Two specially-commissioned sculptures called Skyboat and Dancing Tree, by Charlie Poulsen, have been unveiled at Marchmont House. Charlie, who has a fascination with “growing sculptures” has created a series of works at the Borders mansion that will take decades, or even longer, to complete as the trees mature. He spoke with The Fountain in more detail about the sculptures and how it all came about.

TF: Can you tell us more about Skyboat and The Dancing Tree?

The Skyboat is a ‘growing sculpture’ involving five living oak trees and large wooden fishing boat on an oak frame. The boat is 11meters long and weighs 5 tons. It is a traditionally constructed Coble of oak and larch built in Whitby in 1987. Hugo Burge and I went down to North Shields to buy the boat from Robert Oliver a 7th generation fisherman from Cullercoats. He called the boat Girl Hannah after his daughter.

The boat sits 14 feet up in the air on an oak frame with the oak trees planted underneath. The trees will be trained to cradle the boat and eventually in 60-70 years or longer the trees will bear the weight of the boat and the frame can be removed.

The Dancing Tree is sculpture of an actual ash tree cast in iron. The tree was cut into three pieces vertically and was then cast into flanged sections, bolted together. The sculpture uses the outer two pieces of the tree, the inner piece is to be a separate sculpture to be installed at a later date at Marchmont .

TF: What inspired this sculpture, and what encouraged you to get involved with this project?

I have been working with sections of trees as the basis of many of my studio sculpture for a long time and also been creating things with growing trees in the garden and in a wood of a friend of mine in the Lammermuir Hills. The particular idea of a boat in a tree came from working on a potential commission in 2007 for a cycle route along the west coast of Scotland. This started me thinking about combining growing trees with a boat. The drawings remained in sketch books and were seen by Hugo Burge who then asked me to create the idea at Marchmont. Skyboat is one of three growing pieces of mine in the grounds of Marchmont.

As for the Dancing Tree, I had already been making work from sections of tree wrapped in lead. This was a just a lot bigger and in different material. The idea came from a commission for a new housing development on the site of an old steel pipe works. I was asked to create something to reflect what was previously manufactured on the site. The idea was to make a cast in iron of an actual sliced up tree ( an Ash tree)  and bolting the sections together with flanges, a traditional method of joining lengths of pipe. I see the tree as a natural pipe drawing its energy from the earth.

The commission began at the end of 2008 but the financial crash brought the project to an end and the tree lay in a barn for 10 years until Hugo saw the drawings for it, two years ago, and wanted it to be created for Marchmont.

TF: What is your connection to Marchmont House?

My connection with Marchmont is a recent one. I met Hugo Burge when he came to my wife Pauline Burbidge (textile artist/quilt-maker) and my Open Studio in 2018, which we have ran for 4 days in August over the last 27 years. We live only 10 miles from Marchmont and Hugo had heard about it from a friend.

Dancing Tree is the fourth piece of work to go in Marchmont since then and has been installed in the courtyard of the stable block which has just been transformed into studios and workshops for artists and makers.

Hugo’s wants to make Marchmont a place for creativity. His has an artist’s approach to the creation of place and culture of place – artists, crafts people, art and the landscape, combining to form a unique living environment. I hope to be a continuing part in it.

TF: What is your plan for the remainder of the year?

The rest of my year is divided between working on large scale abstract drawings in my studio and new ideas for Marchmont.

For more on the sculptures in Marchmont House click here.