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Tom Hare Wonders in Willow

by Rachael Chambers

Published: September 2010

On a visit to Kew gardens in 2009 I was taken aback by the drama and beauty of a selection of giant seed pods that had be created by willow sculptor Tom Hare as a commission for Kew Gardens, they were simply stunning. I have since become more aware of Tom’s work and wanted to know more, so I caught up with him earlier this year, as he was preparing for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
“I have designed and built show features for the event over the past six years, I love the excitement of the pre-show build and the transformation of these sites that seems to happen almost overnight. This year I am working on a feature for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show organisers; a 5m tall woven tree which will sit within the RHS garden of biodiversity in the Grand Pavilion, there is still much to do and the scale of the sculpture can be intimidating when you’re faced with a strict time-scale and only one pair of hands.”
The past few years have brought Tom many commissions and projects that have been garden related, including the Kew gardens commission I mentioned. “In 2009 I was commissioned to produce ten large seed sculptures for The Royal Botanic Garden Kew to mark their 250th Anniversary,” says Tom, “to celebrate the collecting of ten percent of the World’s rarest wild seeds, which are now secured within the millennium seed-bank. The sculptures are of poppies, star anise, sycamore, honesty, devils claw, sophora, conker, coco de mer, lotus and banksias, all of giant proportion woven tightly around a mild steel frame. I was contacted to consider the commission, having worked at Kew for the Big Draw in 2007, whilst the Henry Moore sculptures were on show.”
Tom goes on to mention other work he is involved with for the RHS. “I currently have work at RHS gardens Wisley, in Surrey, where I have been artist in residence over a two year period producing work alongside their educational program; involving visitors in the making process. Featured at Wisley are giant fungi, apples, pears, oak sapling and a drift of bulrush.” 
As Tom recounts his commissions I wonder where he creates such sculptures and finds the materials for these projects. “I have a humble workshop in Stoke Golding under some silver birch and horse chestnut trees on the borders of Warwickshire and Leicestershire, where I mostly work on my commissions,” he says. “This is essentially a tin shack with woven walls and a little round wood burner to take the chill off, it can get bitter in the Winter, although I do work onsite a good percentage of the year. My materials are mostly sourced from Somerset now, in the early days I would coppice for the highways agency and British waterways, anywhere that produced good looking stems that   I could access.”
So when did this passion for willow begin? “I loved making at school, like most kids  I think. I loved to draw and my art homework was always in on time and well executed, unlike the other subjects. I remember my Dad advising me at a young age to work towards something you love doing, because you’re a long time doing it, and both my parents encouraged my creative side. I was sure by the age of twelve that I would go to art college and take that path.”
But it happened to be a weekend course in making bent willow furniture with Maura King that was to be the life changing experience that sent Tom on his willow pathway. “I’m sure she saw the light switch on too, the combination of working with your hands without machinery, using natural materials that are incredibly sustainable... who could resist that!” says Tom. But he had fallen for a different medium before willow. “My first love was clay, creating work on the wheel, I’m still really drawn to the process and would love to build some huge architectural willow and clay vessels wattle and daub style!”
 So what has been your favourite commission, I ask. “The favourite creation has to be the one you’re currently working on or designing,” remarks Tom, “which can be confusing when you’re producing several pieces at the same time. You almost need to re-kindle a friendship with a piece if it has taken a back seat for a short period whilst the deadlines are addressed in order.” 
I go on to ask whether Tom has kept much of the work he creates. “I have very few woven pieces at home and in the garden,” he replies. “I have some trusty friends… the laundry basket, the baskets that hold all of our fruit and vegetables. It’s typical of a tradesman, i.e. an electrician with light switches hanging off the wall, a plasterer with unfinished decor. Most of what I make is to commission and any work that is built speculatively can make great gifts for friends and family.
“There is something nourishing about creating your own work, maybe even a simple basket that you have a relationship with on a day-to-day basis, you can see why it has been used as a tool for focusing the mind for all these years. I would recommend it to anyone!”

Tom Hare
www.tomhare.net
T: 07776 405990

 
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