Willow by Joe Hickey

Willow by Joe Hickey

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This carving in heather blue Welsh slate by Joe Hickey, celebrates the word ‘Willow’, and was created as part of our exhibition ‘The Lost Words - Forget-me-not.’ For this exhibition artists have created a permanent record of the natural words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Size: 59 x 15cm

NOUN: WILLOW

A tree or shrub of temperate climates which typically has narrow leaves, bears catkins, and grows near water. Its pliant branches yield osiers for basketry, and the timber is traditionally used to make cricket bats.

ORIGIN: Old English welig, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wilg.

Take ‘willow’ out of the dictionary? This is one of those stories where you find yourself searching for the date: it must be April 1st. unfortunately not. It would be bad enough to discover that a considerable number of words referring to the natural world – acorn, bluebell, conker, heron, otter – have been culled from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. To then find out that they’ve been ousted in favour of words like attachment, broadband, celebrity, voice-mail, cut-and-paste and MP3 Player feels like adding insult to injury.

The Lost Words were cut from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in 2007 but their loss seemed to slip under the radar until early 2015 when literary figures, concerned with ‘the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today’, started a campaign to get the OUP to reconsider. I support their campaign and the efforts of Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris with their book The Lost Words to highlight the disappearance of these words that describe the natural world. To be fair to the publisher their junior dictionary is a slim volume made for little hands. It is meant as an introduction to the use of dictionaries for 8–11-year-olds. Thankfully the lost words still appear in the Oxford Primary Dictionary.

While the loss of these words is undoubtedly sad, perhaps more important is the reality they reflect: the fact that children are becoming ever more disconnected from the natural world and either choose not to or are unable to play outside as I and many others used to do, taking it for granted. As a child in the 1970s who regularly climbed trees, made dams at the local stream, went sledging in winter and looked forward to conker season, I find it hard to imagine why kids now would want to stay indoors staring into a screen. Is this about good or bad parenting and would I be doing the same if I was a child now?

Rather than tutting (I am British), shaking my head and feeling dismayed, taking part in this exhibition as a lettering artist has given me the chance to help raise awareness of the disappearance of these words from the OJD. November might not be the best time of year to take photos of my nearest willow tree as its leaves were starting to fall but it was impressive nonetheless . I was also able to take some cuttings and gather some leaves later pressed in my OED and scanned before they dried and shrivelled. As much as I would have liked to represent the whole of this weeping willow and its wonderful drooping branches I concentrated on drawing one branch with its elegant pointed leaves. I practised carving the leaves, working out how I might show the midrib and the secondary veins and at the drawing board made decisions about how natural or stylised the design should be. I am using a beautiful piece of Welsh heather slate for the finished work.

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