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  • Whittlewood Concept

Wetu Needed

In the middle of August, we at The Whittlewood Concept were approached by Bassetlaw Museum through one of our clients, to supply peeled rustic poles for a Wetu, the traditional shelter of the Wampanoag nation, a native north American tribe.

None of us are experts on North American native culture, of course we’ve heard about the tipi, and we regularly provide materials for them, however, none of us knew what a Wetu was.

a peeled Hemlock pole( left), two unpeeled Hemlock and Silver Birch (right)

So, after lot of research and pictures provided, we decided to have a go at producing Wetu poles ourselves and let me tell you it was not an easy task, due to the high specification of what was needed. Members of the Wampanoag nation were coming to build from U.S, and nobody could afford for our product not to work.

Wetu is traditionally built from Red Cedar bent into circle at the middle and an arc shape at the top, so we’ve been told however, we don’t have access to red cedar, we decided to use a native species to Britain, the first one that came to mind which fits the criteria was Ash.

testing the flexibility of Hemlock

Off we went and found a suitable pole 6 metres long, 4 inches in diameter, dead straight and tapering to almost nothing. We thought we were in. Boy, oh boy we were wrong!

Ash is a flexible species which would be ideal, but due to Chalara (Ash Dieback) there are parts of pole that had weak points and when you are trying to bend them, they snap.

Next idea was Silver Birch, we tried, but flexibility and straightness weren’t there.

Back to drawing board, what other species could provide the qualities we were after? And then light bulb moment, Western Hemlock a type of North American Fir that is planted around the UK, and used in forestry, and we have access to.

will the Hemlock meet the specifications?

Next thing needed was a test of easiness of peeling process and flexibility of the pole, successful on both. Finally, we found product that was suitable for the Wetu project.

Two days, buckets of sweat and muscle ache later the order was completed.

Personnel from Bassetlaw Museum came to collect the Hemlock poles themselves, they were extremely happy with our product, we suggested to keep them wet and in a humid environment, to retain the flexibility on highest level. The Hemlock was a success and they were able to build the Wetu in the tradition way.

under construction at the museum in Bassetlaw

And now if you are interested in seeing what a Wetu looks like and how it works take a trip to Bassetlaw Museum.

Where there is a will there is a way!

almost there

the completed Wetu

Credit and a big thank you to Bassetlaw Museum and Pilgrim Roots for the photographs taken during the build process.

Below is the report that featured on Ey Up Notts, a show dedicated to current affairs within the Nottinghamshire region.

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