As Spring time is upon us, it seemed the perfect time to write about nature art, a subject near and dear to my heart. Why does nature art appeal to me? Nature art lives at the intersection of art and nature, that fascinating boundary area where disparate worlds collide. Nature art inhabits the liminal space by virtue of its interdisciplinary qualities.
Several years ago I was inspired by a local potter, who created a wind chime with her ceramic pieces to place on the Midstate Trail, as part of a project I was running to introduce art onto this footpath in central Massachusetts. I loved the concept of adding a piece of art to the woods that would create both sounds and movement, thereby appealing to multiple senses.
Since then, I have experimented with several designs, including the one pictured above, which consists of wood, stone, rawhide, aluminum, wire and mono-filament. I call it Liminal Chimes to honor its interdisciplinary nature. In this post, I will present the steps I used to make this piece, so that others may follow them.
Step 1. The Wood.
I only harvest dead wood for my chimes. The Sholan Farms apple orchard in Leominster is a favorite place for me at this time because the rows are filled with prunings from last fall. Apple tree wood is perfect to use because it is a hard wood and the bark is smooth. I cut the branches to lengths of between 12″ and 14″ to make the cross pieces, from which the chimes will be suspended. I drill 7 holes in each piece to thread the rawhide and mono-filament. I carry pruning shears and a small 10 inch hand saw in the orchard to cut the branches I find on the ground into transportable lengths. This is what they look like after I have culled them from the piles, cut them to between 4-6′ and pruned them.
The photo below shows the wood cross pieces after they have been cut to 12″ in length but before the holes have been drilled. I use a hand held circular saw to make the end cuts and a table saw to cut off burrs formed after I pruned them.
You may wonder why I cut so many of these chimes. These are for a workshop I am holding at the Leominster Public Library during school vacation in April, 2017. There will be enough materials for 20 students to each make a chime. I also cut smaller pieces of wood from the apple tree branches to form clackers. These pieces are typically about 4″ – 6″ long. These are used as soft clackers. When the chimes hit these pieces, it produces a gentle, softer sound. The photo below shows several sizes of soft clackers; two with bark and two without.
Step 2. The Pipes.
I’ve found aluminum pipes work best and are less expensive than copper. I purchase them from a local hardware store/lumber yard in 6′ or 8′ lengths and then cut them down to size. For these chimes I like to use pipes that are 11″ and 13″ long, which I can get out of a 2 foot section of pipe. The 2 inch difference in length provides a pleasant harmonic sound. Here are the pipes being transported, cut to length with a hand saw and drilled with a small drill press.
Step 3. The Rocks.
Rocks serve as hard clackers in my chimes and you can use any rocks you like as long as they are not too big. Hard clackers make a louder, sharper sound. I prefer rocks that are approximately 2 inches in length but you can use larger or smaller rocks. Some of my rocks have been retrieved from beaches and shallow river beds but any rocks are fine. The photo below shows a group of rocks I have collected. I am also showing the wire used to wrap the rocks.
Wrapping the wire is relatively simple. I generally begin by pulling a 12 inches of wire from the spool. There is a handy snipper attached to this package at the top left, which is used to cut the wire. Then I wrap the wire around the rock for several turns and fashion the ends of the wire into a loop. Rocks that have angles may be easier to work with because the wire does not slip as much, however you can also wrap the wire around a smooth rock with good results. A photo of two rocks that have been wrapped are shown below.
Step 4. Assembly
The last step is hanging the pipes, wood and rocks from the wooden cross piece as well as inserting raw hide into the holes at the end of the wooden cross piece to suspend the chime. You will want to start by threading the rawhide through the holes at each end and knotting the end of the rawhide because then you can hang the crosspiece from a convenient place. This will make it easier to determine how long to suspend each of the remaining pieces. I like to use rawhide or leather because it stands up well out of doors and is a natural material. I like mono-filament because it is strong, durable and transparent.
You may suspend the pipes, wood and stones at various lengths, however I like to make sure the tops of the pipes are at the same height. I also like to center the soft and hard clackers at the middle of the pipe. You can see the finished chime below.
Lastly, you will want to suspend the chime from a place, inside or outside, where it can hang freely so the chimes and clackers can move unrestricted. The photo below is placed against an interior wall only so you can easily see it.
The following pics are from the EcoArt juried exhibition at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA during February and March, 2017. The same piece above displayed above was accepted into this exhibition.
My first nature chime workshop will be at the Leominster Public Library in April, 2017.
hi Pete, nice to meet you yesterday. Very neat what you are doing. Love the chimes. I would love to make some myself, as I am always making things and repairing the house.
Thanks, Jack. Nice to meet you too, we loved your work. Take care. Pete