TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fiber Art to the Max: Tree Shaping and the Dictates of Nature

My first exposure to sculpting with living plants was through my best friend's father when I was a kid in Brazil. Our city was 30% Japanese and her father had immigrated from Japan after World War II. He spent hours with his little bonsai trees and in his garden. Over the years, my appreciation for art as it relates to nature has continued to grow. I am drawn to environments that blend in with their surroundings and that seem to have a conversation with all the elements around them. In college, I fell in love with artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Way before there was even a green movement, Hundertwasser explored how buildings can function as organic structures, both in design and in incorporating living plants and trees as part of the architectural dictates of the environment. Never square, buildings replicate natural mountains. Roofs are gardens, both insulating the living spaces and allowing the mind and body to breathe.

Since then, people have been experimenting with nature in a partnership of art, form and chance. My friend Pam sent me an e-mail with some images of artists who have been taking the ancient bonsai practice to another level. Most had no source information, so if anybody out there knows where these images came from, please leave a comment so we can credit them. I got a big kick out of the time, effort and patience it took from conception of the idea to its fruition.

This bicycle in a tree reminds me of my mother's cousin, Darren, who for years has been sculpting a garden and cemetery in Western Minnesota. His forest is filled with bathtubs, old cars, and other discarded household appliances that are planted with nature and slowly eroding back into the soil. Maybe my interest is partly genetic...

All knotted up...

Star of David


A living hut

Tree ladder

One of the photos did have a name on it, so I was able to trace it, Pooktre. Australian artists Peter Cook and Becky Northey have transformed their land into a living sculpture. Calling themselves tree shapers, they work on two kinds sculptural work, pieces that are eventually harvested and others that remain planted. The two photos below show Peter with a couple of his living chairs:

Pete's favorites are his trees shaped like men:

Explore their site. They seem like wonderful people. Apparently, they have never sold a piece yet, but had a show in Japan that made the bonsai community wild with excitement. They are thinking of having workshops in the future.

All of this coincides with another Canadian fiber artist that I had recently bookmarked, Alastair Heseltine. You see, to me, working with these plants and trees is fiber art in its most raw and basic form. Yet, it cannot be done without tremendous patience, skill and foresight. Heseltine also plays with tree shaping, but most of his larger pieces involve juxtaposing created structures with nature's background. Here is a living bush that is replicating a basket weave (Heseltine also makes traditional baskets):

And, here is a large sculptural piece that has been assembled by a body of water:

Many of Heseltine's pieces are functional, such as this bench, which I absolutely love:

But, his mastery of basket weaving is especially shown in this gorgeous figurative sculpture:

What I take from this as a fiber artist is that the materials are secondary to the vision. Developing our skills to their fullest potential is a life time of hard work, patience and pushing the elements to tell a new story. Hundertwasser was considered a nut in his early days. He passed away in 2000, finally receiving recognition as the visionary that he was. Most of us will never be famous or rich, but we can enjoy our craft and let it lead us to new places that right now might only live in the murky lands of our imagination.

Alastair Heseltine



  1. Thank you so much for sharing these absolutely fascinating creations.

  2. Such a weird coincidence - I was just browsing Heseltine's website a few days ago. His site is a little tricky to maneuver. But if you're willing to find the little side roads, the is great beauty there.

  3. Wow, those images are simply gorgeous. I love nature and art and what a way to tie them together. Thanks for sharing with us!


  4. Fantastic article! The images are amazing. I am very fond of Hunderwassers art too.

  5. Hi this is Becky from Pooktre.
    I'll list the artists to the photos in order of top to bottom.

    1.Axel N Erlandson.
    To see more of his trees go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axel_Erlandson or http://www.treeshapers.net/axel-n-erlandson.html

    4.and 5. Aharon Naveh To see more of his work go to http://www.treeshapers.net/aharon-naveh.html or http://www.geocities.com/aharonaveh22/index.htm

    6. Is Axel N Erlandsons.

    7. This house is grown out of fig. Can be found on the on Okinawa island in Bio Park.

    8. Ladder also shaped by Axel N Erlandson.

    9.-10.and 11. Belongs to Pooktre ;-).

    You may be also interested in visiting this website http://www.treeshapers.net which shows photos from all the different tree shapers from around the world.

    Great Post.


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