Where science, engineering and art meet

May. 22, 2014 @ 05:15 PM

Will Hooker recalled how he first began working with bamboo. When he was finishing his graduate studies, he did not have lots of money, and was looking for a way to entertain his 2-year-old daughter. He found some bamboo, and from that time began learning how to bend, cut and build structures with it.

About 25 years ago Hooker, now a retired professor of horticulture at N.C. State University, began assigning students in his design class a project using bamboo. “Every semester since then I’ve had one project using bamboo,” Hooker said. Visitors to N.C. State can see some of those projects, among them a dragon sculpture made mostly of bamboo in the school’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum.
Hooker will be on hand today and Saturday at the Museum of Life and Science, giving demonstrations about how to handle bamboo during the museum’s third annual Build it Bamboo event.
The museum staff has wanted to work with Hooker for several years, but his class schedule precluded his participating, said Michele Kloda, an exhibit developer at the museum who designed this year’s Build it Bamboo project with Hooker. With Hooker’s help, the museum staff and volunteers, and some of Hooker’s former students, built several bamboo structures in the open space across from the Into the Mist area. They include a climbing structure, and a trellis in which netting is stretched between bamboo poles, allowing tomatoes to anchor themselves as they grow. “He really helped us to understand the potential of this,” Kloda said.
Hooker himself fashioned the orange and yellow painted arch sculpture that welcomes visitors into the space, and a Belgian fence, one example of many practical uses of bamboo.
Hooker said Build it Bamboo is the first time he has worked with volunteers rather than students, and he was pleased with the work. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen that trellis built,” he said, because of the number of volunteers. “I’m really happy with what they’re building,” he said, looking at some designs visitors have made since Build it Bamboo began Tuesday. “Look at these – they’re wonderful.”
Wednesday, the museum was holding a morning session for children under 6 years of age. While many children spent time enjoying the climbing structure, other families were busy working with bamboo and creating projects. Natalie Doherty was bending a strip of bamboo and using a tire inner tube (recycled from a bike store) to tie the ends together. She and her children were making a tunnel by hanging several circles from a larger bamboo beam. With the project, her children were “working on engineering thinking,” Doherty said.
Jay Lee, who recently moved here from Korea and is a visiting scholar at UNC, was at the event with his 5-year-old daughter Julia. He was lashing several pieces of bamboo together to create a standing structure. The project was his first time working with bamboo, Lee said.
Heather Koonts was at the museum with her twins Andrew and William. She was lashing together several pieces of cut bamboo to make “something the boys can roll around.”
Museum visitors of all ages can come make something with bamboo during their visit. (Build it Bamboo continues through Saturday.) Museum educators will be on site to discuss the uses of bamboo, said Allison Campbell, the museum’s education specialist for events. “Our educators have done all their research,” and Build it Bamboo is a good opportunity to learn about bamboo’s many uses, and how it is a renewable resource, she said.
The project fuses art, science and engineering, said Kloda. “We hope people will have an experience with a plant that they may see as a nuisance in the back yard,” she said.
Hooker is largely self-taught in bamboo. Creativity often happens “on the fringes,” he said, and because he did not know all the rules of working with bamboo he “did whatever came to mind, and some of it has been really fun.”
When he was first told he would be working with volunteers on this project, he was not sure what would happen. “They were so wonderful,” Hooker said. “What I’ve concluded is I can do this, and I intend to do more of these [projects] around the state and nation.”

Go and Do

WHAT: Will Hooker to lead Build it Bamboo workshops
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.
WHERE: Museum of Life and Science, 433 W. Murray Ave., Durham
ADMISSION: Free with paid admission to museum. For information, call 919-220-5429 or ww.lifeandscience.org.