The Wigan Mining Monument

WordPress blogger Wednesday’s Child has been very quiet in recent months. Not suprising given that she’s a doctor working in a hospital in Manchester. I hope she’s keeping safe and healthy.

I enjoy reading her posts and particularly like one of her themes – statues and monuments in Manchester, Glasgow and other locations. Wigan, being a bit of a cultural backwater, has rather a dearth of public art works, but in recent years the local council and other organisations have made some effort to install some sculpture and monuments in and around the town centre. The most recent, installed last year celebrates the mining heritage of Wiagn.

Despite Wigan once being the “capital” of the Lancashire coalfield, there was nothing to mark that and celebrate the heritage of an industry that used to dominate the town. It took a group of volunteers -the Wigan Heritage and Mining Monument group, WHAMM – a registered charity formed by two local women Anne Catterall and Sheila Ramsdale, which raised the funds to provide a statue in a prominent location in Wigan town centre.

The project came to fruition last year but, unfortunately, the planned unveiling ceremony couldn’t go ahead due to you know what.

The statue, created by sculptor Steve Winterburn, depicts a man, woman and child, probably a family, all of who worked in the pits. They’re wearing the traditional footwear – wooden clogs with clog irons and as the sculpture doesn’t have base or plinth so that they appear to be walking on the cobbled street.

The woman, carrying a sieve or screen, would have been a “Pit Brow Lass“, one of the women who worked on the surface (women being forbidden to work underground by the Mines and Collieries Act 1842) at the coal screens on the pit bank (or brow) picking stones from the coal after it was hauled to the surface or loading wagons.

Coal has been mined in Wigan from at least the 16th century, and the industry grew to dominate the town, peaking around the end of the nineteenth century. According to local history records, in the 1840’s there were over 1000 pit shafts within a 5 mile radius of Wigan town centre. 

Source: Wigan World

The Northern Mining Research Society has compiled a list of colleries in the area that were opened in the 19 Century. There aren’t any left now – the last pits in the Borough and Lancashire coalfield closed after the big strike of 1984.

Over three centuries, more than 750 million tons of coal were mined from the vast Wigan coalfields, which over time had over 1000 pits, large and small. It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of the town to the industrial revolution and the wealth it brought to Britain. However, this was achieved at great cost to local people. Hundreds of people died in accidents, and countless thousands were maimed or left with diseases caused by the working conditions. Two huge mining disasters are still remembered and commemorated more than a century after they occurred. In 1908, 75 men lost their lives in the Maypole pit near Abram.

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Unemployed Wigan miner in the 1930’s Source: Wigan World

There are few traces of the industry around the town these days. So the monument is a very welcome addition to the town to remind us of a proud heritage and tradition, and, more importantly as a tribute to the thousands of local people – men women and children – who laboured in awful conditions in the pits

Cemaes

After our walk around Parys Mountain we decided we’d drive a little further along the north coast of the island to the small resort of Cemaes – the most northerly village in Wales. Originally a fishing village, particularly for herring, and a port for the export of bricks, today it very much relies on tourism with it’s sandy beaches and pretty little harbour.

We drove into the village, missing the turn for the car park down by the beach but managed to find a large car park up the behind the main shopping street. I was amazed to find that parking there was free. Makes a change!

It’s quite a small place and it didn’t take long to look round. We walked along the main street, which had a only a few shops (some of them shut down, sadly), and then down towards the picturesque harbour. the tide was out so the fishing and pleasure boats were all stranded in the mud.

There was still some evidence of fishing and we saw a couple of men loading up crates of lobsters into their van. None for sale locally, though.

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Then on to the beach

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There were signs up making it clear that dogs were only allowed on a resticted section of the beach during the main season (which hadn’t finished). But what did we see. Yes, several dog walkers ignoring the instruction. It illustrates the problem that if you implement meaures people are required to follow the message must be clear (it was in this case), reinforced and enforced. Just the same with masks and social distancing at the moment. (Rant over!) Having said that, there were very few people on the beach and the promenade. It was very quiet and peaceful.

We were intrigued by this structure standing on the beach

A little research revealled it to be “St Patricks bell“. It’s one of several bells located at coastal locations around the UK by the Time and Tide project to celebrate the connection of local communities between themselves, the land, the sea and the environment. In Cemaes the bell celebrates the local legend that St Patrick was shipwrecked on the nearby island,Ynys Badrig, where he founded a church in 440 AD, introducing Christianity to Britain.

The bell is rung by the high tide, and is meant as a reminder of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Gillian Clark, a favourite poet of mine, composed a poem for the dedication of the bell and read it at the installation ceremony

Mewn gwynt a glaw,
gwyll neu oleuni,
heulwen, lloergan,
pan fo’r tonnau’n taro
ar y traeth dan dynfa’r lleuad,
bob dydd, adeg y penllanw,
swn y tonnau,
sain y gloch yn canu.

And in English:

At the turn of the earth,
heartbeat of the deep
under the wind’s breath,
as the sea stirs in sleep
under the moon’s gravitational pull,
when the tide’s at the full,
at the twelfth hour
the bell will toll.

Cast in bronze, the colour of the metal changes due to the action of the environment – air, water and salt.

I notice that one of the bells was installed last year on the Stone Jetty in Morecambe. I’ll have to go and have a look some time.

We didn’t stay very long but after strolling along the beach set back off to our accommodation, stopping at the sizeable Co-op in Amlych to pick up a few supplies. We then finished off the afternoon by walking down to Lligwy beach. Unfortunately the little cafe was closed 😦

Mungrisdale sheepfold

One of the main impacts on my lifestyle due to this damn virus (besides working from home) has been that we’ve been unable to get out and about visiting galleries and exhibitions. So this blog has become a little more one dimensional than usual focusing almost exclusively on my walking. However, during my walk from Mungrisdale a couple of weeks ago I remembered reading somewhere that there was one of Andy Goldsworthy’s Cumbrian sheepfolds near the village. Luckily I had 4G reception on top of Souther Fell and a quick internet search took me to a site that revealed that there was indeed not just one, but two, in fields near Redmire Farm. So, as I expected to get back down to the village mid afternoon and was in no hurry to drive home on a fine day, I decided to see if I could find them. As it transpired, I wasn’t entirely successful.

Reaching the car I decided to dump my walking poles in the boot as I didn’t think I’d need them crossing the expected flat terrain. Following the directions on the website I walked about half mile walk down the road and then turned off down a farm track, and climbed over a stile to take a path across a field. Looking ahead I could see that there was a small herd of cows with their claves standing halfway across the field right on the route of the path. Well, cows might seem fairly docile most of the time but can get aggressive if they think their calves could be threatened and there have been some incidents where people have been injured when charged by the beasties. I decided to be cautious and veered off the route of the path to maintain my distance from them. They looked at me suspiciously as I crossed the field and as I drew level with them they all suddenly started to charge in my direction. Now I was wishing I’d kept hold of my walking poles! As it happened they ran past me stopping at the other side of the field.

Reaching the drystone wall I climber over the stile and there was the sheepfold.

Unlike the others from the project that I’d seen, it was relatively plain – a perfectly round structure, built using traditional dry stone walling techniques, with a narrow entrance.

The instructions to reach the second sheepfold were not so clear but I carried on across the fields to look for it. I’d read that this work appears to be just a heap of gathered stones but that it contains a finished sheepfold concealed among them.

I saw this pile of stones in the next field, overgrown with vegetation. It looked a little underwhelming.

But when I checked the project website on returning home I discovered that I hadn’t gone quite far enough – it was a little further on in the next field. Ah well, at least I managed to find one of them and enjoy the opportunity to get a “fix” of sculpture and tick off another one of Goldsworthy’s structures. I’ll be up that way again, and hopefully there won’t be cows in the fields next time I decide to try and find it!

(I had to cross the field of cows again retracing my steps. They kept their eyes on me again, but this time they stayed put)

Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond at the YSP

It seems forever since I took a week off work but it was only 3 weeks ago. Such a lot has happened since then. The weather at the beginning of that week hadn’t been so great but by the Thursday things had brightened up and we decided we’d drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, A new exhibition had just started and we wanted to see how J’s name had weathered on the new “Walk of Art”.

It was bright and sunny when we arrived, but very windy. It continued like that for most of the day, and it was very muddy underfoot, so we didn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked walking around the grounds (in fact, the paths around the lake were closed off due to the strong wind). However, there was plenty to see in the Underground Gallery and the more sheltered areas close to it.

We parked up by the new Weston Gallery, Restaurant and Shop so we could take a look at the Walk of Art. The plates installed last summer had weathered and oxidised, blending in with the ones that had been installed earlier that year.

We set off battling against the wind across the muddy fields of the parkland over towards the old chapel and the Underground Gallery.

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We called in to the Chapel to look at the exhibition Something About Paradise by Saad Qureshi, that was due to close a few days after our visit. More about that in another post

The new main exhibition, which had only opened a few days before our visit, features works by the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos. As has been the case several times during visits to the major exhibitions at the YSP, I hadn’t heard of this feminist artist. The exhibition website tells us that she

creates vibrant, often monumental sculpture, using fabric, needlework and crochet alongside everyday objects from saucepans to wheel hubs. She frequently uses items associated with domestic work and craft to comment from a feminist perspective on national and collective identity, cultural tradition and women’s roles in society.

I think that sums up what we saw very well.

The first of her works that we saw as we walked across towards the main visitor centre was this giant ceramic cockerel Pop Galo [Pop Rooster] (2016) which was inspired by the image of the Portuguese rooster.

The sculpture is over nine-metres-high and is covered by 17,000 glazed tiles. It also includes 15,000 LED lights which are illuminated at dusk while a composition by musician Jonas Runa is played. As we’d left well before dusk we weren’t able to see and hear that – perhaps we’ll have the opportunity towards the back end of the year – assuming we’re let out by then!

The large scale nature of this, and many other of her works, means that they’re necessarily a collaborative effort. The role of the artist is more of a designer than craftsperson – rather like that of an architect during the construction of a landmark building.

Moving inside the Underground Gallery the first works we saw this statue of the godess Diana covered by a cotton crotchet

and three ceramic animal heads, similarly adorned.

Moving into the first gallery there were several large works including this giant pistol made of 168 old style telephone handsets with the sound of a modern electro-acoustic composition by Jonas Runa playing. A number of the works in the exhibition incorporate music.

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Call Center (2014-16)

In the next gallery you couldn’t miss these gigantic high heel shoes made of stainless steel saucepans. The work was created for the Milan fashion show

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and hanging from the ceiling was this massive work, inspired by the Valkyries of Norse legend, made from fabric and crocheted panels

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Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi (2014)

Another large crocheted work in the 3rd gallery

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Finisterrra (2018)

Moving outside, there were a number of large scale works on display.

This massive mask, constructed from Baroque style mirrors, was on the lawn facing the Underground Gallery.

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I’ll be Your Mirror ~1/7 (2018-20)

I wouldn’t mind a tea pot as big as this one! Although being made of wrought iron “lace work” it wouldn’t be so good for holding the tea.

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Pavilion de The (2012)

and, similarly, this jug wouldn’t be so good for storing your wine

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Pavilion de Vin (2016)

This gigantic ring, perched at the top of the lawn above the Underground Gallery, is made of hubcaps with a diamond made of whiskey glasses is a statement on consumerism and the greed for material possessions and wealth.

Solitario (2018)

The final work outdoors, sited near to Barbara Hepworth’s Family of Man, was this oversized ice cream cone constructed of plastic sand moulds of apples, pears, strawberries and croissants.

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Tutti Frutti (2019)

As is usually the case with exhibitions at the YSP, this one merits another visit. Unfortunately the park is closed now for the foreseeable future.

Louise Bourgeois in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

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Spider (1996)

If you’re scared of spiders, it’s probably best if you keep away from the Rijksmuseum Gardens at the moment! For the last few years there’s been an exhibition of works by a noted sculptor in the gardens, and this year they have works on display by Louise Bourgeois, who is well known for her bronze sculptures of giant spiders,

When we’d looked around the Tassel Museum we wandered along the canals, grabbed a bite to eat and then made our way to the Rijksmuseum. We expected that there would be an exhibition in the gardens and we knew we’d have time to have a look before we got the train back to Haarlem. And, unlike the main part of the museum, entry is free! We hadn’t checked out what was on but as soon as we spotted the first sculpture, we knew who the artist was! Luckily spiders don’t scare me, as several of the arachnid monsters are on display! !

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Crouching spider (2005)

The gardens themselves are very attractive and popular on a sunny day – and the sun kept breaking through the cloud while we were there.

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Louise Bourgeois grew up in a suburb of Paris, in a family of antique tapestry dealers and restorers. In 1938, following her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater, she emigrated to the United States. It took a long while before her work was acknowledged, as it was quite different from the type of art popular in America at the time. and she only started to become popular in the 1970s when she was in her 60’s.

Her work often represents aspects of her life. the spiders, for example, are influenced by her protective mother who, although she didn’t spin webs, was a weaver and by the familie’s tapestry repair business.

I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bask into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it

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Spider couple (2003)

This was probably the only one of the 12 sculptures on display I wasn’t so keen on. It rather reminded me of the monsters that used to appear in Doctor Who in the 1970’s – perhaps that’s why!

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In and Out #2 (1995-6)

This was the earliest work on display. It’s quite different from the others and rather like the works of Brancusi. It’s apparently meant to be a self portrait of the artist surrounded by her 3 children.

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Quarantania (1947-53)
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Welcoming Hands (1996)

This rather moving group of bronze sculptures displayed on rough stone pedestals, represent friendship and solidarity. They were originally displayed in New York on a site with a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where immigrants first arrived in America, although they are now normally sited in the Tuilleries in Paris. Their message has a contemporary resonance with all the movement of people trying to escape war and poverty, looking for a better life. Some people show friendship and solidarity to them. Sadly, in these cruel times, too many don’t.

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This sculpture of a child’s hand was particularly touching (emotionally, that is, of course)

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Fountain (1999)
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Untitled (2004)

These two high-gloss aluminium sculptures of Untitled (2004), hanging from the branches of the great wingnut tree, refer to her father’s habit of storing chairs by hanging them on roof beams in the attic of their home

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Inside the museum entrance atrium there were four seats in the form of giant eyes

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Source: https://www.azquotes.com/author/18216-Louise_Bourgeois

Basketry in Ruthin

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Last week we were in North Wales where we’d booked an apartment in Anglesey, on the coast between Menai Bridge and Beaumaris for a family holiday. It’s only a couple of hours drive from home (or a bit longer during holiday times as the A55 gets chocker with traffic at the weekend) and we couldn’t get into the apartment before 4 o’clock, so we decided to break the journey by visiting the historic town of Ruthin, in the Vale of Clwyd. We parked up by the Ruthin Craft centre where we had a bite to eat in the excellent little cafe before taking a look round the current exhibition.

The Craft Centre is something of a hidden gem. Located in a modern building on the outskirts of the town centre (on what used to be the site of the railway station before the line was closed back in the 1960’s) it has craft studios, gallery exhibition spaces, restaurant, craft library and, of course, a shop. Most of the craft studios seemed to be unoccupied (due to economic factors, no doubt) so it’s not really a place to see craftspeople at work. But it has a good, airy display space and they always seem to pull together a good programme of exhibitions which straddle the border between “craft” and “art”

The latest exhibition – Basketry: Function & Ornament with works on display by 30 “creators”, had opened the day of our visit and was a good example of how “craft” and “art” are not necessarily different categories, but part of a continuum. The Craft Centre’s website tells us that the exhibition

brings together functional vernacular work from various parts of the country, alongside pieces that are sculptural and ornamental. It is a survey of a craft that has been somewhat sidelined in times of great technological advances, yet offers a sustainable answer to so much of our modern day throw-away habits.

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Some of the works were traditional baskets and the like, all beautifully made,

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Baskets by Mandy Coates
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Baskets by Mandy Coates

but many of the works were artistic, sculptural forms that were decorative rather than utilitarian. There were some exquisite pieces – works of art created using traditional craft techniques.

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Piece made of willow by Lizzie Farley
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Piece made of willow by Lizzie Farley
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Piece made of willow by Lizzie Farley
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Three pieces by Mary Butcher
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Burden baskets made of carbon steel wire by Stella Harding
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Nests made by Joe Hogan

Kimsooja: To Breathe at the YSP

While we were visiting the YSP the other Saturday, we made a particular effort to go and take a look at the exhibition in the old Georgian Chapel building. It’s a really beautiful, very contemplative, space and the YSP use it for some inspirational installations.

As part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International, the YSP commissioned the South Korean artist Kimsooja to create a work in the chapel. It’s a simple concept – the floor has been covered with mirrors and the windows with a special nanopolymer diffraction film. A recording of the artist breathing, with changing rhythms, was also played.

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The film diffracts the light shining through the windows splitting it into it’s component colours and creating rainbow like patterns on the walls and ceiling which are reflected by the mirrors on the floor.

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The patterns will vary depending on the light coming through the windows and so will change with the weather and the time of day.

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It’s a very beautiful work.

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The YSP website describes it as a

visually spectacular and meditative installation, creating an intimate and shared encounter.

I have to agree!

As with other works we’ve seen in the chapel, photographs can’t do it justice. It needs to be seen and experienced.

Only a limited number of people are allowed in the chapel at a time for this installation, so we had a short wait before we could enter. Visitors were also asked to try to not make too much noise so that everyone could experience the contemplative atmosphere. We were also asked not to touch the floor. Of course, not everyone respected this (sadly) and one family were not just allowing their children to lie on the floor but seemed to be actively encouraging them to do so. At the risk of coming across as a “grumpy old man” (which I guess I am) I sometimes despair at the behaviour and lack of respect of some people. But it didn’t spoil the visit.

There’s another work by Kimsooja on display in the YSP grounds – a 14-metre-high sculpture A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir . There are similarities with the installation in the chapel in that the tall. conical, needle like structure consists principally of transparent acrylic panels coated with the nano polymer, and with a mirrored floor. Sunlight shining through the panels is diffracted and split into different colours producing patterns which change with conditions, the direction of the sunlight and the position of the viewer.

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And looking inside the structure at the mirrored floor makes it look as if the sculpture extends deep into the ground.

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It’s not as mind blowing as the installation in the chapel, but an interesting work, nevertheless.

David Smith at the YSP

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David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 is YSP’s headline exhibition for 2019 and their principal contribution to the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International. As usual with their main exhibitions there are a large number of works in the Underground Gallery, with more outdoors, outside the gallery and up on the large lawn.

Smith challenged sculptural conventions and was the first artist in the USA to work with welded metal, becoming known for his mastery of steel. Although hugely influential to the development of abstract sculpture internationally, few of his works are held in non-US public collections, so he is rarely shown in Europe.

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Smith was an innovator – he was the first artist in the USA to work with welded metal, rather than carving or casting. He wasn’t the first to do this, he was influenced by Picasso and the Spanish sculptor Julio González, but he took the idea and developed it. He was also influenced by Russian Constructivism, Piet Mondrian, and Alberto Giacometti’s biomorphic forms. He influenced others too, including the British sculptor, Anthony Caro.

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His works are industrial, influenced by his experience of working as a welder and riveter in a car factory  during a summer job and during WWII he worked as a welder for the American Locomotive CompanySchenectady, NY assembling locomotives and tanks.

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At first, Smith used an oxyacetylene torch, but during World War II he mastered electric arc welding at the American Locomotive Factory.   He ran his studio in Bolton Landing, upstate New York, like a factory, stocking with large amounts of raw material and working to a routine, just like a factory worker (albeit one who worked long hours!).

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As well as welding, he used other industrial processes, bending and forging metal.

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And creating finishes using angle grinders, to score the surface of the metal, and paint.

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In 1962, he was invited by the Italian government to relocate and create sculptures for the Festival of Two Worlds. He was given a warehouse and a team of artisans who helped him in producing 27 pieces in 30 days. After his time there was over, still buzzing with ideas, he had tons of steel shipped back to Bolton Landing to keep working. 

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There’s an interesting article about his life, working methods and creative process by his daughter, here.

An early start for the YSP

It was our wedding anniversary last Saturday (6th July), a cause for a celebration. But there was another reason why it was a special day.

We were up early, despite it being a Saturday, to drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a favourite place which we usually visit 2 or 3 times a year to see exhibitions and enjoy a walk through the park. This time, however, we were going to a special event. For Christmas I’d paid for my wife’s name to be cast in iron as part of the “Walk of Art 2” on the pathway leading into the new visitor centre, the Weston. The second section of the walk, which includes her entry, had been recently installed and we were attending the official opening.

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There were speeches by Peter Murray, the YSP’s Director, Gordon Young, the artist who designed the work as well as his granddaughter

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Peter Murray
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Gordon Young
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Gordon Young and Sophie, his granddaughter
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We then went outdoors where the artist and his grandchildren cut the ribbon to officially open “Walk of Art 2

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Cutting the ribbon
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The names are cast in iron on a series of plates (my wife’s entry is on Plate 27) . Newly installed they were reddish-brown but will change over time due to weathering. The first set of plates, installed a few months ago, had already weathered and were more of a silvery-grey colour.

My wife’s name is on one of these plates

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but you’ll have to guess which one it is!

The new visitor centre is at the far end of the park, on the car park nearest to the M1. It’s quite a lot smaller than the main centre, but has a restaurant, small gallery and shop. The design is quite clean and simple, constructed from layered pigmented concrete with lots of wood and glass

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The architects have designed in sustainable features such as natural ventilation, an air-source heat pump, a low-energy environmental control system and a wild-flower roof .

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Inside the Weston’s gallery

The new visitor centre has opened up the far end of the park for displaying art, which make it even harder to see everything in one day’s visit!

Currently there are a number of works by Damien Hirst, the Leeds born artist, on display as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition which is being run in partnership with the Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

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After the ceremony we strolled across the park to visit the new exhibitions that have opened in the Underground Gallery and the Chapel – I’ll be writing them up in a couple of other posts – and to have a wander round the park looking at some new exhibits as well as some old favourites.

The One and the Many

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The reason I’d decided to wander over to Fitzrovia while I was in London last Wednesday was that I wanted to take a look at a sculpture by a favourite contemporary artist, Peter Randall-Page, which is sited in a new development, Fitzroy Place, off Mortimer Street. It’s right next to the Fitzrovia Chapel, a Grade II listed building was the former chapel of The Middlesex Hospital.

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The One and The Many’, is sculpted from a 24 tonne naturally eroded granite boulder and inscribed with many of the world’s scripts and symbols. 

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The scripts carved on the work are all related to cosmology and the material/poetical formation of the universe. I shot a few close ups.

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Translations of all the scripts can be seen on a website devoted to the sculpture. The website also includes some photographs of the artist at work on his creation.