Saturday, 15 December 2012

weave and wealth

paper, chinese ink and tea

With the advent of the first baskets being made, humanity took a giant leap forward; goods at last could be stored, exchanged and traded. Honouring this history in the context of a workshop planned at the Museum of London in Docklands, I decided to focus on the collection documenting the pool of London as one of the world's first major trading centres, a city that became a ‘warehouse of the world’ between 1830 and 1939, as ships brought in exotic commodities from the far east and the then-called ‘new world’. 

paper, chinese ink, herbs and spices
dailymade #121210

The workshop consisted of plaiting baskets (a technique largely imported from Asia) using layered paper strips and tissue paper.  The strips were painted, then filled with the participants’ own blend of spices, herbs and seeds to create fragrant containers for them to take home. As the fragrances will eventually fade, I suggested the baskets could be buried in the ground or in containers so to allow the seeds to germinate.

The containers produced over the course of the one afternoon were symbolic items celebrating London’s rich history and cultural diversity.  Sadly I got too busy to take pictures at time. These of course couldn't have conveyed the wonderful aromas produced as the spices and herbs were mixed, ground and added to the baskets, so below is a poem by John Masefield, part the museum display, that might go some way in bringing smells to mind:

You showed me nutmegs and nutmeg husks
Ostrich feathers and elephant tusks
Hundreds of tons of costly tea
Packed in wood by Cingalee
And a myriad of drugs which disagree
Cinnamon, myrrh and mace you showed
Golden paradise birds that glowed
More cigars than a man could count
And a billion cloves in an odorous mount
And a choice of port wine from a bright glass fount
You showed me, for a most delightful hour
The wealth of the world and London’s power. 

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