A Return to Nature: Green Crafts and Sustainability

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Daan de Leeuw is the founder and curator of The Green Circle, a creative haven in the eastern region of the Netherlands. Conceived with a social and ecological vision of bringing people back in touch with nature, the initiative unites tradition with innovation and sustainability with beauty. Using hand tools and machinery not powered by electricity, a profound respect for the natural material drives the workshops and motivates the teaching.

 5 min read

Have you always lived like this, surrounded by nature?

As a small child I was always in nature; building huts and walking in fields. I grew up in Lichtenvoorde, a small town 15 KM from Winterswijk in the Netherlands. I enjoyed growing up there, it was beautiful and I loved being close to nature. 

What inspired you to learn your craft?

After finishing my studies, I worked as an antique restorer and furniture builder for ten years. As I developed my skill and experience, I began concentrating on my own designs. I eventually left my job to travel the world, ending up in beautiful Wales. I spent the next ten years teaching woodworking and learning basketry, smithing, forging, pottery, building ovens, making charcoal and learning sustainable crafts. The people I met in Wales were so inspiring and taught me everything about green woodwork.

I'm very lucky to work in a place like this.

    We teach a lot of great craft workshops:

    Who taught you, who was your master?

    In Wales I was taught by two craft masters, one of whom was John Brown, a renowned woodworker who specialized in Greenwood furniture. The chair I'm sitting in right now for example, was built under his instruction. Typically, furniture is built from dry wood, dry timber or seasoned timber. If you work with green 'fresh' wood, you need to know a different set of skills. John made chairs like this his whole life. He taught me so much, he was a real craftsman. I'm sad that he passed away, his passion for woodwork was unforgettable. 

    Daan in his 'Welsh Stick Chair'
    Daan in his 'Welsh Stick Chair'

    How did you end up where you are now?

    After I returned to Holland I noticed that there wasn't a community of craftspeople like in the UK. People here seemed to have lost touch with crafts and nature. This motivated me to set up a strong collective of skilled craft workers who could share their knowledge and experience. It was important to me that the setting for these workshops should be in a beautiful natural setting. I think it inspires and motivates people's creative thinking. After discovering this land, I became very excited- it seemed perfect. I think that the setting is partly what attracts so many people here and I have really enjoyed meeting so many craftspeople. We have a stone/wood carver, a potter, someone who is a master in building wood-ovens to fire the clay, a blacksmith, a leather worker and someone who is highly skilled in making felt. All of these crafts people have their own business and some of them even sell their work internationally.

    I was inspired by the community of craftspeople in Wales.

    Tell us about the craft events you organise.

    Every year we organize two main events. Our crafts festival 'Oerkracht’  is a great opportunity for people to see what we do. There is a crafts market where you can find incredible handmade products. We give talks on sustainability and crafts. We run workshops throughout the day and visitors are welcome to try out different workshops, wether its leather work, archery, metal work, green woodwork, pottery or blacksmithing. The other event is called Hét Festival der Ambachten and will take place on the 25th of April in 2020.

    What motivates you to share your knowledge?

    It is more than passing on the skill. Nowadays, people are so removed from the production process; everything is manufactured abroad in factories. The human ethics and environmental sustainability of this is dubious and poses a big threat to our planet. When people work with their hands and engage in the creation of a product, something profound happens to them. They begin to respect the material and the finished product as they become aware of the energy it takes to make something. Crafts are very important in today's world. I believe that caring for our planet starts with caring for it's raw materials. If I treat a tree with respect, I will treat a human with respect. Doing crafts is healing on the deepest level. The problem for a lot of people is that it just doesn't seem necessary because of mass production and modern machinery. What they don't see is that it is vital for the future of our planet and for ourselves!

    Craftsmanship has taught me a lot about balanced consumption of the earth's resources. I try to balance my life by consuming with awareness.

    How does craftsmanship affect the rest of your life?

    Craftsmanship has taught me a lot about balanced consumption of the earth's resources. I try to balance my life by consuming with awareness. I do go to the supermarket and eat meat, for example, but I try to be aware of where it comes from and it's carbon footprint. Lot's of people think that I'm a vegetarian but I'm not, I just try to choose foods that have minimal impact on the environment. I would definitely prefer to buy furniture from a second-hand shop than Ikea.

    What are the workshops like at The Green Circle?

    Sometimes there are three workshops running on the weekend; blacksmithing, green woodwork and ceramics, for example. The experience is communal, and there might be a campfire at night. People love sharing what they have been making and you can see they enjoy collaborating with each other. They learn so much in three days and take home all their creations.

    Do people need to have any prior experience of crafts before the workshops? 

    No. Everyone can work with their hands and we start by making simple items to grasp the basics. People return again and again, it's great to see them improve and make more technically challenging things. You don't have to be skilled to begin with, though. We will get you there!

    What do students produce here?

    All the workshops encourage creative freedom. In my green woodworking workshop, for example, I ask my students what they want to make. If you are enthusiastic about the design, you will pick up the skill quicker. People love making stools, knife handles, chairs and spoons. On the pottery course, students can make anything, from plates, to vases, to bowls. They can go join felt making and make lovely bags, wallhangings or people can carve a nice sculpture out of wood or stone. Each workshop is designed to help people explore their creativity. 

    What is your favorite creation?

    I'm sitting in it! I use this chair every day. I made it using techniques of 'woodturning', 'woodshaving' and 'steam bending'. John Brown helped me work on it, combining different woodworking skills to produce this beautiful piece. I am extremely proud of it. 

    Is there something you would still like to do?

    I now have over 35 years of woodwork experience but I'm still learning every day. I haven't done a lot of woodcarving, so I asked our teacher here to help me. I'm working on a large sculpture of an angel. It is a real challenge- the facial details are fiddly but its gradually forming into another piece I'll be proud of. 

    Wouter is Dedico's Business Developer manager. Being responsible for knitting together our global network of teachers, he specialises in adventure, sports, kitesurfing and crafts.

    Why should you learn a new craft?

    • It will give you a sense of pride.
    • You will appreciate the effort of creating.
    • You will understand where things come from.
    • It is very therapeutic.
    • You don't need to have any prior skill.

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