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Avon Meadows – Beauty and Utility

21 Dec

I’m thrilled to be one of three creative practitioners commissioned by Meadow Arts to make an artwork and to work with community groups and or schools responding to the seasons and changing environment at Avon Meadows in Pershore.

View of Pershore Abbey

Meadow Arts is working with the Floodplain Meadows Partnership which represents a number of key organisations and is hosted by the Open University, School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences.

Historically, floodplains have been significant for food production provision of hay for feeding animals n winter and as grazing for animals. They are highly fertile due to being nourished by river silts during seasonal floods. And by managing the floodplains, the meadows evolve into wildflower grasslands. The wetlands are also important sites for birds, amphibians, and other wildlife. It is this combination of beauty and utility that is an overall theme for the art project.

There is an excellent website about the site run by the Friends of Avon Meadows, a charity who support the management of the Meadows, which are owned by Pershore Town Council and Wychavon District Council.

My project will cover the Winter months from December through to February, although the public workshops are likely to take place later due to the current Covid restrictions. 

The artwork I am planning to make relates to the themes of flooding and the meadow’s role in natural flood attenuation or “breathing space” of the river, alleviating peak flows downstream.  It will also touch on biodiversity which is boosted by the seasonal flooding and distribution of nutrients.  I will be using plant materials to make paper for my artwork, and I will use dyes and pigments derived from plants, berries, soil and other materials gathered from the Avon Meadows.

I’m looking forward to working with the community on papermaking and dyeing/printing paper using gathered plant materials, and have had some initial discussions with local schools and The Friends of Avon Meadows. 

After an initial visit to Avon Meadows in October to survey what plants I might be able to use, I made my first project visit this week to gather reeds from which to make paper sheets. The reeds (phragmites australis) provide a valuable role in improving water quality in the surface run off from nearby built up areas flowing into the river. I saw that some of the reeds were being harvested to ensure they maintain healthy growth next year. 

I also gathered sloes, rosehips, hawthorn berries, grass, alder cones, ivy berries and some of the rich silty clay from the wetlands.  I left plenty of berries for the birds. I plan to start producing the paper and create a range of dyes/pigments over the next week or so and begin trying out some different options for constructing the final artwork.

The weather was kind, so I could enjoy the fabulous winter colours in the landscape.

Dramatic skies. On this and during my previous visit, I caught glimpses of herons flying, willow warblers, redwings and snipe.

And already the water was rising across most of the land:

Very appropriately there was plenty of mistletoe in the trees. I’ll continue to post progress updates as the artwork develops. Merry Christmas!

Walking on the spot

27 Apr

During the last few weeks of the Covid lockdown, projects I’ve been working towards over 2-3 years have been halted in their tracks, maybe irretrievably, and my walking artist practice has been curtailed somewhat.  Having come to terms with that, for the time being at least, I began to refocus on my local walks in and around Frankwell in Shrewsbury.

Very soon I found myself working on ideas for three or more artist books (more on that in a future post or two) and developing some areas of my practice that I had planned to use in a couple of projects.  These involved using plant materials and found objects to make and adapt paper or fabric for further use in drawings, collage, painting or printmaking.  I began to create a process of making work about the landscape using materials from the landscape.

In addition, with schools being closed, I was able to spend more time working with my 11 year old daughter, Eliza.  We experimented with materials and learnt some new techniques together.

Eliza assisted in making a couple of short videos demonstrating paper making with plant materials and scrap paper.  These videos can be used by anyone as a resource to try this out for themselves.

Here’s the first in which we prepare pulp from garden plants:

Here’s the second explaining how we then made paper with plant and scrap paper pulp using some simple equipment:

After this, we did some sketches and paintings of some garden flowers.

We tried printing on our paper using flowers and leaves gathered from around the garden – I’ve enjoyed doing this with groups following walks in the past.  Here is a brief downloadable guide to dyeing/printing paper or fabric using plants and rust:

Plant dyeing

A small selection of examples of our prints:

Just to add a durational aspect to our work, we planted some woad seeds, and hopefully by the Autumn we will have a good batch of leaves so that we can make some beautiful indigo dye to add to our dyes using madder root and weld.

 

A Journey with Mary Webb School

16 Jul

Earlier this month, it was my pleasure to lead a project under the Meadow Arts Inspires arts education programme with 14 Year 9 children and teachers at Mary Webb School and Science College in Pontesbury.  The project took place over four days from 2nd July to 5th July 2019 and supports Meadow Arts work towards the Arts Council’s goal 5 for children and young people.

The project explored the theme of Journey using found materials from a rural landscape.  I adopted a spiral as a symbol of a life journey in which a person keeps close to inner beliefs and experience but continuously moves outwards to new and wider horizons.  The work was also built around a quote from Rebecca Solit’s book ” A Field Guide to Getting Lost” after Plato’s “Meno”:

That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find and finding it is a matter of getting lost”

I hoped that the project might help the students develop ways of working so that they could find independent solutions to problems from uncertain situations in which there are many choices.

Aims

High level aims for the project were to:

  • Explore an artist practice using observation and findings from immediate surroundings
  • Experiment, improvise and take artistic risks

The students were also invited to take part in activities towards an Arts Award Discover certificate.

Activities

Day 1: Andrew Howe led the group of students on a walk from the school into the woodland surrounding Pontesford Hill.  Students were encouraged to pay attention to all their senses and to gather objects, photographs, tracings/texture rubbings and other materials for later use in artworks.

In the morning, the students split into 3 groups and spent an hour working with sticks, branches, leaves and other found materials to construct sculptural works based on a spiral.  The students were aware of Andy Goldsworthy’s work using natural materials.

After lunch, students had some time to make observational drawings from the landscape.

On return to the school, leaves and other plant matter were gathered and placed within stacks of watercolour paper for dyeing by boiling for an hour in two batches using iron and alum mordants. 

The resulting papers were later put together into a large spiral and stamped with the Solnit quote for mounting on a wall in the school reception area.

Day 2: The artist demonstrated a method for developing abstract designs based layers of tracings and drawings made directly from found objects and photographs.  The students learnt about the work of Joseph Cornell, Ingid Calame and Mark Bradford.

Students created initial studies from their found materials, using drawing, photo transfers and mixed media techniques.  Some of these studies and the found objects were developed further into 3D assemblages housed within wooden boxes.  The boxes were constructed by the school technician and displayed on a wall in a spiral formation.

Days 3 and 4: Students created work using one or more techniques including:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Photography and digital manipulation of images for photo transfers
  • Printing/stencilling (monoprinting using gelli plates and screenprinting); and
  • Collage

These works were incorporated into A5 size handmade concertina books for display alongside the box assemblages.

The students chose to interpret the theme of journey in different ways.  Some considered the artistic process exploring print technique and designs as a journey, some took a personal view of their own life journey, some took inspiration directly from their observations on the group walk, some worked with maps of the local area.

At the end of the project, all of the students worked in pairs to reflect on their own and their partner’s work.  They each then shared some positive comments to the whole group on what they enjoyed about their partner’s work and why.

Review

The two key aims of the project were met because:

  • After some initial hesitancy, all of the students took the opportunity to experiment with techniques that were new to them. There were good examples of students taking a simple design based on found objects or photos from the walk, and developing this through a series of drawings, prints and or collage to successful work which they could incorporate into a book.
    • This encouraged students to innovate and strive for excellence in their future work
    • This also enabled a personal progression as students became willing to try new techniques which they could see would be valuable in future
  • Most of the group commented in their art logs how they made the realisation that art work could be inspired by what they observe in their immediate surroundings. The walk forged new connections between the students and their surrounding landscape.
    • This provided a means for students to be authentic, making their own personal responses to what they experience around them
  • The dyeing with plants made a big impact with the group and with teachers, as everyone could see how beautiful results could be achieved simply and quickly using found and readily available materials
  • Everyone found that Gelli plate printing was an accessible method to experiment with designs, stencils, textures and paint and achieve effective, expressive results
  • The box assemblages and outdoor collaborative sculptures presented greater challenges for the group, although most people enjoyed these activities and made some successful work
  • The students engaged with the project with enthusiasm, and many expressed how much they enjoyed the experience in their art logs.
  • It was observed that the students worked well together in small groups, sharing ideas, helping each other with difficulties, all of which helped to create a positive and inclusive experience. As these students will all progress towards GCSE level in art, the project will help to build teamwork, belonging and ownership.

A couple of feedback comments:

“This week has linked with my everyday life because it is a journey.  I do many journeys a day.  This week has shown me that walks and journeys can teach you something…

“…I have enjoyed learning new processes, including the gelli plate printing, and I got to stamp the spiral with the quote.

I have enjoyed this experience greatly”  Student

 

“Students were encouraged to ponder on problems and develop their own ideas which was great and what we wanted throughout the workshop”

“Thank you again for all your efforts with our students, this was a really valuable experience for them.” Teacher