Magnificent Summer Art: roots to blossoms

The summer days are here and I have been looking forward to June with much anticipation. The reason for this excitement is the biennial E17 Art Trail 2017, which ran this month with a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) theme. In cold January, some of my neighbours and I met in the pub to discuss how were going to participate in the art trail.  After a brainstorming session, we agreed that we would try to begin the process of creating a community garden in a public space that was a little nondescript, and in need of some attention.  Our title art trail submission from this garden was ‘Tree of Life’ which worked with the existing trees already in the green space, and to highlight the environmental benefits of this little oasis on the corner of a residential area and busy high street.

Earth, Wind and Fire

Sun, Rain

Wind, Snow

Hail, Sleet,

Chaos, Calm

Energy, Light

Day, Night

Earth, Sky

Stars, Moon

Out and Open to the Elements

Our Tree of Life.

by Seema.

Fast forward a few months to June and we have now created a community garden with some community funded that was kindly suggested by our local councilor Cllr Saima Mahmoud. We also found out from Cllr Saima that for the long term, we can nominate the space for a council run project call ‘Making Places’. We most certainly will be looking to develop this place further.

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In the last few months, I have relished the art elements of helping to create the garden and sourcing STEAM items, such as solar lights, wind chimes, bird nests, paints and other items to showcase the trees. We also got dirty in the process of tidying and clearing the area one weekend, and planted the garden borders another weekend.  Without a doubt – I loved coordinating and decorating the terracotta pots that were distributed to 20 residents too decorate, and then plant them with an outdoor plant.  It was even more pleasurable to get them delivered to my home one by one – it was a privilege to hold them if only temporary in my own garden before the official launch of the E17 Art Trail on 3rd June.

Bob, a local resident, also came up with a brilliant idea to create cogs with the help of the local wood turners, Nichols Brothers, to the STEAM theme.  The cogs were a hit with the garden visitors, and I frequently saw children playing with them as I went past.  I also liked that it reflected the cycle of the life of a tree.  Since then I have paid attention to many by-products from trees – paper, furniture, buildings etc.  I was even inspired to buy a wooden bracelet from a shop off Walthamstow Market that only sold wooden products.

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We placed STEAM themed poems on one of the trees to add interest to the garden especially as we are officially known as Poet’s Corner E17. We have already showcased poems and stories a few years ago, and coincidently when I was researching this idea, I saw the Royal Botanical Garden in Scotland also had poems on their trees.  John Hudson, a poet with local connections, had one of his poems displayed in their tree…and ours of course! I was also motivated to write some brief poems (some on here, be kind to me!) as they were tweeted during the art trail.

Tree of Life

Give me a…

T – Towering

R – Rejuvenating

E – Energising

E – Elasticity

o – Oxygen

f – Fibrous

L – Living

I – Indigenous

F – Fruitful

E – Evergreen (sometimes)

Tree of Life.

by Seema.

We also wanted to encourage wildlife, and so we sourced two bird nests for one of the trees. I had the pleasure of painting them with my son.  I made a point of tagging on to 1000 Swifts project to raise awareness of Walthamstow Wetlands (one of the largest urban wetlands in Europe), and Swifts as part of the E17 Art Trail. There were literally fabulous artistic Swifts all over Walthamstow that were displayed everywhere locally!  The magic and serendipity was also apparent on social media with RSPB sharing facts and figures about the importance and habits of this extraordinary bird.  Swifts migrate all the way from Africa to Europe each year, and can fly without stopping for days and months.  They became a metaphor to me – the Swifts in flight were like music to my ears…floating and gliding on their merry way, and so I was inspired to include them in the garden.

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We collaborated with another art trail project called the Bird Box Stories (@birdboxstories). There were several artistically decorated Bird Boxes that were distributed around Walthamstow, and in them they contained a notebook and pens for you to continue the collaborative story. You can also draw a little picture if you preferred.  It was a lovely to continue the story written by someone else whilst sitting and taking in the garden view in the sunshine. Some writers used the Bird Box notebook to give us positive feedback on the garden too!

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The garden will continue hopefully in the long term as we are going to nominate it in the borough’s Making Places project as mentioned above. Hopefully it will develop into a proper place for the local community, residents and passer-bys near a busy main street with phenomenal amount of regeneration in the area. We really could not leave this spot neglected for much longer.  In our ‘Welcome Hour’ for the opening weekend of the garden, and frequently during the art trail – we had positive feedback from local residents, businesses, strangers and passer-bys on how some simple low-budget items, and plants had transformed the public green space and made it into a ‘place’.  I saw people reading, chatting, reading poems, admiring the space and generally appreciative of what we as residents and volunteers have completed.  It feels very worthwhile!

In the performance art side, we also held a puppet show ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ by E17 Puppets on the road at our new street gallery. The performance was brilliant, funny, interactive and very engaging for children and adults.  Our main concern was that it did not rain on the beautifully handcrafted puppets.  This area of our neighbourhood was recently pedestrianized and it a much more pleasant area than the rat-run it used to be.

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In the neighbourhood, we certainly had some serious fun with our 6th annual street party with the New York Block party inspired theme.  We had a live funk brass band called ‘The Cracked’, salsa instruction and dancing, serious grooves with our resident DJs and fun activities on one of the hottest summer days of the year. See more photos on our blog here.  Hopefully 40 years in the future…the children will remember these fun times as I remember growing up similarly in Trinidad.

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I also attended a fab concert a St Mary’s Church in the neighbourhood to see Senegalese Kora player, Seckou Keita, who is one of the best Kora players. The instrument is beautiful (partly made out of a Calabash tree fruit) and made mesmerising music. Seckou Keita was great at telling stories whilst playing the Kora and getting us to sing back, such as in a ‘call and respond’ gospel style.

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I was so pleased that I was able to see this concert as part of a new initiative call the St Mary’s Art Collective.  The same church also had displays for the art trail which included fab women in STEM by the artist Emma Scutt, a Caribbean Windrush installation and other pieces by young artists.

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It was funny that week as I went to churches three times for art trailing and social reasons! I also went into Westminster Abbey for a work-related Summer Reception and was impressed with the 1200s era mural, Poets Corner, stained glass windows and other interesting features of the abbey.  It was the first time I went inside the abbey after remembering Prince Andrew’s and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding televised live to Trinidad, as well as other televised state occasions since then.  I also visited St Saviour’s Church in Walthamstow to see Veronique’s, my friend, art trail display.  I even bought one of her pieces and she was raising funds for a local charity she supports called Carefree Kids.

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Special thanks to all the neighbours who helped create the community garden and also for the E17 Art Trail team for giving us the opportunity to create art in a place where we live for the whole community and guests.  There is always something creative going on in my neighbourhood, where I work and sometimes at home. So I may seem relentless on social media, as some of you have mentioned to me.  I can only explain that there is some special energy where I am, or it is just me being me.

If you want to see my neighbourhood’s art heritage, the ‘Be Magnificent’ exhibition on the art school influence of Walthamstow School of Art 1957-1967 is currently on at William Morris Gallery. This really is a motivation place to get your creative sparks, heat and inspiration.  Like our ‘Tree of Life’ small community garden in its’ natural living form, and with future plans for development of the place – the roots are there with hope and aspiration for its’ future, and I have an inkling feeling that out of this small art project, the best is yet to come!

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