Buxton Puppets on a World Stage
In September, 4 metre tall puppets from a Buxton project have been seen on TV screens across the world
If you went down to the woods a few weeks ago, you might have seen something very strange among the trees of Buxton Country Park as two tall tree puppets stepped out from behind their trees and waltzed slowly to the sad notes of a saxophone echoing through the woods.
Over this summer of distancing and lockdown, a new project has been taking shape in the town. The Buxton Ash Trees project is reminding people of the trees in our town. Our Ash Trees in
particular are threatened by Ash Dieback Disease, a fungal infection that slowly kills most of the trees it infects. A few recover, and a few others seem to be resistant but overall, infected trees die.
Trees in Buxton are infected and it looks likely that most of the Ash trees in the town will be lost over the next year or two. Buxton Civic Association and High Peak Borough Council are both working to relieve the impact of the disease and to track its progress through the woods of the town. In a collaboration with the Civic Association and other groups including the Babbling Vagabonds and Two Left Hands, the community group Stone and Water has been encouraging people to look at what these trees mean to us.
“Usually with a project like this, we would be running a series of public events”, said Susan Cross, chair of the Stone and Water, “but given the situation this summer we’re having to improvise. We have been inviting people to send us news of their own Ash trees. We are asking people to tell us the stories of their own trees in words, poems and pictures. There is also information on our website on identifying Ash trees (but the project is keen to hear about whatever local trees hold people’s personal stories) and on Ash Dieback Disease”.
There have been a few carefully distanced public events at which more words, phrases, and thoughts were gathered. Stone and Water wanted to know why the woods of were important to local people, how people used them, how they valued them, what animals they saw, what picnics they had under the branches of summer trees. Out of those physical events and using online contributions, two Tall Tree Puppets were built by members of the Stone and Water, Babbling Vagabonds and Two Left Hands teams. These puppets were made using ideas from anyone the groups encountered. They have crowns of willow and tissue leaves like lanterns decorated with animals. They have faces covered with leaves and tiny insects. Their cloth bodies trail leaves and ivy and are patterned with pictures of woodland scenes. They stand about 4 metres tall! Words and phrases were blended together by local poets to create three long poems: one is the trees talking about themselves:
We are the trees
Where the owls nest,
Where the bats fly,
Where the spiders weave…
Another poem holds the voices of visitors to the woods:
We are the people
Who made the nestboxes,
Who walked the dogs,
Who fetched the sticks,
Who rescued the cat.
The third poem is the story of these trees and their lives in our town
These trees are part of our history,
These trees are not a dumping ground,
These trees are sanctuary,
Are part of our story.
“Usually puppets like this would become part of processions,” said Susan. “They might have walked in the Carnival. They might have led lantern walks through Grinlow Woods in the
autumn or ruled over a picnic in Pavilion Gardens. But not this year. Not yet.”
As the puppets were being made, their story drew the attention of CelebrationEarth!. CelebrationEarth! is a project funded by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and FaithInvest exploring ways in which faith groups can work more closely with environmental and arts groups. “We were intrigued by the Trees project because of its emphasis on emotions,” said a spokesman for the project, “Without being a religious project, it asks people to reflect and consider what matters to them. That sense of contemplation and then sharing feelings lies at the heart of what we are doing. The collaboration between local conservation and creative groups is exactly what we hope to encourage”
So, a film crew came and spent an exciting day in the Grin Low Woods, filming the puppets waking up, walking, exploring. The Off the Fence crew took time to talk to a Buxton team of people from the various organisations and others who came along because they are artists, they like making things or simply were interested. They recorded Buxton residents reciting
poems and talking about their feelings and the value they place in projects like this, projects that invite anyone who is interested to get involved.
Now, that day in Buxton Country Park has been turned into a film. Parts of it were shown in a documentary CelebrationEarth! that was shown in the new EarthX TV channel. Based in the States, EarthX TV is replacing the EarthX film festival for this year at least and attracts thousands of viewers from the States and across the world. The Buxton film has also been incorporated into a series of CelebrationEarth! films, exploring themes of conservation, creativity, faith and inspiration
Films can be found on the CelebrationEarth! website (www.celebrationearth.org).
Stone and Water are planning more distanced events over the next few months. Ash Tree words and pictures are still welcomed but visitors might also like to look out for the “make your own shoebox theatre and create your own pantomime”(December) and a “winter woodland in windows” activities in January and February.
Keep track of Stone and Water at stoneandwater.wordpress.org or find them on facebook