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Water : The Mother Within  

Our Mother : Flowforms

by Mary Thienes-Schuneman

Mountain StreamFlowforms are ‘simple’ water carrying vessels which integrate moving water in spaces – indoors or out. They are also sculptures, soothers, playmates, and enhancers of atmospheres from backyards to banks. They are workers in farmyards and mixers in vineyards. 

The people who create Flowforms watch water move in Nature and create Flowforms based on what Nature shows. These vessels are shaped by the very movement of water itself…rhythmic and meandering water moving and being at its freest. Flowforms make a space where water can meander like a river.  

Why that matters will become clear.                      © Flow Forms America


Flowforms were first created by the keen observations of people deep in the realms of art, geometry and science. These were people who noted motions and patterns in nature and that such patterns could be described in consistent mathematical terms. The ripples and swirling eddies; patterns in wood and bone and muscle; seas of sand; chambers of seashells; and meanders of free-flowing streams all ‘spoke’ the same shapes. Luminaries Viktor Schauberger, Theodor Schwenk, and John Wilkes are kindred spirits on behalf of Water. The universal shapes Water describes captured the imagination of these thinkers most.  

All three people looked at familiar things in unfamiliar ways. They are the seminal collection of people helping us see and interpret all that Nature is trying to tell us about the character, spirit, and shape of Water – its inclinations to certain movements, health evoking sounds, life-sustaining rhythms, and capacity for supporting change, renewal, and refreshment. 

Consider that certain sounds, smells, places and people just feel good to us. Sometimes we don’t know why. Sometimes we don’t even care to know the chemical composition or area of the brain which registers a ’this-is-good-for-me’ feeling in us. People exposed to Flowforms for the first time often have an ‘ahhhh’ experience – feeling inexplicably relaxed and refreshed. 

Consider that the very matrix of our lives as bodies is water – rhythmical and ever-present. In fact, during our development in the womb, a protective bubble of water surrounds us. This water, in some sense, is the Mother within our Mother. 

Indeed, patterns of our muscles, and the movement of our blood reflect spiraling patterns, circulations and rhythms. Our very own bones contain systems of tiny fissures organized in patterns of loops and spirals. Many of our muscles, including our hearts, reflect an organization embedded in spirals. 

We don’t escape the inclinations of fluid movement EVER. Water and wind are moved under the same principles. Our weather is made by winds spiraling into lively breezes or thunderous storms. Take a really good look at the weather map after the evening news. It’s awash in curves and swirls. 

Wilderness streams are observed to meander and not to carve out straight lines. The streams’ swirling play against rock generates a sound we are too often removed from in daily lives filled with earth-smothering pavement, hooting machines, and tainted air.  

Why do we flock to the ocean for vacation? – for sound, sight, and sighs; and perhaps for the rhythms and roars of these great elemental bodies which are really so much like our own. We are drawn to our own, diverse selves – part of Nature. 

Victor Schauberger - Systems 

Viktor Schauberger (1885-1958), pioneering Austrian forester, inventive iconoclast and visionary, understood that Nature is a great, interdependent system. As a philosopher, he understood that Everything is Connected.  

His teacher was Water. Water taught him about spin and about motion. Water was NOT H2O to Viktor. 

His study of natural energy began to point the way to many of the basic problems of energy provision and transformation. Our well-meant, but naïve attempts to provide ourselves with energy – from hydro-electric to nuclear fission – generate harmful long-term effects on our total environment. His explorations of implosive energy and diamagnetism revealed many practical applications, most of which have yet to be developed. 

Schauberger saw clearly how we could, and must, become a better partner with Nature, and how we, in essence, could learn to get out of our own way as well. We still suffer from our own ‘cures’ – corrections in riverways leading to floods; industrial waste causing disease and the death of ecosystems; weather patterns changing in response to our interventions. 

Theodor Schwenk - Patterns 

Theodor Schwenk used the language of systems, or patterns of systems, to unerringly describe water and its spirals, circulations, inclinations to spherical movement and circles. 

His book, Sensitive Chaos, does not contain one chemical formula; one reminder of the ‘part-ness’ or separate ‘constituents’ of water.  

An article (Flowforms - Rx for Dying Water by Margret Carde) in the Fall 1990 issue of Design Spirit magazine describes how: “…Schwenk worked closely with a mathematician named George Adams. Together they discovered an astonishing pattern. They noted that the curved vortex or funnel shape prevalent in the movements and forms of cosmic activity was also present in the morphology of plants and the movements of water. They imagined that the forms that nature had created might also be the shapes that would enliven and restore water.”

Water was NOT H2O to Theodor. 

Instead, his book contains page upon page of illustrated systems of spirals, swirls, whorls, vortices, meanders, circulations, systems, and flow.

After a while, a reader nearly expects the pages themselves to ripple! After a while, too, the reader most certainly recognizes that those curved and flowing images are embedded profoundly in us – from our fingerprints to our ears; from our bones to our heart. 

John Wilkes – Synthesis and Rhythm 

John Wilkes (born 19??) is the inventor of flowforms. Wilkes’ genius is that he brought the ideas of Schwenk and Schauberger together into physical forms – water vessels – flowforms.   

Although an artist and sculptor first, John’s fascination with water and with structure led him to exploring the bonds between art and science.

Water is NOT H2O to John. 

He studies projective geometry and has much experience with the physical properties of water. John remains a constant student of Nature. His water sculptures – his flowforms – are not only works of graceful art, but are vehicles by which water can be allowed to return to its more natural (meaning healthy) state by moving in its natural way…which we now know is in spirals and vortices with inclinations to doing figure-eights. 

John started working with water flowing on inclined planes. What he eventually observed biologist Mark Riegner wonderfully described in the 1998 Winter issue of Orion Nature Quarterly: “Wilkes observed what was for a him a remarkable occurrence. At one place in the system, the dimensions of the aperture were of the precise proportions such that there was a momentary hesitation as water flowed from one section into the next. Had the aperture been wider, water would have flowed through uninterrupted; if narrower, the system would have filled up and overflowed. The unanticipated hesitation induced an alternating channel. Furthermore, in each cavity, water swirled in a vortex. The overall movement was a figure eight, or lemniscate, with one side rotating clockwise, the other counterclockwise. Left and right rotational motions were thus joined in one rhythmical movement, which Wilkes later termed a ‘vertical meander.’ This rhythmical motion, induced by the inter-relationship of the channel’s surfaces, was also evident as water streamed from the exit in a pulsating waterfall. The regular, rhythmic pulsation reminded Wilkes of his own pulse and strengthened the impression that water in this system has been ‘enlivened,’ that is, brought into a condition of movement and rhythm similar to the circulation of a living organism.” 

Wilkes established the Flow Design Research Group at Emerson College in the UK which is concerned with sustainable approaches to the engagement of water wherever possible.  

…the rest of us – Chaos and Consequences

But we’ve made water a problem. We’ve piped and canalled and engineered water into overload. We assumed that Mother Nature’s System would/could/should absorb all of our waste. As UK Waste Water Specialist Mark Moodie puts it, “Thinking that the solution to pollution is dilution, industries have put their toxic waste into the same system.” The Cuyahoga River in Ohio delivered a dramatic message when it burst into flames because of all we’d asked it to take in. Recent floods in Europe are the direct consequence of our tinkering. 

Flowforms at work – Better Ways in Norway and Wisconsin

‘Away’ must be a real place as most of us evoke it so many times. Sewage is something we’d rather send Away! (Wherever that is!)  

In fact, we’ve worked so hard to keep the smelly stuff out of sight that we’ve done ourselves a deep disservice. We actually act out the old adage, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ We pollute our ‘nests,’ with our own discharge and are disconnected from a very basic process – the process of no waste in Nature. Mark Moodie, in a Resurgence magazine article, says, “We’ve taken lots of potential nutrient, mixed it with clean water, the element of life, and made vast amounts of poison. It represents unawareness of our ecology entwined with an outmoded taboo.” 

An aware and taboo-free water consultant and advocate, Will Browne, has designed a highly successful sewage processing system in Norway using Flowform-assisted ponds and reed beds. The system was devised for Vidarǻsen Camphill, a community of 160 people, including effluent from their dairy, food processing workshop, bakery and laundry facilities. 

Browne’s colleague, Petter D. Jenssen, Professor of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Norway, has collected data and provided documentation of Vidarǻsen’s success.

The system consists of sludge settlement pond, pre-treatment vertical-flow constructed wetlands, an advanced primary stabilization pond, three smaller stabilization ponds, and finally, a horizontal-flow constructed wetland filled with light-weight aggregate. The advanced primary stabilization ponds are equipped with Flowform cascades which provide year-round aeration, rhythmical treatment and thorough mixing of wastewater in the ponds. Treatment performance during the first three years has been good and has been improving steadily as the system establishes itself. The system is unaffected by harsh winter conditions and is ecologically diverse, supporting abundant populations of higher aquatic life such as ducks, amphibians and carp.

In Wisconsin, an organic dairy farm is at the center of Martina and Christopher Mann’s national effort, centered in East Troy, Wisconsin, to promote Bio-dynamic and organic farming.

Their Nokomis Farm is a partnership comprised of a commercial farm in close cooperation with an innovative educational and agricultural research center called Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, also in East Troy. Nokomis Farm itself consists of 240 acres and is part of a larger ecological farm system totaling 550 acres. The Institute’s farm intern program provides workers for the farm and provides research into sustainable systems and organic/biodynamic agriculture for direct application at the farm.

Nokomis Farm will take its ‘waste’ and make it into part of the economic success - instead of sending it Away.

The farm had been laboring under a failing waste disposal system which began to contaminate fields downhill. Now those fields are becoming part of a developing showcase for integrated systems agriculture creating high standards of treatment. Additionally, the whole physical system is a particularly attractive landscape feature and adds welcomed revenue from the sale of harvested produce, as we’ll see below.

A system designed in a collaboration between Flowforms America and Industrial Design Professor William Becker of the University of Illinois – Chicago, has resulted in creation of a constructed wetland -  replacing the mire and leaching of too many nutrients into local waterways. Now their first year, the  wetlands are ready to be planted and to begin their life, in earnest, as a bioremediation system for farm ‘waste.’

The challenge lies in maintaining adequate oxygen levels to support the aerobic (non-smelly) bacterial action that breaks down organic material from the cows and milk residues. That’s the point where Flowforms gets down to work.

After the solids are separated out, the liquid effluent travels down a cascade of twelve Flowforms which begins the whole renewing process. Moving through the cascade in the characteristic flowforming manner – making a figure-eight pattern - the liquid becomes deeply aerated as it flows over itself many, many times. This movement over itself is called a lemniscate effect - adding oxygen to the layers of liquid – allowing the water to open to other influences from Above.

Standing at the top of the cascade, it’s almost hard to believe that the lively, tumbling fluid is not that far removed in time or proximity from the barn floor. It isn’t clear and clean water yet, but you can tell it’s already on its way. There is no bad smell from the cascade flow.

This liquid is being moved into a system which can soon turn the flowing nutrient into ‘gold’ after entering the primary treatment pond at the end of the cascade. In this pond, the real alchemy begins when a balance of bugs, plants, and aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) processes make the nutrient into stable and usable forms – the ‘gold’ upon which the roots of plants thrive. This balancing process is called root zone filtration…Nature not knowing ‘waste’ or ‘Away.’

Interestingly, although these processes could work without Flowforms, ponds would have to be constructed 30% larger to do the aerobic work done in the cascade! – something discovered by constructed wetland specialists Simon Charter of Ebb and Flow and Andrew Joiner of Iris Water Design in the UK.

The liquid is now directed to the secondary pond through a transitional bacterialcidal (kills harmful bacteria) zone made of plants whose roots are particularly astringent. Ironically, these same transitional plants - like mentha aquatica, or water mint, and acorus calamus, or sweet flag - whose roots digest harmful bacteria, often have particularly sweet-smelling leaves.

In the secondary pond, the stabilization process is completed with the help of another Flowform cascade which continually takes water out and returns water to the pond - ‘finishing’ the water before it is sent to a field of hazelnut trees whose mulched leaves support crops of shiitake mushrooms. The water does one last job of nourishing income-producing crops on Nokomis Farm before returning to earth’s cycle. 

So we ARE learning…

“The larger the Island of Knowledge, 

the longer the Shoreline of Ignorance.“


That was dad’s answer, many years ago, to my tearful lament about feeling ‘dumb’ and having ‘too many’ questions. As his big hands shaped an expanding island in the air, he asked me to watch its ‘shoreline’ grow and grow. I suddenly saw that my own Island of Knowledge must be quite big in order to generate so many questions. So I kept the Shoreline active...asking LOTS of questions…and thank dad for his gentle, balancing gift.

So, the more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

If some of our problems have been created from being too firmly planted on our Islands of Knowledge/Science, perhaps it is not from that place, alone, that we should seek to solve those same problems. So a swim in a Sea of Intuition might refresh us enough to see anew…to view familiar things in unfamiliar ways.

Seems that people standing on their own Shoreline of Ignorance often awaken to insights. Flowforms water vessels are a gift from people having arrived at just such a place.

Schauberger, Schwenk, and Wilkes speak through the voices in Water. Listening with our bodies as well as our ears, we can hear our deep connection with the shapes of water resonating intimately within.

Flowforms are a manifestation of what we are beginning to understand is our being IN Nature ourselves.


Reprinted by exclusive and expressed permission of the author.



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