We are delighted to bring you news of a wonderful collaboration between the Red Lichties Stitching Group, artist Andrew Crummy and ourselves to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath on 6th April 2020. There should have been a grand opening weekend celebrating the anniversary in Arbroath Abbey and the town but due to Corona virus we are celebrating virtually instead.
Red Lichties is an affectionate name for people from Arbroath due to a prominent red light in the harbour used by fishermen to guide them home. In 2017 the Red Lichties Stitching Group decided to make an embroidered tapestry to celebrate the Declaration of Arbroath in 2020. It tells the story of the Declaration with an extraordinary level of craft skill, time and dedication. When the stitchers started they did not know where the finished tapestry would be housed but they hoped it might tour, to celebrate Arbroath and bring the story of the Declaration to life.
Most of the group had already worked on a panel for the Great Tapestry of Scotland. This exceptional public art project is comprised of 160 embroidered cloth panels depicting the history of Scotland from pre-historic times to the present day. It was completed in 2013. Andrew Crummy designed the art-work for each panel illustrating the story by author Alexander McCall Smith and historian Alistair Moffat.
The Red Lichties felt that the Declaration of Arbroath, the most important document in Scottish history dated 6th April 1320 had not been properly represented. In 2017 they began work on the new embroidered tapestry, with a deadline of the 700th anniversary of the Declaration. The first step was to commission Andrew Crummy to design a panel and the black line drawing was transferred onto a Jacobean linen twill panel in pencil. Samples of stitching materials, colours and techniques began, and Andrew encouraged the stitchers to respond as artists adding details, textures and interpretation. The nine stitchers met every third Tuesday in a local village hall for almost three years taking turns to work on the tapestry at home. Christine Riley, who could no longer sew but had been trained in the London School of Embroidery, came for one early visit, then stayed for the duration sharing her knowledge and encouraging the stitchers to develop their practise. An extremely high level of embroidery has been achieved using silks, crewel wools, gold threads, kid gold and silver, felt and floss.
The Red Lichties Stitching Group are
Ann Marie Bray, Patricia Beaton , Rena Freeburn, Janette Nairn, Christine Riley (tutor), Alice Sim, Jessy Smart, Mary Stephen, Linda Walker (group co-ordinator), Margaret Wynne.
The Tapestry gives us a glimpse into the breadth and details of medieval life in Arbroath with: the Benedictine Abbey of Arbroath with Round O, medicinal plants and Abbot Bernard; fishing and sea-faring, fish-wives and Arbroath Smokies; the leper colony at Hospitalfield; Pope John XXII, King Robert the Bruce; the wax seals of the earls and barons to ‘sign’ the declaration; knights in chain-mail and tradesmen.
Our involvement with the stitchers formally began in March 2018 with a meeting between Linda Walker (the group’s co-ordinator), Andrew Crummy (the designer and an old friend of ours) and ourselves. From that initial meeting we began to think about the tapestry as potentially a triptych to allow it to fold for safe storage and movement. This meant adding two more panels and dramatically increased the amount stitching to be done! The understanding that one of the few certain things about the Declaration of Arbroath is that it left Arbroath on a boat destined for the Pope in France, led to a design based around a medieval sailing boat.
Angus presented his concept model in May 2018 at Arbroath Abbey This was for a free-standing design – human scale with a sweeping arc representing the prow of a boat – supporting the three sails – the tapestry triptych. We also had our first visit to meet the stitchers and see the tapestry in progress. Andrew then had to create two new designs, before the stitchers could get started on the two new panels. By March 2019 – all three designs were under-way. After a total of 2806 voluntary stitching hours the panels were completed in December 2019.
In November 2019 it was decided that the tapestry would have a permanent home in the visitor centre at Arbroath Abbey and be taken into the permanent collection of Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The tapestry was formally handed over to HES at an event in the Scottish Parliament at the end of January 2020. It is an astounding testament to the quality of this tapestry that this contemporary craft object has been taken into the care of the public body caring for and promoting Scotland’s historic environment. The intention now is to preserve the tapestry for the next 700 years. A permanent home in the abbey meant that the tapestry no longer needed to be free standing as it probably will not tour and the place designated for the tapestry meant that the design for the cabinet with a dynamic sweeping prow was no longer appropriate. A re-design with a focus on materials began.
Ross Irving from Historic Environment Scotland brought the tapestry to the workshop (the week before we closed for quarantine) for the final fitting of the case. The tapestry has now gone into storage with HES and the frame will stay with us until they can be re-united at Arbroath Abbey.
We heard rumours that timber from a very old tree, associated with Robert the Bruce, might be available. This was the Bruce Oak or Strathleven House Oak photographed and written about by Archie Miles in The British Oak, published by Constable, 2013 and on the cover of Heritage Trees of Scotland by Rodger, Stokes and Ogilvie published by The Tree Council in 2003. When Archie Miles photographed the tree in 2003 it had a girth of 29 feet, was estimated it to be at least 600 – 800 years old and was considered to be the oldest oak tree in Scotland. It was growing near Strathleven House, north west of Glasgow. This estate had previously been the site of a manor house built by Robert the Bruce for his son David (who became King David II). As Robert the Bruce was known for tree planting it is conceivable that he knew this tree. Local children playing inside the huge hollow tree in 2004, accidentally set it on fire leading to its collapse. The wood was salvaged by a local group called the Strathleven Artizans and we were delighted when they gifted us a burr from the magnificent tree to incorporate into the Triptych Frame.
This ancient burr oak is a beautiful rich highly figured dark wood and has been carved into a boat like shape for the base of the triptych. It also forms the finials and lock spacers.
The cabinet door knobs are turned apple wood to remember the Oslin apple – an ancient variety still associated with Arbroath, and introduced into the abbey gardens by French monks.
The interior of the cabinet and tapestry triptych is Scottish oak which compliments the tapestry but the exterior of the cabinet (and reverse of the side panels) is made in Scottish sycamore. This modest, plain, pale wood is suggestive of sailcloth and provides a total contrast to the jewel like interior.
The Declaration of Arbroath was written at an important and turbulent time for Scotland. It was after a succession crisis and during the Wars of Independence (between Scotland and England). John Balliol had been crowned King but was defeated by the English and expected to pay homage to King Edward I of England. Robert the Bruce then seized the throne (in 1306 after murdering another rival in a church) but was excommunicated by the pope and not recognised by King Edward I and many in Scotland. After years of guerrilla warfare and political campaigning Robert the Bruce had outstanding success at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) when he defeated a huge English army. (This event is still celebrated today in the unofficial Scottish national anthem – Flower of Scotland.)
The declaration is a letter dated 6th April 1320 which was sent by the people of Scotland to the Pope asking him to recognise two important things: that Robert the Bruce be recognised as the chosen and legitimate King, and that Scotland be recognised as an independent nation from England.
It is the most famous document in Scottish History, important in the development of a Scottish national identity, and seen by some as the origin of democracy as it was signed by nobles representing the people of Scotland and they were choosing a king based on valour rather than birthright.
The most famous extract from the Declaration is ….
As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.’
Even now many people in Scotland can feel some connection to one of the nobles, or clan chiefs, through place and family. One of the nobles who signed the declaration was William, the Earl of Ross. There has recently been an attempt by genealogical researchers to trace male heirs of the nobles who signed the declaration. We cannot be certain (as there is a missing birth certificate around 1765) but “it is very likely that Angus Ross is a direct male line descendant of William, Earl of Ross, via the Rosses of Pitcalnie, but further research would be required to confirm a connection.” Graham Holton, Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme, University of Strathclyde.
Researching the Earl of Ross we found that initially he paid homage to King Edward I (along with all the earls), then he supported John Balliol as King, he betrayed Bruce’s wife and sister who ended up in the Tower of London and his land was ransacked by Robert the Bruce soon after Bruce became king. However by 1320, he supported King Robert I (the Bruce) and the truce was cemented through marriage when his son married Robert’s sister.
In 1328 a treaty recognises Scotlands independence and Robert the Bruce as king. In 1329 King Robert dies and his son is too young to rule. This is followed by the Second Wars of Independence until 1357 when Scotland becomes independent and remains so until The Treaty of the Union in 1707.
To see a film by independent TV director-broadcaster Charlie Stuart featuring Lesley Riddoch, Brian Cox, the Red Lichties and our workshop, explaining the wider significance of the declaration please visit
27 February – 1 March 2020
Somerset House, London.
Collect is the most exciting gallery presented show of international contemporary craft held in the UK each year. For Angus it is a unique opportunity to challenge himself in design, material and technique. For Collect 2020 he is presenting the Sutherland Chair and Sutherland Cabinet inspired by Scottish vernacular furniture, the dramatic landscape of Sutherland and rituals around whisky drinking.
Angus is part of the Craft Scotland showcase along with seven exceptional makers working in silver, metal, textiles, wood and ceramics. To read more visit the Craft Scotland website here.
Collect is organised by the British Crafts Council, bringing together galleries presenting museum quality contemporary craft and design from over 25 nations. For more about Collect see here.
The Sutherland Collection is inspired by place, function and pushing the boundaries of his craft practise.
We love the dramatic landscape and cultural heritage of Sutherland and spent time walking in the North West Scotland Geopark last year. The landscape is the result of a unique geology that reveals what Robert Macfarlane calls deep-time. The dramatic sandstone island mountains (like Suilven above) have tops of hard weather resistant Cambrian Quartsite which have resisted erosion by glaciers whilst the surrounding sandstone has been eroded away during ice ages. The Torridon sandstone was formed from river sediment one billion years ago when simple life first began. Evidence of that life is found as fossils, in the sandstone.
Other rocks in the area are even older. Lewisian Gneiss rock was formed 3 billion years ago and as the earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago these are amongst the oldest rocks on earth. The Gneiss rock started as molten lava which was later thrust deep into the earth where it melted again and metamorphosed into the hard Gneiss. Incredible forces have moved this rock back to the surface where it has resisted the erosion by glaciers which swept away most of the softer rock.
The study of geology in the area has helped understand the formation of the earth’s physical landscape over billions of years. Super-continents and vast mountain ranges form, drift apart and erode away. Torridon sandstone started south of the equator became mountains higher than the Himalaya’s, then drifted apart into Norway, North America, Ireland and North-West Scotland to be eroded by ice ages.
Trees, animals and people only appeared in North West Scotland in the last 10,000 years. The Vikings appeared in Sutherland around 1,300 years impacting language, design and culture in the area. We saw evidence of this when when visiting ‘Am Fasgadh’ last year. We were granted privileged access to this remarkable collection, of over 10,000 items relating to highland life between 1700 to 1950’s. We visited with our friend and furniture historian David Jones, previously lecturer in Scottish vernacular furniture at St Andrew’s university. Angus liked a chair with a parallel back rail, finely spoke shaved spindles and a shaped seat. David knew that the chair came from North West Scotland and the design could be traced back to the Vikings. Other chairs from Sutherland, were very simply made for croft houses, using collected, naturally bent sticks. Other chairs of interest included Bible Chairs with little built in cupboards and shelves. The collection at Am Fasgadh has all sorts of objects used for preparing food (eg milk churns below right), tools for farming, for making textiles and clothing.
How inspiration effects a design is a nebulous thing, but expect to see a monumental chair which evokes a glaciated landscape with island mountains, but also has a comfortable shaped seat, folding shelves and storage.
The collection is made in local Scottish wood. Vernacular furniture makers in the past used local materials out of necessity but we use it to be sustainable. Thinning our over-crowded woodland improves the woodland, and by using Scottish hardwoods we help create a demand so that each precious tree can continue to lock in it’s carbon even when felled, as it will be milled and prepared for furniture making rather than firewood.
The Sutherland Drinks Cabinet has a lift off tray in oak and laburnum. The laburnum was an ornamental tree in an Aberfeldy garden which was gifted to the workshop after it had to be felled. After many years of drying we have cross cut the branches into laburnum oysters. The contrasting dark heart wood has a lighter edge and sometimes used to provide an attractive surface pattern in fancy furniture of the 19th C. We have added a contemporary twist by laser cutting the oysters into a tessellated pattern, then selected, matched and patched to produce a swirling pattern on both sides of the tray. The handles are bent oak.
The cabinet itself is made using our signature slats and beads method of constructing elliptical cabinets. The slats are characterful pippy oak and the beads and structure are in darker fumed oak. When oak is exposed to ammonia fumes the tannin reacts and makes the wood darker – this is very different to a surface stain. The handles are turned laburnum wood. This is very attractive but also a little joke as the whole laburnum tree is poisonous if ingested. The cabinet opens into an unexpectedly light interior with a skeletal framework, glass shelves, mirrors and lights.
In the 19th C a different species of laburnum was available (Laburnum alpinum) and this very dark wood was used in fine furniture making and for bagpipe drones. It was replaced with imported African Blackwoods and now seems impossible to find. If anyone has some Laburnum alpinum that we can use please let us know!
This year for the first time Collect will be in Somerset House. An iconic neo-classical building on the River Thames and now a vibrant arts centre. We had several years presenting work in the Origin pavilion in the courtyard and we have previously exhibited in one of the beautiful rooms with Crafted: Makers of the Exceptional.
To buy tickets Collect 2020 please go to
If you are planning to visit please get in touch.
Woodland Glade Library is a private commission for a house in Connecticut that we have been working on for the last six months. The library is over three floors and comprises shelving with ladders for over six thousand books, sitting and standing desks, seating and TV and music area. Steam-twisted elements in Scottish oak are repeated throughout.
For more please see Woodland Glade Library.
UK Crafts Council Maker of the Month, September 2019
Angus was interviewed by Frannie Glass and in her article she describes his journey to become a leading designer maker.
Here are some extracts:
Angus’s practice consists of three fundamental pillars: design, craftsmanship and wood.
From industrial pharmaceutical design to a cabinet making course to working directly from a sustainable, co-owned Scottish woodland, these pillars developed alongside his career while nurturing his value system along the way.
….. Angus had taken a sabbatical and gone to Kenya to help build schools in the outback: “I’d got a slight realisation about how little you need to live on…. When I came back, I always had in the back of my mind – we’re generating this huge volume of plastic and where is it going? I started to think, this isn’t really what I want to do… I want to develop my own work that will be, in a lot of ways, more sustainable. And that’s when I started looking at wood”.
…. “A lot of the trees … are around 100-120 years old, while the root systems underneath are probably about 200-300 years old”. … “gnarled and old, coming out at different angles, pippy and knotty”
Now Angus embraces the eccentricities of wood that he may well have rejected in the early years of his practice: “I want to make it work,” he says, and he most certainly does.
Read the full article Angus Ross on Skill, Sustainability and Steam-bending on the Crafts Council website here.
Stunning portrait by Angus Blackburn for Scottish Field Magazine, The Luxury Issue on sale during September. It was great to see photographer Angus have a unique approach and compose one fabulous shot in the spray booth.
Our workshop is open until Sunday 15th September for Perthshire Open Studios.
Our studio-workshop is open during Perthshire Open Studios. Everyone is very welcome so do please drop in if you can.
We are open 9 – 5 every day.
We were founded members of Perthshire Open Studios and this is the ninth year of the event. There are many wonderful artists and makers in our local area. The image shows our oak woodland within the wider setting of Upper Tay valley with its conifer plantations. We have various pieces of furniture for sale made in this lovely dark brown oak.
Visit the Perthshire Open Studios website for lists of artists, routes and maps.
Hope to see you soon.
We were delighted to have a team from BBC Scotland filming for LOOP at the workshop and woodland last week.
Loop was screened at 11.30pm on 5th September and is now available on BBC i-Player
Loop is a Scottish arts and culture programme and this episode features artist and presenter Lachlan Goudie talking about his father Alexander Goudie’s collection of paintings and design for a cross channel ferry. Goudie is interspersed with various short stories of Scottish culture.
We are the last story and the last 5 mins. There are scenes of our collectively owned woodland and Angus talking about selecting trees for fine furniture making (and the positive impact this has on the remaining trees and bio-diversity). Followed by scenes in the workshop showing steam-bending, steam-twisting and turning on a lathe.
Delighted with lovely two page article by writer, historian and TV presenter Jonathan Foyle in FT Weekend House and Home this weekend.
“Artisans – A Scot who pines for oak. The Scottish countryside is replete with fir trees yet Angus Ross turns to local oak to craft outdoor furniture”
The feature has a comprehensive overview of Angus’s career path, from designer of plastic domestic products through re-training in fine furniture making and setting up a shared studio in Oxfordshire, to the move to Aberfeldy and developing a practise steam-bending our local oak.
The article mentions two benches made with wood from the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh as part of the After The Storm Project. The Holding Bench for the MS Society (above right) and the one-off Resilience Bench.
The two portraits of Angus are by Robert Ormerod
We were delighted to see our bar, over-bar light and curved bar shelves feature prominently on Countryfile on BBC1 last Sunday (11th August) when the Countryfile team visited The Taybank pub in Dunkeld.
We designed, made and installed the bar transforming a semi-derelict room into a warm inspirational place connected to the River Tay seen through the large Georgian windows. The bar, over-bar light, curved shelving and window seat were made in a gorgeous Brown Oak.
The dramatic prow-like shape of the bar references the Viking raiders who came up the River Tay to raid the early Celtic Christian Church in 903. This is now the lovely Dunkeld Cathedral (dating to the 14th century) now a parish church and ruin.
Further upriver in the hamlet of Dull (just past us in Aberfeldy) was an even earlier monastery, founded by St Adomnan in the 8th-century. The monastery was a centre for scholarship, or early university and locally we are proud that it is one of the first university’s of Scotland. (After Iona Abbey established in 563 but well before St Andrew’s University established in 1413, Glasgow University established 1451 and Edinburgh established 1582). Little remains of the monastery today but an 8th century cross can be seen in the village and another early cross links to Iona Abbey. Our valley was part of a pilgrim route between Iona and St Andrew’s.
Here is a link to Countryfile
We are delighted to present an on-line brochure of new designs and our most popular furniture. The collection includes stools, chairs, tables and desks. Our furniture is always hand-made in our workshop in characterful sustainable local wood. We often start with a standing tree from the woodland (above left) which Angus fells, mills and takes through to final piece of furniuture. Carefully selecting a few trees each year helps to improve the bio-diversity and condition of the remaining trees in the woodland.
Please view the brochure here.
Extending Arc Table
dimensions: 2.4m extending to 4.4m x 1m wide and 75 cm high.
A new design for 2019. This elegant extending table is very flexible for a large space as the length is built up in sections with four leaves of solid Scottish oak.
Woodland and Workshop Open Day on 25th May
Our workshop in Aberfeldy will be open 10am – 4pm and a tour of Old Castle Wood will start at our workshop at 10.30 am.
The tour will last around two hours and will include at least one hour of walking. Angus will talk about using trees for fine furniture making: selecting, felling and milling and we will discuss managing a small woodland for bio-diversity and sustainability and improving access for the public.
This is a chance to walk in a lovely mixed native woodland with an under-storey of wild flowers. At some point there is always a wonderful carpet of bluebells. They have started early this year so hopefully the bluebells will still be good on the 25th!
Please contact us to book a place on the tour. Places are strictly limited.
Old Castle Wood is a beautiful mixed ancient woodland a few miles downstream from our workshop and we are actively involved in sustainably managing the woodland for timber, improved bio-diversity and to control non-native plants. Very selective felling happens in the winter and supplies us with our unique characterful oak.
You can read more about why we selectively fell these veteran trees, on our blog here.
Our studio-workshop is in Aberfeldy, Perthshire on the banks of the River Tay in the centre of Scotland. The workshop will be open 10am – 5pm for a rare chance to talk to our craftsmen/cabinetmakers. Do pop in if you can. There is no need to book to visit the workshop. I understand this is all too far away for many readers, and if so please contact us to arrange a visit at a time to suit you.
Country Living magazine, May 2019
Last year we had a wonderful photographer, Nato Welton, visit our bluebell wood during bluebell time. In Scotland this is usually late May/early June so it is a long time since his visit, and bluebell time still feels a long way off. However if you would like bluebells, workshops and country living please read the article by Kate Langrish in the magazine – on sale now.
Many thanks to photographer Nato Welton and Country Living for allowing us to share the images.
Please note that we are not “open at weekends” as stated in the article, but only by appointment.
We will be having a Workshop and Woodland Open Day on the 25th May. The workshop will be open to all, but the numbers for the woodland tour will be limited. I will set up an Eventbrite booking system soon, but do please email if you would like to reserve a place.
Old Castle Wood is a few miles downstream from the workshop and co-operatively owned by five families. We get together for work days and holidays, and lightly manage the wood to improve timber, bio-diversity and access for others. The wood is open to those who walk, cycle or paddle in.
To read the article please click the link below.
The Scottish Gallery, Dundas Street, Edinburgh
03 April – 27 April 2019
We are delighted to be part of this group showcase of artists
who primarily use wood to make beautiful, sensitive and expressive work. Including examples of bespoke furniture, sculptural vessels, boxes, traditional basket weaving and metalwork.
For more details about the show visit The Scottish Gallery website
For more about Angus at The Scottish Gallery see here.
There is a Special Event on Saturday 13th April at 11-12, when Hugo Burge from Marchmont House will discuss the work, and show a film about, traditional turned wood chair maker Lawrence Neal. Angus will also be in attendance and our film Acorns to Art will be shown.
Press – to read the article about the exhibition in The Herald please visit here.
Old Castle Wood is the inspiration for much of our craft practise. We have been in the very fortunate position to be a co-owner of this beautiful, mixed, broadleaf woodland since 2004. This allows us to spend time there “working” with the other owners (we are a group of ten people/five families) and the many friends who come to help. A lot of that time is spent wandering about or sitting around a campfire, chatting and planning work, however in the last month a tree planting task was actually completed. Last year we planted 100’s of sprouted acorns (collected from the wood and kept cool) but none appeared as seedlings. Perhaps they were eaten by red squirrels or mice. So this year, we decided to plant bought in British oak saplings. (Looking after a wood is like gardening on large scale so this was like giving up seeds and buying seedlings from a garden centre instead.)
First we had to fence an area to keep deer out and as time goes on we will attempt to keeps weeds around the saplings at bay. Everything in our wood is on a small scale and therefore everything is done by hand with simple tools (not like commercial forestry). The first step of fencing was to insert posts. We started by creating a narrow metre deep hole with a metal spike, then lined up a round wooden post at top of each hole, and bashed the top with a post thumper to ram the post deeply into the soil.
The wiring and netting took another few sessions followed by an afternoon planting well over a hundred saplings.
The surface was scraped back, hole dug (or spade wedged back and forth to create a slot), sapling popped in, covered with inverted soil and firmed in.
You may wonder why we plant oak in an oak wood? Most of the trees in our wood are the same age and it is good for the overall health and resilience of a woodland to have trees of a wide age-range. This used to be a coppiced wood and the trees have roots of perhaps two hundred years old, with trunks at least a hundred years old. Coppicing oak provided tannin for the leather industry (to tan leather) and this stopped after the introduction of artificial dyes and lack of men to work the land after World War 1.
We have protected naturally regenerating saplings for the last decade but wanted to plant up one of the larger open areas in the wood. Fortunately when we started digging we realised the area had been previously cultivated and was possibly the garden for the substantial medieval building nearby. This is now just a rubble of foundation stones but we think it might be the site of the original Grandtully Castle.
All images below are thanks to Danni Thompson Photography. We were lucky to have Danni working at the woods that day.
We always enjoy our time in the woods; time seems to stand still, there is a sense of peace and work seems easy. Therefore I have been intrigued by recent articles in the press extolling the benefits of “Forest Bathing”. These are often based on research by Japanese physician Qing Li who has researched and quantified the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in a forest. For example he found that a two night stay in a forest increases Natural Killer cells (which combat cancer) and reduce adrenalin (a symptom of stress). The effects lasted for more than 30 days.
Trees have been found to give off essential oils which can boost your mood and immune system, reduce heart rate, stress, anxiety and confusion, and improve sleep and creativity
As little as two hours taking time to look, listen, smell, breathe, touch and tune in to your feelings in a forest is beneficial. To find out more look for Qing Li’s book Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing.
The Japanese government introduced the concept of shinrin yoku or The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health in 1982. How lovely that the Japanese government will support research into the effects of being in a forest, and promote it as a treatment for ill health and to promote well-being. In Japan, appreciation of nature is deep in the DNA and part of religious and traditional life. Sadly in the UK health research is far more likely to be by drug companies hoping to introduce a new pill.
I am sure the effect of being immersed in a forest can be recreated in a garden or park if you can be there mindfully or meditatively. I would love to see scientific comparisons between the effects of Forest Bathing with the effect of being on a mountain or swimming in a river or sea. Subjectively in my experience being in our wood seems to engender feelings of calm, like walking in mountains rather than the exhilaration of bathing in cold water.
Angus Ross is exhibiting with Craft Scotland
at Gallery 3.3, Saatchi Gallery, London SW3
Thursday 28 February – Sunday 3 March
Angus make things because he finds the process immensely satisfying.
However when making a speculative one off piece for Collect it is special as there is a much more freedom and a looser process than with the commissioned work. Angus calls this “sketching with wood”.
Our workshop and woodland are on the banks of the River Tay and rivers are a great source of inspiration. Historically and psychologically rivers connect rural places to the wider world and they have a unique energy, movement and light. For this bench Angus turned his thoughts to the River Spey – famous across the globe for whisky and salmon fishing.
Over half the distilleries in Scotland are in Speyside in the north east of the country. The river and it’s tributaries provide plentiful water required for whisky (both for the drink and for the cooling required in the process) and the surrounding fertile plains produce the barley. Speyside was also a remote area with easy access to the sea which will have made it attractive to the illicit distillers and smugglers in past centuries.
The Spey is the fastest flowing river in Scotland but is also shallow with a gravel river bed that makes it perfect for wild salmon and it is widely considered to be the best salmon fishing river in the world. The Spey cast is a particular technique used in fly fishing to allow a fly to be cast a long distance onto fast flowing water.
The Spey Bench started with the physical process of steam-bending – literally coaxing and pushing planks of steamed wood over formers to create the desired line. The elements were then traditionally jointed but this process was quite complex due to the angles involved. The form of the bench evokes the flowing river, the angle of the rod and the loops of line formed during fly casting.
Angus is interested in dynamic flowing lines and the interface between a person and a piece of furniture. When nestled on this bench the interface is keenly felt. It is also a lovely place to savour a glass of whisky.
Dr. Mhairi Maxwell, Assistant Curator at V&A Dundee has written a lovely article
Modern Alchemists at Collect 2019
“The makers in the Craft Scotland showcase at Collect 2019 are the alchemists of our time; carving, casting and creating new traditions, ideas of value and material possibilities across all disciplines. This showcase is craft and design at the boundaries and should not be missed!
Drawing on a range of different influences and fusing together very different techniques, all 15 makers represented are working to create striking new forms and materialities which deliberately defy definition, including furniture maker Angus Ross and his super-natural use of folding and steam bending……”
Read the article
Local ash (Fraxinus excelsior) was used for the bench. Angus likes to use ash as it is usually disregarded for fine furniture making – but considered an excellent firewood- hence its name. Ash is considered a plain wood aesthetically but our Scottish wood often includes a deep pinky tone referred to as olive ash. Angus finds ash to be the best wood for steam-bending.
Ash is an important woodland and non-woodland tree with an important ecological niche which is currently threatened by a fungal disease, “ash die back”, causing the loss of many trees. In a week, when the potential catastrophic loss of insects is being considered, it may be worth a moment to pause and reflect on the complexity of tree habitats.
“Ash has a unique position as it creates a nutrient-rich, rapidly degradable litter …which contributes to the high pH of the soil compared to that typical of other UK tree species. Furthermore, the ash canopy has high light penetration. Such ecological functions create ash-specific assemblages of species, both above- and below-ground, thus contributing to, and enhancing, UK biodiversity.
1,058 species are associated with ash trees: (from smallest to largest numerically): birds, mammals, bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), fungi, vascular plants, invertebrates and lichens. These species may utilise the ash trees themselves, and/or the surrounding habitat created by ash trees. Out of the 1,058 species, 44 were ‘obligate’ ash-associated species, in that they have only been found on living or dead ash trees. These obligate species include fungi, invertebrates and lichens. Sixty-two further species were highly associated with ash, and include fungi, lichen, bryophyte and invertebrate species. The dependence of at least 106 species on the ash tree and the habitat these trees create, demonstrates the importance of the ash trees’ contribution to UK biodiversity.”
Lawrence, R. & Cheffings, C.M. (Editors) 2014. A summary of the impacts of ash dieback on UK biodiversity, including the potential for long-term monitoring and further research on management scenarios. JNCC Report No.501
What this means is that if we lose all ash trees we will lose 44 species and 62 more will be threatened. Some trees are proving resistant to disease so we are unlikely to lose all ash however they provide a similar niche to elm which was almost been wiped out. Therefore it is easy to see how insects and other species can be dramatically reduced – almost without most people noticing.
Research is in progress to understand tree diseases and how to best support small mixed woodlands and large scale forestry. In general the tree environment is improved by reducing over-crowding – this is what we do in our woodland.
Modern forestry with mixed species and mixed age of trees is more likely to increase resilience than our traditional monoculture forestry in the UK.
Recently we had a lovely photoshoot at the magnificent Balnakeilly, a recently restored Georgian mansion and 2000 acre estate above Pitlochry. Thank you photographer Susie Lowe.
The original house house was owned by the Stewart-Wilson family for almost 500 hundred years until the death of Colonel Ralf Stewart-Wilson the 11th laird in 2016. It has recently been restored by Danish property investor Dan Svenningsen and managed by Sophie McGown who led the interior design introducing a mix of contemporary, colourful Scottish and Nordic elements to original artefacts.
It is huge views, lovely grounds and is a wonderful place for big gatherings. It is now available to hire.
Our woodland is mostly oak with beech at the eastern edge and alder to the west. Our woodland is privately owned by a group of ten and we gather for work days. Beech trees create a dense litter of beech nut husks which are very effective at suppressing any under-storey. One of our tasks is to prevent the beech becoming so dense it covers paths or encroaches into the oak wood (as it will end up dominating it). We achieve this by pulling up beech saplings using a hand winch. This is surprisingly hard work. The large tree to the right of Angus is being used as an anchor and the winch extends to the left and is attached to small beech trees. As the winch is tightened it pulls the beech out by the roots. Work days always involve heading to our shed or campfire for a cup of tea.
Evolution of Tradition Exhibition 2-5 October
Angus was invited by The Furniture Makers Company, a City of London livery company to exhibit furniture at a new exhibition at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour. This was their first selling exhibition of “exceptional furniture by British designers and makers” and the enormous atria of the Design Centre with it’s prestigious luxury interior design brands was a memorable location.
On 3rd October Angus gave a well attended talk about his steam bending practise explaining how he combines ancient steam bending, traditional woodwork and digital design and cutting to create his contemporary curvy furniture.
We were delighted to see our Forth Bench image used for the brochure!
Our Resilience Bench (used for our blog cover photo) has a beautiful steam-bent ash top rail.
As Angus is a great admirer of designer Thomas Heatherwick’s design through model making approach, and we were delighted to see him receive an Honorary Bespoke Guildmark for the ‘Friction Table”. Angus also met Thomas at No 10 earlier this year!
First and foremost Angus sees himself as a designer so it has been truly wonderful to be part of the new V&A Dundee, the first design museum in Scotland, which opened this weekend. We are absolutely thrilled to have our Unstable Stool feature in the Scottish Design Gallery.
This is our response to the museum after the opening evenings. At the heart of the building is a warm, welcoming, womb-like cavern and although huge it feels unexpectedly intimate and truly “a living room for Dundee” as conceived by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Off this public core are the galleries, various nooks and crannies, teaching spaces and a dining room with long views over the bridges of Dundee and across the Firth of Tay to Fife.
Unlike many contemporary public buildings, the outside is not brought in with expanses of glass, but rather the interior is protected from the broad estuary landscape which will be welcome on a winter’s day in this East Coast Scottish city. But there is also a lightness to the building, and it appears to be floating in the water complimenting the RSS Discovery moored alongside.
Our relationship with the V&A Dundee started when Angus was invited to exhibit in the “Northern Lights” exhibition in the V&A (the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) during the 2016 London Design Festival. That celebration of contemporary Scottish design foreshadowed the opening of V&A Dundee. By September 2016 the exterior building was almost complete.
You can see a short film commissioned to accompany the Northern Lights exhibition here .
At that time we were explicitly invited into the warm and friendly V&A Dundee “family” and have felt the relationship like a gentle breeze in our back ever since. We have had the privilege of meeting Kengo Kuma and some of the remarkable people who had a dream, ten years ago, to have an international design museum on the waterfront of Dundee. They have had the tenacity to see that dream become reality.
Angus is a Design Champion for V&A Dundee.
Back in 2016 we were fortunate to hear Kengo Kuma share his past projects and thoughts on his new designs. He talked about: the importance of scale; maintaining a relationship with the landscape; humility; using local materials; transparency; social responsibility; wood; exquisite craftsmanship and simple uncluttered lines. All of this resonated well with us. He wanted the building to be a “living room for Dundee” welcoming everyone not just those used to visiting museums. Kuma speaks poetically and explained that he took inspiration from an image of Scottish cliff with striking horizontal layers, where he could see the “long relationship between the land and the sea”. This starting point was developed with the (typically Japanese) doorway through the building and the soaring boat like forms.
To coincide with the museum opening a new book has been published The History of Scottish Design book (edited by Philip Long, Director of V&A Dundee and Joanna Norman of Victoria and Albert Museum and Curator of Scottish Design gallery) by Thames and Hudson and the V&A. With the inclusion of a wonderful piece about Angus by Tara Wainwright and a prominent image of our Forth Bench the gentle breeze of support felt like an uplifting wave.
If you plan to visit the museum arrive by train if possible as the station is literally across the road from the museum. There are hotels on the doorstep and it’s a very short walk into the city centre. To find out more visit the V&A Dundee website.
When we made our ash Unstable Stool for the Scottish Design gallery we made a Special Edition (engraved and numbered) of eight. These have sold out but the Unstable Stool can be ordered and we make it in oak or ash.
Our furniture is always designed by Angus Ross however we made an exception recently when we were commissioned by the Willow Tearooms Trust to make all the tables and chairs for one tearoom in the newly restored original Willow Tearoom on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. This building has international importance as the first building where Charles Rennie Mackintosh (along with his wife Margaret Macdonald ) designed all of the exterior and interior including furniture, lighting, tableware and gesso panels. The Willow Tearooms Trust have overseen the meticulous restoration of the building back to it’s condition at opening in 1903. It will fully re-open as “Mackintosh at the Willlow” along with a new visitors centre next door in September. There will be various booked events and limited opening through the summer.
We specialise in steam bending and this allowed us to invisibly strengthen the Ladderback chairs. Of the original 125 only a handful survive as the back rails were cut from solid wood, this way of making the curved shape is vulnerable to breaking. (Cheaper reproductions of ladder back chairs have straight back rails.) We cut the rails from solid and then steam-bent the rails to create the curve. Steam-bending means working with the grain, keeping the wood fibres intact, and manually pushing the intact fibres to slide over each other, when boiling hot and malleable, and therefore to take up the curved shape. Once dry this is a very strong component.
Images below show Steven working on the 3250 mortice and tenon joints on the chair backs (125 chairs x 13 ladder back rails x 2 sides) The ladder back tenons were hand trimmed with a Japanese saw.
Usually when making chairs with a drop-in seat, the chair would be made first and the drop-in seat made to fit second. In this heritage project the seats were to made like the originals with hand twisted rush – a very labour intensive process taking a day per seat. Therefore the seat bases were made first and sent out to a rush specialist (Tony Handley) and to two local artisans (Istvan and Karla) so that they had sufficient time to make 125.
Mike then made the chair fronts. All of these chairs had to be millimetre perfect to fit the rush seat bases.