Memorial Forest at Knoll Farm

(Conceived 2014 – 2020)

Why?   To remember those who came before us and left their mark. To show respect. To be humble in the face of time. To express love and reverence. To honor. To return.

Ever since we came to Knoll Farm, we have imagined a place within the forest within a 20-minute walk of the farmstead that honors the human beings who have inspired the things that happen here.   We have wanted to create a place that honors our elders, that allows any one –their families, our work community, our alumni, anyone who has enjoyed Knoll Farm as well as all who will come to Knoll Farm in the future – to take a walk into the woods and to sit among these elders.

In January of 2013, Peter wrote this:  We have lost a few very important people already and I sense we will be losing some very significant ones over the next few years.  It feels important, therefore, to move on this in 2013. Late in 2013, we lost Bill Coperthwaite, one of the most influential people to the early years of what has most recently been manifested at Knoll Farm.  Since then we have lost others.

What?        We imagine a memorial forest on the one-acre flat bench just north of the logging road before the steep incline to the landing.  There are a dozen 150-year-old maples on this bench. To the north is the steep rise of the cliffs.  It’s a lovely, protected area that is accessible and close to the activity of the farm, but rarely visited now.

We envision the maple forest to be cleared minimally to encourage the continued growth of the older trees.  Set in the middle of this grove of elder maples would be a four-foot-high stone fire pier to elevate small fires that could be burned safely and ceremonially by visitors.  Scattered in a pleasing and intentional way around his hub would be a series of simple, inspiring structures (3 to 5 a year) that would serve as mini-shrines or memorials.

We’re imagining structures with just three-sides like a tall yurt or English phone booth where one, or two people at most, could enter the space to be with this elder. Pictures, letters, personal objects, mementos of the person would be tacked to the wall inside.  If they published a book or left anything else behind, it would be there for others to consider.  Inside would be their quotes, their old felt hat, a picture, objects to reconnect us with them.

We see these “memorial structures” secured in place lightly so that they have minimal impact.  We would want them to withstand wind and to stay up, but also to decay slowly over time.  Once a pattern of these has been set, we would add to them as needed over time.  For example, in ten years there might be 25 or more shrines there in various states of decay.  We believe the process of returning to the earth will be beautiful and will allow us time to honor and Remember the lives and to live among their memories.  We are inspired by the memorial forest at Bread and Puppet (shown in the image) which was created in 1983 to honor performers and friends of the political theater who had died. We love its whimsy, its art, its sense of question, its profound example of community, of the relationship between people and nature, and its impermanence.

We seek to create a memorial structure for people who meant something significant to our lives and the work of the farm and the community of people who love this farm. The majority should be people we know personally.  The people we would like to honor and build structures for include Barry Lopez, Richard Nelson, Chuck Matthei, Dana Meadows, Helen Nearing, Bill Coperthwaite, Enid Wonacott.  And our community has grown and they will have people they have lost that need to be included.

We have a special desire to honor people who have helped to make the earth better who are from our region, but we should not be limited to this.  We should create space in this memorial forest to honor anyone who our community wants to honor.  We long to walk through our woods and to greet these people as we greet the trees and to thank them.

Welcoming Eddie Merma and his vision:   Eddie arrived at Knoll Farm in 2013 with a passion to be here.  He’s worked incredibly hard in a sustained way to make his unique vision for education come alive, and we are grateful that he’s birthed that vision at Knoll Farm.  His vision of collaborating with young people to bring art, skills and collaboration into their lives has inspired everyone who comes to Knoll Farm.  That we regularly hear children at the farm, especially after our own have grown, is due to the creativity and invitation of Eddie.

Creation: We hope the creation process is about honoring, celebrating and building.  Ever since we arrived at Knoll Farm in 2001, we have used the building of things to bring people together, to create allies, and to celebrate.  Our hope is to honor the contribution made by Eddie and his students by giving them creative license to create the first generation of these memorials.  We like the idea that an effort to honor the elders who have passed but still inspire us be interpreted and built by the young. We don’t know what they will build, but we believe they will inspire themselves and us if we can help to create the conditions to understand the ideas of respect and honoring ones’ elders.  Perhaps this can begin when they are given the chance first to honor someone who has already earned their respect. The community of people who know each elder will also bring meaning and story to these structures after they are built, in the form of momentos, notes, images, art and objects of relevance.

We’d like this project to be a collaboration between the VT Sculpture School and Knoll Farm to honor the school’s first 5 years of creative education and to begin in 2020.

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