Jul 042014

George Brackett installing one of the repaired bells in the Blackman Field and Woods. If you look closely, you can see a tree frog at the top of the bell hitching a ride.Susan Hughes

George Brackett installing one of the repaired bells in the Blackman Field and Woods. If you look closely, you can see a tree frog at the top of the bell hitching a ride.

It’s been quiet in the woods at the Groton Conservation Trust’s Blackman Field and Woods property since last fall. Too quiet. Three of a set of six bells created by Groton artist Paul Matisse were removed from the installation for repairs, but the missing bells were recently returned home and reinstalled, and the entire set of six bells are up and making wonderful music again.

The Forest Bells were created by Matisse in 1995, commissioned by the inaugural Artist’s Valentine project, and installed on land owned by Arthur and Camilla Blackman off Indian Hill Road. The Blackmans donated the land to the GCT in 2000 and the Trust has been the steward of the land and bells since then.

Like any piece of outdoor engineering, the bells require attention and maintenance. Matisse and his staff have been both attentive and generous in helping to keep the Bells in good working order. Over the years, the main spring at the top of each bell may fail. When this spring breaks, the hammer rests against the bell, making it impossible to ring. The arm and hammer assembly can dent and damage the bells as they swing around in the breeze as well.

Local arborist and bell-hanging wizard George Brackett provided the expertise to both install and remove the bells. Last fall he took down the three silent bells and delivered them to Matisse’s shop in Groton. Matisse’s staff analyzed the failures and found solutions. Modifications were made to the arm and hammer to prevent further damage, and a wholly new spring design was installed. The bells were also re-coated with a transparent protective coating.

But there were still three bells in the forest without these improvements. Brackett and members of Matisse’s staff set up a field repair shop in the woods to complete the job in late June. The three repaired bells were reinstalled, and then each of the three remaining bells was taken down, modified, and reinstalled.

Matisse has visited the site and reports they are again ready to make beautiful music in their hemlock grove.

Installing a new spring on one of Paul Matisse's Forest BellsSusan Hughes

Installing a new spring on one of Paul Matisse’s Forest Bells

To find the Forest Bells, take Old Ayer Road south toward Nashoba Medical Center from Main Street in Groton. Then, turn left onto Indian Hill Road and go all the way to the end of the road, where a dirt road bears left into the trees. You may park cars here, but do not drive further toward the house at very the end. Continue along this road, passing under power lines and continuing down into forest. At the next obvious fork where the main path goes up to the right, turn sharp left on to the side road. About 50 yards later, fallen trees bar an old road leading uphill to the right. Walk over or around the fallen trees and follow that road up the hill. Continue until you find a grove of hemlocks, quite different from the pines and oaks all around. You are at the Forest Bells. For more information, contact info@gctrust.org.