Hedley Hall Woodland Trust

Last year Sylvan Skills was approached by the Hedley Hall Woodland Trust who wished to add several willow sculptures to one of their sites. Hedley Hall is an extensive woodland offering stunning wildflower meadows, ponds, and plenty of wildlife. The goal was to engage visitors with the history of heritage crafts connected to ancient woodlands. We were very happy to come up with ideas and bring them to life during the following process.

Hedley Hall Woodland Trust Drawing the sketch plan for the horse and cart
Hedley Hall Woodland Trust creating the frame

Planning the sculptures

The planning of the sculptures took about three days. We started off collecting images and making a mood board. The next step was to talk the designs through with the welder. During the making of the frames they were then refined further.

Woodland Hedley Trust Wire Framework
Wireframe Head
Ruth creating the willow horse
Ruth Thompson creating the human element of the horse and cart

The four commissioned pieces show three people engaged in traditional woodland management, including ‘Snigging’, a giant woodsman with an axe having just chopped down a tree, a horse and a horse logger as well as a charcoal burner. The sculptures are spread out around the newly made all-weather track and are easily accessible from the main car park.

Willow axe man
Man shovelling potatoes on the farm
Woodland Trust Horse and Cart
Man with robin sitting on his hat

Challenges at Hedley Hall Woodland Trust

The size of the sculptures posed a few challenges along the way: Finding a large enough space to work on the horse and the twice life-sized woodsman wasn’t easy. Luckily we managed to hire a barn belonging to a local willow grower. Because the project contained so many sculptures the Woodland Trust needed to obtain planning permission which took six months longer than planned due to Covid-19. We therefore had to store the sculptures in another barn not far from Hedley Hall Woods over the winter.

Ruth creating the horses foot
Pointing finger in Willow
Shovel and potato basket
Axe in wood stump
Willow threading sculpture
Willow horse in creation
Willow horse in creation

Due to the size of the sculptures there were a lot of details which needed to be just right. Furthermore, the frames wanted to be sturdy – especially the horse which had to be substantially strong in case people tried to climb on it in the future (we don’t encourage this!). After finishing the metal frame the weaving on the horse took about three days. Most of the sculptures are made of willow on a metal frame except for the charcoal burner who is made from oak splint wood on a metal frame. Seeing the frames and sculptures take form was a very gratifying process.

Willow farmer in the field with gun
Willow horse drawing farmer through the field
Farmer sitting on the log
Willow lady farmer in field
Willow farmer sitting on log with Gun

Thanks to the help of Martin Dodd Countryside Services we managed to install all four sculptures on the same day. Having both a mini digger and a larger digger saved a lot of time creating the foundations and moving logs. Further thanks go out to Liz Beech who worked on the design and weaving with Ruth, and the blacksmith John Rutherford who made the frames.

Are you interested in having your own willow sculptures made? Please get in touch. We would love to hear from you!

All photographs by Paul Plews.

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