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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Inspirations from the Forest

Natural Materials

How do artists transform natural materials such as grass, wood, and wool into objects of beauty?

Walt Thies from Oregon is a research plant pathologist and skilled woodturner of bowls, toys, and ornaments. He selects the wood for his creations based on fungal patterns that create attractive whirls, streaks, and designs. "There's nothing artificial about it or mysterious or strange or different; it's just part of what's happening in the ecosystem." The finished products are a beautiful mixture of nature's palette and fine craftsmanship.

Dorica Jackson from Alaska creates Chilkat weavings of enduring beauty. For the dyes, she uses natural materials such as wolf moss that grows on pine trees, copper oxide, and hemlock bark to create rich, vibrant blues, yellows, and blacks. For the warp yarns, she boils inner bark from yellow cedar for several days, then spins it with sheep or goat wool for greater strength.

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Natural Materials Activities

Walt Thies describes woodturning and wood selection