The Village Oak project

The Village Oak project

I was visiting a fellow tree enthusiast near Rockcliffe village just outside Carlisle, in 2023 when I found a mesmerising trunk of oak from a tree. Michael agreed to cut a slice from it for me and he kept it for months while I figured out what to do with it. Once back at the studio I realised it would take me probably about 5 hours to print it once and  it was probably too big for anyone's sitting room wall-as it measured 2 metres across by 1.4 metres- an oval shape.

 He told me that the tree was known as the village oak and had been planted in the early 1800's as a boundary oak to mark the land between the castle and the church and its location is shown on a historical map. Michael had previously added it's details and location onto the Ancient Tree Registry and so there is a photograph of it before it fell.

In 2016 it's girth was 4.8metres and it was a Sessile oak.   It had come down in a summer storm in 2017 and it had lots of evidence of ladders and nails in it.


I visited the field it grew in and was really pleased to find the base was left there so I could explore it. The new village school is now in the field next to the tree's location and I could hear the sound of the children playing.

As the tree had been such a part of the local community  I decided to approach the school and to suggest that all the children could work with me to create the first print from the tree round which the school could then keep. The idea was well received and so I prepared the round with this plan in mind.

Preparing the wood for printing involves sanding it smooth, burning the surface and then wire brushing away what has burned and finally sealing with shellac.

I had to make the decision to have the tree round cut into 4 pieces as it was too big and heavy to move and it also meant that each piece could more easily be accessed to print in the school. The resulting 4 prints then slot together like a jigsaw to create the full print.

It took a school day to do the print and there were approximately 120 children across Year 1-6 who each printed it with me in groups of 8. I also took a piece of Burr Elm with me and each child made their own bookmark sized print to keep. I was really pleased that the print came out perfectly and the school had an open exhibition where the parents and local community were invited to see what the children had achieved. They also visited the tree and made their own artwork.

Later I made my first print of the whole piece on one sheet of paper in my studio which worked well and I donated this print to Michael as without all his efforts I wouldn’t have been able to see the project through.

The 4 pieces of oak are now stored in my shed and are ready to emerge whenever another school or community would like to have a go at making their own print together.



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