Archive for April, 2016

The Little School and the Big Bottletree

On a tip from a reader, we visited The Little School, a preschool program located in the Waterstone development in Hillsborough. The school recently installed a bottletree built by Sean Kehoe (“Mr. Sean”), a former teacher and current facilities manager there.

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On our visit, we immediately fell in love with how The Little School incorporates art, nature and beauty into every corner of the facility.

The bottletree is just one of many adorable and inspiring bits and pieces of artwork, many created by Mr. Sean. We haven’t written a lot about the importance of art in education, but of course we love to see art everywhere, and there’s no place more important than in children’s lives. These kids are super lucky to be surrounded by so much whimsical and engaging artwork (scroll down for more photos).


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The bottletree at The Little School was actually suggested by one of the children there. School Director Jessica Larson had, like us, grown interested in bottletrees after reading John Claude Bemis‘s book, “The Nine Pound Hammer.” (That book was actually the original inspiration for our blog, way back when!) When a young student asked for a bottletree at The Little School, Jessica jumped at the opportunity and turned to Sean to develop a design.

Mr. Sean’s design for a bottletree had to be not only beautiful but very sturdy, since it would be located on school property. His idea is quite inventive, and DIY-able without specialized tools — but you’ll need a lot of elbow grease!

He used 13 long rods of rebar, and bound them together in the middle using steel wire. Then he bent and twisted the branches in all directions. At the bottom, he bent the rods outward in a wide circle, so that the tree could actually stand by itself just on its own base. He buried the spread-out rods in the ground, and placed large boulders on top of them. This makes the tree sturdy enough that the kids can pull and wiggle the branches without disturbing the installation at all.

Sean also wrapped the branch end of each rebar rod with plastic tubing, inside each blue bottle. This keeps the bottles from clanging against the rods and avoids possible breakage. It also keeps the bottles from slipping off.

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Rebar wrapped in steel wire. Look closely and you can see that the end of each branch is wrapped in plastic tubing to hold the bottle in place.

We were impressed with creativity, simplicity, and adaptability of this awesome bottletree, and we loved meeting Jessica and Sean and waxing romantic about bottletrees. 😀

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New Bottletree Soars to Record Heights

Two of our readers, Anne and Barry Weston, recently commissioned a spectacular new bottletree and invited friends and neighbors over to help adorn it with bottles. They were kind enough to invite us along on several legs of their journey, from the design of this impressive and inspiring art piece, through the installation and unveiling. We were able to see the tree as it was being built, observe the “planting” process in front of their home, and then celebrate with everyone once it was ready to decorate. Thank you, Anne and Barry, for allowing us to be part of this very special experience!

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New commissioned bottletree is more than 15 feet high and holds more than 100 bottles!

The bottletree, which stands taller than 15 feet above ground (plus a long extension buried in concrete) and holds more than 100 bottles, was built by metal sculptor and artist Jeremy Stollings of Ironwood Crafts in Hillsborough.

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Jeremy Stollings getting ready to deliver the tree to its new home.

“This tree was a wonderful collaboration between people who love the arts and an artist looking to stretch his abilities past anything he had previously done before. I had ideas for a grand tree that I never had the opportunity to try, and they had the desire for a tree that was truly special and breathtaking. The ironic thing is that there never were any drawings or sketches of this tree at any point. We started with a simple idea, and it grew as organically and naturally as any real tree, one piece at a time. I was never quite sure just how it was going to turn out, from the gnarls in the bark, to the high curvy branches, I just kept adding to it until it looked ‘finished’ to me.” — metal sculptor and artist Jeremy Stollings

Jeremy designed the tree using ideas and inspiration from Anne and Barry, and delivered it to their house upon completion. Watching the tree go in was exciting and a little nerve-wracking! It took a tenacious team of generous friends to dig the hole, pour the concrete, and stabilize the gigantic metal structure. But, it was successfully installed and immediately looked so much like a live tree that one might think it had simply grown there. (Click on any picture below to open a slide show.)

After a few weeks, the tree was ready to cover in glistening bottles, and Anne and Barry threw a beautiful celebration party for the occasion. Lots of people brought bottles and everyone enjoyed placing the bottles on the tree. Jeremy was on hand to speak about the creative process, and he also adjusted a few branches so that the bottles could be “just so.” We were there as well, and we had the honor of saying a few words about our blog project and a little bit of background on bottletrees. We’ll publish the text of the remarks on this blog at a later date, as several people have asked to see them (blush).

Anne also spoke eloquently about the importance of supporting art and artists, as well as the interesting position the bottletree holds at the intersection of public and private art. While not public art per se, a bottletree is visible to the public, and so it’s a wonderful way to share one’s personal love of shape and color and light with the rest of the world.

We know Anne and Barry will love this tree for many years to come, and like all bottletrees, it will change with the seasons and years, and bring new joy every day!

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If you want to ride by and see this tree in person, it is located at the end of Blackberry Lane in Hillsborough, less than ten minutes by car from downtown. Please be cautious, as it is a narrow residential street. There is an adequate turnaround at the end, so you can drive all the way in and see the tree.

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