new art forms. Makers are stimulated to an unprecedented degree as never before. It's very exciting. The link between art and craft is the beauty and richness of the natural realities they both use." Farey's work also connects to, and collects from, the secret life of hedgerows; these ancient, small and mostly unnoticed treasure troves in the midst of the British landscape, still vulnerable to being extinguished by farming and urbanisation. "Hedgerows created as functional, fertile boundaries become something else as seeds and plants are blown in, take root there and provide shelter for animals, birds and insects.
They are woven forms in a random weave and are containers of the countryside. When they are cut, they regenerate year after year. I connect witn hedgerows as I harvest the materials for my baskets. Farey runs classes across Scotland, encompassing hedgerow basket-making and random weave techniques. When asked if she senses people beginning with basketry emerging into a kind of awakening of knowledge, hitherto dormant, the fingers remembering, as other basketmakers have said, she offers a slightly different perspective. "I don't think it is such a conscious act as that. In basket-making classes you often reach a stage when a whole class becomes quiet and meditative, and a rhythmical present moment takes over."
The traditions of basketry, an ignored and lost practice to many, remain in the quiet lanes of craft, though perhaps in better health than an outsider would think. "It will always come back to the basket", she says of her craft. Yet for Farey and weavers like her, whilst still rooted in the archaic practice of the weave, its marriage to the sculptural is an exhilarating freedom, an opportunity to explore wholly undiscovered forms and a new relation to nature.