timber strings

There are many artistic folk here in the northwest of our island and last weekend saw the opportunity for local luthiers to showcase their creations. Fourteen music makers presented their unique musical instruments at the Tasmanian Timber Strings exhibition at Wynyard.

The drawcard for me, even though I can admire them at any time, were the two gorgeous guitars made by my talented husband. Michael attended his first guitar-making course at Highfield House, Stanley, in October 2012, led by Chris Wynne of Thomas Lloyd guitars. Benjamin is named after the last captive thylacine who died at Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart on 7th September 1936.

The 7-string dreadnaught has a magnificent tiger myrtle backboard, sides & headstock along with celery top pine soundboard, blackwood double-rosette & body bindings, Tasmanian oak neck and Queensland gidgee fretboard & bridge .

In May 2014, a second guitar-making course in Italy, again with Chris Wynne, produced the beautiful 6-string dreadnaught, Corinna.

This time, the soundboard is Huon pine with a musk rosette, figured blackwood backboard & sides, gidgee fretboard, bridge & bindings and Tasmanian oak neck. The musk headstock is inlaid with a blackwood thylacine graphic, designed by Michael to reflect the name of the instrument, the Aboriginal word for a young thylacine.

Michael O’Donnell also started making guitars after attending a workshop in Italy under the tutelage of Chris Wynne and took over the business Woodtone Guitars in Penguin in early 2018. As well as creating customised acoustic and electric guitars, he conducts guitar making courses, sourcing specialty timbers for you to build your own.

The gifted Kille family of Tarkine Strings are best known for their beautiful string ensemble music. Murray has another string to his bow (pardon the pun), making a striking guitar with sassafras back & sides under the guidance of Michael O’Donnell in 2018. The soundboard & neck are Huon pine and the fretboard is figured Tasmanian blackwood with a myrtle headstock.

Alongside was an elegant violin made by luthier Cecil Bynon in 1983 with King Billy pine top, Tasmanian blackwood back, sides & neck and ebony fingerboard.

Murray also repairs classical string instruments including violins, violas and cellos, though I think this one is beyond redemption.

The Australian Ukelele Company specialise in unique Tasmanian timber and offer the choice of a custom made instrument or a kit to make your own.

Gary Fleming has always been fascinated with making things since spending many hours in his Dad’s shed when he was growing up. He made his first guitar as a challenge, to see if he could do it and went on to make electric guitars from locally sourced material. On his two most recent guitars, he has experimented with custom bridge and tail pieces as well as asymmetrical neck carve and scalloped fretboards.

Already a talented fine furniture maker, Stephen Oram added harp making to his repertoire in 2002. It started when a friend of his partner needed an extra pair of hands. Now furniture has taken a back seat as he creates seven or eight harps a year.

Michael Tharme couldn’t be present on the day but his cigar box guitars, branded Mikhail, offered a very different and colourful alternative. Michael has been building instruments since 2016 based on the original Cuban cigar box guitar but uses all kinds of material such as biscuit tins, number plates and anything else he might find in an old shed or antique shop. They are one of a kind, hand made in Tasmania from local and reclaimed timbers whenever possible.

Local luthier, Peter Sutcliffe, had a diverse display of his handmade instruments.

The delicate inlay in the neck of this guitar is exquisite.

There were fine examples of handcrafted guitars and mandolins from another local, Gary Radcliffe, including an unfinished soundboard with an intricate rosette.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I discovered a very unusual violin made from kelp. Yes, kelp! Chris Henderson has been working tirelessly to perfect the process of turning giant kelp, gathered from the west coast near Marrawah, into a musical instrument. It is not an easy material to work with. Kelp shrinks about ¼ to ½ in size and about ¾ by weight. Because it doesn’t shrink evenly and curls up, it is dried for four days sandwiched in a metal grid. The cured kelp is more like hard plastic than wood and will not stick with any glues or take varnishes. It can be bent and cut after 15 minutes in a 50°C oven but, if it were not clamped in a fibreglass mould, it would slowly reform its original shape. If it weren’t for carbon fibre tubes and wooden blocks, the seaweed would sink at the bridge under the load of strings and distort with changes in humidity. So, why make a musical instrument from kelp? Michael summed it up in one word – bonkers!

Later in the afternoon, we were entertained by the various exhibitors. Peter Sutcliffe and his associates opened the session with an upbeat jazz number, followed by ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, a little optimistic considering the deluge outside that was predicted to continue for the next few days.

Philip Nicholas has been teaching strings and performing since 1980, he shared his rendition of three works by Bach on a guitar he made in 1984.

The afternoon concluded with a number of pieces from Tarkine Strings along with guest musicians.

Huka Falls

Our wonderful four days at Buckland B&B had come to an end and it was time to move on to new adventures. We had booked a house on Lake Taupo for the next three nights but there were amazing things to see on the way. Huka Falls may not be the highest we have seen but they are certainly spectacular.

The largest falls on the Waikato River, the name Huka is the Māori word for ‘foam’ of which there is much generated by the falling water.

From the lower lookout, the power of the falls soon dissipates while the river continues its journey to the Tasman Sea.

We wandered upstream to a footbridge crossing to the other side. New Zealand’s longest river at 425 kilometres, the Waikato is normally up to 100 metres wide. It narrows abruptly to just 15 metres as it crosses a hard volcanic ledge, a huge volume of water collides before rushing over the cliff face and under the bridge we were standing on.

At this point, the water is flowing around 220,000 litres per second, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in 11 seconds.

We followed the footpath to the top of the falls where the water bursts out of its rapids and over the 11 metre drop

back into the Waikato River.

Il Giardino

After lunching in the beautiful town of Seggiano, we just had to visit nearby Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. The Swiss artist created the sculpture park in the early 1990s and it opened to the public in 1997. Set among 16 hectares of rolling Tuscan countryside,

there are now 113 installations scattered seemingly at random. Even with map in hand, I think we missed quite a few. There are too many works to cover in one post, with 54 different artists represented, so I will firstly cover those by Daniel Spoerri himself. The adventure begins as soon as we leave the ticket office

with an oversized cup atop an antique capital standing on the lawn.

The Cup

A baking oven has been constructed in the style of a Trulli, a traditional dry stone hut from the Puglia region of Italy. Five smoke stacks, modelled on a family of tailors dummies, have been added so when the oven is in use, fine smoke flows from the heads.

Trullo – Smoke is Coming From My Head

Daniel Spoerri is best known for his snare-pictures, a process where a group of objects, such as the remains of a meal along with the table setting, are fixed as they are and transformed from a horizontal plane to a vertical one. There are two snare-pictures cast in bronze at the garden. Luncheon Table in All Eternity is suspended on the exterior wall of the restaurant, Non Solo Eat Art, while Eternal Breakfast, complete with bread and eggs, complements it on the adjacent wall of the estate villa.

Many of the sculptures feature ordinary objects used in unconventional ways. Remnants from a foundry form the face of The Bersagliera, a sharpshooter who seems to have received a few shots herself, awaiting visitors outside the restaurant.

A Flower Bouquet made from mirrors, a variety of rods and a chestnut roasting pan is arranged in a flattened bucket.

The artist was invited by Acquedotto Santa Fiora to create a Golem, a human-like being from Jewish folklore usually made from clay. They gave him parts of water supply systems including old pumps, valves and sieves and Acqua Golem was born.

One of the first installations in the garden, Unicorns – Navel of the World, is on the site where, according to legend, the village of Seggiano once stood. There is now a spectacular view of the town on the opposite hill. The long horns protrude from horses skulls and are held by gloves like lances leaning towards the centre of the circle.

The inspiration for Damocles’ Rose Bower Walk came from a trip to England where Spoerri sketched a pergola comprising a row of interwoven sickles. Roses and Jasmine will eventually grow over the framework.

Marble slabs depicting the last meals of twelve famous women are mounted on a wall, an unusual monument to Marie Antoinette, Hannah Arendt, Hildegard von Bingen, Tanja Blixen, Madame Curie, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari, Frida Kahlo, Cleopatra, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and the goddess Leda.

Eight gaunt Nightmares appear from the shadows and I am pleased to say I have never encountered anything like these in my sleep.

The scary theme continues with the four bronze cast skulls guarding Gorilla Bridge

and the macabre totem of Skull Tree.

The title of You white? You black? comes from the merging of two figures where the African and European heads have been switched.

In a shady, wooded area, a Marble Table is set with movable pieces that are work samples from a studio in Carrara. The table is supported by cast bronze scraps rather than ordinary table legs.

Next to the table, a twisting column holds up a small golden head which appears to grow out of a flower bud. Renaissance is dedicated to the Sicilian town of Gibellina which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1968.

At the rear of the restaurant there appears to be a pile of old slippers, the kind that are made of felt and handed out at palace tours to protect the floors. No entry without slippers pays homage to artist Joseph Beuys who frequently used felt in his work.

The villa, where Daniel Spoerri lived for a long time, has been divided into four spacious holiday apartments all with fabulous views of the garden.

The Chain Heap is just that. Spoerri saw the mass of iron chains hanging in an Italian scrap merchant yard and had them transported to the garden where he augmented the collection. The result is reminiscent of a chieftain or medicine man decorated with fetishes.

Something you don’t expect to find in a sculpture garden is a meatgrinder, however, Spoerri finds the diversity of form of this piece of kitchen equipment astounding and intriguing. The 3 metre high Meatgrinder Fountain was sans water on this day but I imagine it would be quite a spectacle.

The same kitchen appliance has been combined with hat models for Warriors of the Night, a small battle-scarred army rising up from a pond.

Five life size mannequins lie distorted in a ditch, reminiscent of mass gravesites as humans destroy other humans. The Mass Grave of the Clones isn’t exactly uplifting, though, as the artist explains,
“Over and over again, the Giardino shows us dark sides, for without these there could be no beauty”.

The Labyrinthine Wall Path is based on a pre-Columbian Neolithic cave drawing, altered slightly to create a labyrinthine form, it was then ‘drawn’ on the meadow using a low wall. The cosmic union of Mother Earth and Father Son is symbolised by representation of a hermaphroditic creature with a phallus and breasts.

Tintin-Elefant is so named due to its similarity to the spherically headed hero of the Belgian comic series Tintin by Hergé. Obviously, the hoseline nose contributes to the second half of the title.

When Spoerri’s good friend Roland Topor died in 1997, he felt there should be something to memorialise him at the garden. Topor was a satirist and illustrator and so Spoerri selected a drawing from which to create the sculpture that is The Eccentric Reader.

Skull Chapel verified Spoerri’s fascination with the cadaver’s cranium. The collection housed in the chapel includes Tibetan monks’ skulls, two mummies’ heads and monkey skulls.

There are so many more incredible sculptures at Il Giardino, they will be featured in a later instalment.

black bunny

A couple of years ago, a solitary bunny appeared in the garden and stayed for a few weeks. Last spring, the same thing happened but this time it was a little black one.

I assume he occupied the same burrow as the previous tenant under the safety of a dense, spiky grevillea.

We would see him out on the lawn each day, nibbling contentedly but never too far from his home.

I like to think he has found a new home and family out in the forest and not become a meal for a passing hawk.

Hamilton Gardens – Productive

The third collection to explore at Hamilton Gardens was the Productive Gardens, representing different aspects of the relationship between people and plants. The area that is now the centre of Hamilton Gardens was once a Māori settlement known as Te Parapara. The garden of the same name was once home to Haanui, a famous Ngati Wairere chief, and the site was particularly renowned for sacred rituals associated with the harvesting of food crops. Te Parapara Garden is divided into two sections. The first surrounds the path from the main piazza  and comprises wild food plants from the forest and grassland. This is separated from the cultivated garden by an intricately carved waharoa or gateway. The designs are based on ancient carvings from a house called Te Urutomokia, built for Potatau Te Wherowhero who became the first Māori King in 1858.

Beyond the gateway is an area for cultivated food plants, surrounded by a palisade fence with forty carved posts.

Six varieties of Kumara are grown in the garden and produce from the annual harvest is distributed to charities.

The path surrounding the fenced garden is edged with more food plants as well as beautifully adorned traditional Māori storehouses.

With the goal of producing enough to feed a family of four, the Sustainable Backyard Garden shows some of the ways in which the typical suburban backyard can be transformed into a productive and edible landscape.

There are some quirky sculptures to be found; a stone bench with some unusual inlays, a wild wiry scarecrow and a delightfully decorative adobe pizza oven.

Complete with hens, bees and a worm farm, the garden is managed and maintained by volunteers from the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.

The concept of herb gardens is a fairly recent one. In medieval times, all plants were believed to have medicinal value and all were referred to as a ‘herb’. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the word ‘vegetables’ was used to describe food plants and ‘herb’ was the name for practical plants. The Herb Garden at Hamilton follows the formula of early 20th century horticulturalist and garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, with a framework of paving and four rectangular plots containing herbs defined by purpose – culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and perfume.

Like the herb garden, the adjacent Kitchen Garden is divided into four raised beds, though on a much larger scale.

The features are of a classic 18th/19th century garden used to supply the households of large European estates, with rows of crops mixed with displays of colourful flowers.

The walls of the garden not only create an atmosphere of mystery and security, they also hold the daytime heat. Research has shown that the amount of heat reflected close to a sunny brick wall can equal seven degrees latitude. As in northern Europe, the fruit trees are trained and espaliered against the wall, the result being that these fruits often ripen before others in the region.

There aren’t many gardens with a lovely bronze scarecrow. The Strawman was created by English sculptor, Lloyd le Blanc, and was installed in 2016.

All surplus produce from the Kitchen Garden is donated to Kaivolution, a local food rescue project that aims to stop edible food being thrown away. This is food, good enough to eat but not good enough to sell or is excess to producer requirements, that is diverted to those in need.