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an archway of living willows

#TraditionsTuesday: Howard Peller and Living Willow Farm

When Howard Peller and his wife and partner Maddy Fraioli moved to Ohio about 36 years ago, it was because of the natural clay and pottery traditions found around Zanesville. Peller has long been drawn to making pieces that are both functional and closely tied to the land, so, after years of working in ceramics, Peller went looking for new materials and practices.  He found it in willow weaving, a traditional craft which can be utilized to make everything from baskets to fencing to living sculptures. Thus, Living Willow Farm came to be. 


Howard Peller works on a cone sculpture of willowsAt the farm, Peller practices what is known as “coppice craft,” which is the making, by hand, of various items from young tree stems and other plants that have been carefully grown to keep them straight and fit for purpose. Peller’s practice is rooted in European traditions, but he has studied and taught workshops on the subject all over the world. He can seemingly work magic with plants, braiding young trees, growing furniture in place, and even creating wondrous playground environments. His work is dotted across Central Ohio and beyond, with examples of his living arbors and domes being found at Franklin Park Conservatory and the Dawes Arboretum. Outside of the Buckeye State, his woven willow sculptures of stylized natural cones currently grace the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and his oversized hummingbird nests hang in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

But Peller’s work is not just about beauty. It’s also about sustainability as it existed for our ancestors, particularly rural farmers who made tools and structures with the materials they had on hand. Peller passes on this knowledge through workshops around the world. Students in Pennsylvania learned how to make and use woven living willow fencing (known as wattle) along a streambed to prevent erosion. Peller trained indigenous artisans in Jamaica and Guyana in coppice craft to assist them in producing items from locally sourced materials to use and sell, in association with the nonprofit Aid to Artisans.  Self-described as being a “hands-off” teacher, Peller likes to get his students going and then give them time to explore and experience the process, guiding their progress by emphasizing what they are doing well, rather than constantly correcting their efforts. Students, like his willow boughs, need time to grow. Fortunately, Peller knows that the beauty is found in the process, not just the product.

Take up the #TraditionTuesday:

EXPAND: Visit to learn more about Howard Peller’s work. Also check out Rosehill Pottery, the farm’s onsite pottery studio helmed by Peller’s wife and partner Maddy Fraioli.

EXPERIENCE: Now is the time to start your own living willow structure! A basic willow arch is a fairly easy garden project, requiring few tools. There are many tutorials available online. This is a great project to benefit bee populations!

EXPLORE: Visit Howard Peller’s work at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, or The Raymond B. Martens Nature Playscape at the AHA! Children’s Museum in Lancaster.

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