Hello, I am Ruth Thompson, a Northumberland Artist specialising in willow and greenwood sculptures (including fencing and eco coffins). Living in West Mickley in beautiful Tynedale, Northumberland with my husband and daughter, our business is called Sylvan Skills.
I have always enjoyed being outdoors with nature. At University I studied Botany and went into horticulture. Then I started exploring Greenwood crafts in my mid 20s working with Hazel and then with Willow. I began my training at the ‘Weekend in the woods’ in Cumbria with the likes of Bill Hogarth.
Early days of Sylvan Skills:
We originally set up the business in 1994 with help from a government support scheme. We were encouraged to write a business plan and open a business account. The name Sylvan Skills was chosen as it tripped off the tongue easily, using words with the same initial letter.
I remember our first job was supplying coppice poles to Bede’s world not long after it opened. We had the support of the ‘Great North Forest’, and made use of willow from the newly planted Gateshead Garden Festival site and also from Chopwell forest.
In 2001 as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis funding enabled us to be connected digitally with our own website.
I gradually acquired more basketry skills through working with various colleagues who are also members of The Basket Makers’ association, such as Liz Balfour, and Julie Gurr ‘
Benefitting from attending Northumbria Basketry group courses and going on placements in other parts of Europe such as Sweden, Slovakia, Cyprus and the Azores has really helped develop my business as a Northumberland Artist.
About my work as a Northumberland artist:
I enjoy the fact that my work is quite varied. Whether it is being in the woods cutting coppice for raw materials or teaching groups and helping people be creative.
Making products in the workshop and getting into “the zone” is also something I really love doing.
I like working in a team with other people, so my skills are complemented by those of other people.
There are many reasons for doing the work that I do including working outside, maintaining a heritage skill, enjoying the creative process and enabling others to be creative. I enjoy the informal work environment that is flexible and enables me to change the direction of my work to adapt to changing circumstances.
How I fill my days during the current pandemic:
I have recently begun to make more products for sale working jointly with John Rutherford a local blacksmith, and have also learnt how to make willow coffins. These new activities complement my continuing long-standing love of coppicing and hurdle making. I look forward to continuing this willow journey of discovery !