It’s not often that you walk through a forest and encounter a life-size statue of a woman shooting a bow and arrow. But that’s exactly what British sculptor Anna and the Willow has crafted. She’s filling the U.K. forests with statues made of willow branches by combining sculpture and basket weaving.
The sculptor says she first discovered willow weaving a few years ago when she decided to take a basketry class. She was inspired to combine it with sculpture, make it life-size, and put it out in nature.
So how does it work?
The whole thing is a long process, starting with hand-drawn sketches. Then the sculptor constructs a steel frame, which she covers with woven willow branches. Her amazing sculptures range from women seemingly growing from the forest path to a menagerie of animals.
The sculptor is based in North Yorkshire, a place full of forests and fields. It’s the perfect setting for these statues that almost look like they sprang from nature itself.
“I … have always had a passion for art and the natural world,” said the sculptor. “I studied Zoology at Manchester University but never gave up my art! Working with a natural material opened up a new world and I consequently went on to learn the different techniques of basketry. I enjoy using the traditional skills of basketry and adding my own flare to the process. I work with six varieties of English willow grown in Yorkshire & Somerset.”
Anna and the Willow also makes baskets and decorations and teaches weaving classes at her Yorkshire studio.
As for the sculptures, they’ve been placed around walking paths in the local forests for local hikers and passersby to enjoy.
Using willow branches to weave baskets has been happening for centuries. But it’s not common to see it used for figures. Willow branches are tricky to work with, which only goes to show how much talent and skill it takes to turn them into such beautiful statues.
The willows grow alongside water.
They are long and pliable, making them perfect for weaving. But they needed to be woven carefully and intricately, which means that crafting the statues is a long and arduous process.
These days, Anna is still actively sculpting. She also teaches workshops and does personal orders for baskets and decorations. In the meantime, her existing statues continue to beautify the Yorkshire countryside.
“Throughout the summer I’ve been working on two large sculptures for The Woodland Trust at Skipton Castle Woods,” she wrote on her blog in Nov. 2018. “I’ve been blown away by all the amazing feedback and really pleased the sculptures sit so well in the ancient woodland. Autumn is my favourite season & I can’t wait to see them in the changing colours.”
She isn’t the only sculptor around who is using unusual materials and creative methods.
On the other side of the planet, an Australian sculptor named Bruno Torfs is also putting statues in the woods — with a very specific message.
Torfs’ statues are straight out of a fantasy story. They feature elves, dwarfs, and other magical creatures emerging from the trees. It must be an amazing — or somewhat startling sight to encounter on a walk in the woods.
Torfs’ inspiration came from around the world. An avid traveler, he began by sketching the people that he saw during his trips to different places. This eventually transitioned into sculpture, and Torfs moved to Australia to open a sculpture park in the rainforest.
His sculptures are fluid with emotion.
Torfs’ message? To inspire compassion in the people who see his artwork as they walk through the trees.
Some of his sculptures are highly polished and refined, like this one of a young girl riding a unicorn. Others are more organic, seemingly growing out of trees. But they all show an intricacy that points to Torfs’ incredible skill.
It’s not the first time that Torfs has constructed a statue park.
In 2009, a local bushfire destroyed his entire park, along with his artwork. But Torfs began again. His new park and gallery opened in 2011.
Torfs’ gallery is truly a sight to behold — in fact, it placed on the Victoria Bucket List of 100 Things To Do Before You Die. It’s a testament to Torfs’ incredible skill and dedication, especially having had to rebuild his entire sculpture garden.
Whether or not you ever plan to take a trip to Australia (or to North Yorkshire), you can’t deny that these sculptors have amazing skill and creativity. Their talents with wood and weaving provide fresh takes on methods that are centuries old.
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