Woods for the Future - artwork by Sarah Cook

Bronze oak leaves fixed to a cloak shaped frame

This art and ecology project brings together people who are passionate about planting new woods for the future in the Peak District. We urgently need to meet the challenges of climate change, maintain and create new areas of healthy, resilient and diverse woodland, encourage biodiversity, replant areas affected by ash dieback, and reduce the risk of flooding.

Woods for the Future Exhibition at Longshaw:

From Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th October 2019, a bronze sculpture, a cloak of over 100 oak leaves cast from leaves collected in Padley Gorge, will be displayed at Longshaw Estate next to the welcome building in the main Woodcroft car park.  This art work was created by Sarah Cook, a local artist, inspired by her walks in Padley Gorge, her love of native trees and her commitment to combating the effects of climate change.  Sarah has generously donated her work to the National Trust’s Peak District Appeal, helping us to create woods for the future.

The individual bronze leaves will be available to reserve throughout the week, for a suggested minimum donation of £50, and on Sunday 20th October, donors will be able to collect their carefully packaged leaves (in a gift box together with a Longshaw acorn, an artist’s signed certificate of authenticity, information about the areas for tree planting and a Padley Gorge walk route card)*.

Artist Sarah Cook's frame of bronze oak leaves, cast from over 100 Padley Gorge leaves.
A metal frame with bronze oak leaves attached, in the oak woods of Padley Gorge
Artist Sarah Cook's frame of bronze oak leaves, cast from over 100 Padley Gorge leaves.

Woods for the Future talks – meet the artist and Longshaw Rangers:

On Sunday 20th October, there will be a series of talks from the artist Sarah Cook, Longshaw Lead Ranger Rachel Bennett, and National Trust tree specialist Luke Barley, and there will be an opportunity to see the tree nursery which the rangers have built with volunteers over the past year. Sarah will talk about her work and the conceptual and practical processes that have led to the creation of the beautiful leaf sculpture. Rachel Bennett will talk about the Peak District Appeal and the important work the rangers are doing to grow and plant trees at 22 sites across the Peak District. This includes a focus on the tree nursery at Longshaw, tackling Ash Dieback in the valleys of the White Peak, and planting up the cloughs of the High Peak moors. Luke Barley will also share the national significance of woodlands for biodiversity and climate change, and there will be an opportunity for discussion.

A close up of some bronze oak leaves, local artist Sarah Cook, and her dog.
Bronze oak leaves on a metal frame, and artist Sarah Cook pictured with her dog.
A close up of some bronze oak leaves, local artist Sarah Cook, and her dog.

A conversation with artist, Sarah Cook:

What is the background to the bronze cloak of oak leaves?

Sarah: “I want to engage people in a conversation about what trees and the landscape mean for them. This is at a time of local and global concerns about deforestation and loss of natural habitats.”

“My daily walks through Padley Gorge and the surrounding woods triggered images of bronze age people who lived in the Peak District and populated the forests. These were settled communities that worked metal for tools, ornaments and weapons. People began to travel north into this area following the end of the last ice age around 2,500 BC.  Today the landscape has been denuded of trees, leaving only isolated copses and steep valley woodlands as vestiges of the forest that used to cloak the area.”

“I looked at the many misshapen oak trees in Padley Gorge that looked like dancing figures with outstretched arms. I imagined our ancestors celebrating their festivals, with women wearing bronze ornaments over their cloaks.  I then fashioned bronze torques and bronze oak leaves and made the large bronze cloak of leaves.  The cloak is made of 100 unique bronze oak leaves, attached to a torque by bronze rods which in turn is supported by a sinuous steel spine.  I made a one-off mould of each leaf, and when liquid molten bronze was poured into each mould it froze the leaf in time. Some leaves are beginning to decay, some have holes in them, some are frayed and some have bits of earth or sticks attached. The cloak is left empty in memory of past ancestors.”

“This art work alludes to the symbolic, mythological and spiritual meanings of oak trees in European culture. Oaks are symbols of strength, longevity and the power of nature. These are potent forces within this era of environmental chaos. This cloak was part of an installation, first displayed in a woodland exhibition in March 2019 in Brunt’s Barn Copse (The Meaning of Trees https://www.sarahcookartist.co.uk/gallery)”

Why have you chosen to donate the proceeds from your artwork to the Peak District Appeal - Woods for the Future?

Sarah:  “With my concern about the local ecology and my commitment to reforestation, I wanted the cloak of bronze leaves to give something back to the environment.  Trees shed their rotting leaves to make rich leaf litter that then nourishes the new tree shoots and saplings. By asking for donations to Longshaw Tree Nursery and the woodland projects this cycle of regeneration is being mirrored and people are investing in the future.  Hopefully people will take the bronze oak leaves and spread them near and far. This reflects how falling leaves and seeds are carried by the wind to be dispersed to new places and support new growth.”

Oak leaves cast in bronze, by artist Sarah Cook
Bronze oak leaves fixed to a cloak shaped frame
Oak leaves cast in bronze, by artist Sarah Cook


General Manager for the National Trust in the Peak District, Jon Stewart, says:

“I would like to say a massive thank you to Sarah Cook for this incredible gift of her artwork, which has inspired a brilliant collaboration with our team at Longshaw and enabled us to talk about the Peak District Appeal to a much wider audience. So many people love Padley Gorge, and with this opportunity to own a unique bronze Padley Gorge oak leaf, visitors can help to create more wildlife rich woodlands in the Peak District, also helping to tackle climate change and its impacts.”

*If it is not possible to return to collect your leaf on the Sunday, please discuss other arrangements with volunteers and staff in the welcome building.