NEWPORT COMMUNITY INFANT ACADEMY ARTSWEEK 2015 – Soil Culture*
I was recently invited to develop and lead environmental art activities for Newport Community School in Barnstaple, North Devon. The activities offered opportunities for staff and pupils to explore and celebrate our relationships with Nature, in particular soil and local earth pigments. The school has 500 pupils between 3 and 12 years old. A range of activities, including mud painting, making soil balls, bundles of sticks and leaf sorting, were presented to the teaching staff and then left for them to interpret. The communal artworks created were included in an exhibition for children and parents at the end of the week and a 6x1m earth pigment painting made by the whole school was left as legacy of the week’s hard work.
For me to develop such a large-scale event for so many was extremely daunting – how teachers do it day-in-day-out is amazing! It was incredible to see a painting evolve at the hands of 500 children, with only the most arbitrary guidelines, to become a vibrant expression of their experience and of North Devon itself. All participatory group paintings I have facilitated have somehow turned out well, but I have never tried it with 500 children before, and it is certainly a way of working I hope to pursue further in the future. The other simple activities, and reflection upon them, seemed to give children and staff space to try something new and also a space to learn through a different, more hands-on approach. The whole event has given me a great deal of satisfaction and confidence to tackle such events again in the future.
The exhibition was well attended by some most bemused but interested parents looking for their individual child’s work only to find it absorbed into the totality. The school, to their credit, thoroughly got behind both the educational and experiential value of art activities and also the contemporary conceptual nature of the final exhibition. Many thanks to Georgie Treanor for helping organize ARTSWEEK and to the children, teachers and staff for their patient and enthusiastic participation, and to Francesca for her support and help preparing the canvas.
soil . making paint . local history . geology . local resources . environment . culture
INTRODUCTION to TEACHERS PACK
“Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible” Paul Klee
Art is one way we learn about the world. The learning and creative processes are based on both sensory experience and reflection. The process and expression of such experience is what we know as Art. From the beginning of human history we have learnt about the world through experience of the materials that are available in our immediate surroundings. From this experience, and through trial and error, we have developed the technologies to enable us to survive. As communications and transport have become more versatile and far reaching we have often lost our knowledge and understanding of the local environment and the materials it provides.
In North Devon, as elsewhere, our culture and identity as a region has been based on the natural resources available. For many centuries the chief industries were mining, for iron and copper, and sheep farming wool on the steep hills and valleys. The soils have promoted a rich and varied agriculture from dairy and beef cattle to crops. Bideford and Barnstaple both had large potteries supplied by clay pits in Fremington and Peters Marland. The potteries have unfortunately closed now but the white ball clay pits at Peters Marland and Meeth still quarry and export clay for use in brick- and paper-making. And, of course, Bideford has a black earth pigment named after it that was mined until 1969. Bideford Black was used in the boat industry, to paint tanks in WW2 and by Max Factor to make mascara.
By learning about the materials in our local environment and appreciating their importance to our lives it is hoped that we may also learn to respect them a little more.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself” Zen Proverb
- THE SOUND OF CHILDREN LISTENING – we have quietly listened to the wind and trees and birds and the sounds of Newport. We have felt the sun and wind and rain on our faces and the earth beneath our feet.
- CIRCLES MADE BY WALKING – we have been walking in big circles on the playing field, making big muddy drawings with our feet.
- 500 children – communal painting on canvas by all members of the school using North Devon Earth Pigments. We have learnt about where paint comes from, how the rocks it is made from are formed, where they can be found in North Devon and how to make paint before adding our mark to the big painting.
- Soil Balls – we have been investigating soil brought in by teachers from around North Devon to see what it is made of and what creatures live in it and then forming it into balls with our hands.
- LEAF COLLAGES – we have been collecting leaves and sorting them to see how many different plants, shapes and colours there are.
- CHARCOAL DRAWINGS – we have been looking very closely at leaves and drawing them using charcoal.
- BUNDLES OF STICKS – we have been gathering sticks from the playing field and tying them together. This simple activity has led to discussions about fuel, building materials and ways of tying things.
- DIRTY HANDS – we have been getting our hands ‘dirty’, covering them and some paper with mud.
- CORDYLINE STRUCTURES – we have been using cordyline leaves to explore natural fibres and making all sorts of things from them.
- WORD WALL – we have been writing down words that the ARTSWEEK activities have inspired.
- SLIDE SHOW – here are some pictures of us exploring, creating and enjoying the activities this ARTSWEEK.
© p ward 2015
To see more of the work visit http://www.newportprimary.devon.sch.uk/artsweek-19th-23rd-january-2015/
* Soil Culture is a project by the Centre for Contemporary Arts & the Natural World to raise awareness about soil through the arts (www.ccanw.co.uk)
a pleasant few days break in west somerset
after a week of hard work inside the studio.
despite a forecast of persistent heavy rain
and a recurrent mechanical inconvenience
there was sunshine
a chance to tidy the garden
to the sound of wind shaking the trees and familiar birdsong
inspiring peace of mind and a few life-art works
to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and creativity of nature
reflections of place and time and relationship
Waste and wastes implies unwanted or unusable materials. The term is often subjective (because waste to one person is not necessarily waste to another) and sometimes objectively inaccurate…[i]
In preparation for a local school’s artsweek I will be leading at the end of January I have been researching some very basic materials such as sticks and leaves and mud, and wheelbarrows… I have been invited, as an environmental artist, to develop a series of activities to engage 500 children between the ages of 4 and 12, and their teachers, with ideas of local ecology, its influence on the region’s historical development and our current relationship with it. 2015 being the UN International Year of Soils, and being one of my own specialisms, I have chosen the theme of SOIL. The activities will allow children and teachers to explore and hopefully learn something about the nature of soil and its importance in all our lives. The activities, designed to be starting points for creative journeys for teachers to explore with their classes, will also lead to an end of week environmental art exhibition including work made by every child in the school. The centrepiece will be a large earth pigment painting built up during the week by the children and finished by a group of ‘gifted and talented’ students who have shown a particular aptitude and interest in the arts. The painting will be left as a legacy for the school and acknowledgement of the hard work accomplished during the week. Hopefully the children and teachers will have an enjoyable and memorable time.
© p ward 2014
Many thanks to everyone who came along and shared their support for eARTh, both in person and on line. Despite the cold (our central heating packed up during some of the coldest, wettest, windiest weather so far this year) we had a good number of interested and interesting visitors, some great ideas shared, some good work done and even some work sold. It was really encouraging to see our ideas taking shape and to have others excited and wanting to share in them. We are presently putting together a series of initial events and activities for 2015 based on discussions had during the week including a contemporary environmental art support group, open space days, painting and dyeing workshops, a number of meetings, two more open studio events (Ilfracombe Art Trail and North Devon Art Trek) and a few residencies, including a visitor from Canada exploring natural pigment binders and some performers from the Netherlands.
Here are a few images of the work done for and during the OPEN STUDIO…
“Then, when the waters sank, the great goddess smiled again and in her heart declared herself for man. She blessed the harvests, and her gentle spirit was ever in the fields and granaries; and in the long evenings, she loved to take her ease in some countryman’s home and listen to the talk of sunshine and grain, and new shoots and old trees and the mischief-making nymphs.”
from The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen.
If you have any further ideas, no matter how small, that you would like to explore or ways you would like to utilize the space please contact us directly. We would love to share and develop our work with others of common interest and intent so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Similarly, if you would like to be kept informed of our work and events please send us your email address and we will add you to our mailing list.
© p ward 2014
eARTh MIDWINTER OPEN STUDIO 6-13 DECEMBER
To celebrate the opening of our new workshop and art space in Ilfracombe – eARTh – we (Pete Ward and Francesca Owen) will be holding an open studio from 6-13th December, 11am – 5pm daily. Pete and Francesca’s work explores their relationship with nature, and more specifically North Devon’s rich and diverse ecology, through contemporary painting, installation and workshops. Come and meet the artists in a relaxed informal atmosphere, find out how you might get involved, enjoy their work and maybe take some away with you…
For further information visit www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts or contact Pete (07876 733720) or Francesca (07828 703353). eARTh is at 15 Greenclose Road, Ilfracombe, North Devon, EX34 8BT.
© P Ward 2014
making a mole hill soil ball, baggy point 281114
i come upon
in my perambulations
the hill of a mole
a breathing space for some subterranean excavation
tunneling her way
through rich rooted firmament
and on meeting such a mound
it is my inclination
to reach down
from my lofty perspective
to bury my soft suburban hands
in this sifted sorted moist soil
and to draw out a handful
i form a ball
and place it thereabouts
acknowledgement of our underground companions
symbol of my connection
with what lies beneath my feet
above your head
that supports this miraculous life we do enjoy
© P Ward 2014
29th October 2014, 1000-1600
“To celebrate the Richard Long Exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery & Museum the Burton Youth Collective presents: Art in the Park. This is a free, drop-in event where skilled artists will help you discover environmental art. Mud, charcoal, Bideford Black and much more! @ Victoria Park, Bideford, Wednesday 29th October 10-4pm. Hope to see you there!”
(poster by Jum Fernanadez)
I was recently invited to contribute to this event in North Devon organized by the Burton Gallery Youth Collective for Tate Rooms to offer young people an opportunity to get involved in some environmental art. Five local artists whose work is inspired by the environment were asked to take part. The activities were to link with Richard Long’s work. The artists included a dancer, a performance artist, a willow worker, a sculptor and myself. On reflection it is interesting to see how different ‘environmental art’ has become since Long’s seminal pieces with walking and words. In fact many in the ecological art world do not consider Long’s work to have much relevance in terms of current environmental politics – it was generally all made some 40 years ago, a very different time – but more in line with the questions facing contemporary fine artists, questions of material and form. Personally I feel that any work that helps enrich or inform our relationship within the world is helping to heal the rift between ourselves and ‘Nature’, so Long’s work is as important as any dealing with environmental destruction head-on. (But I must admit I still don’t get the large crazy-paving gallery floor pieces!?)
Anyway, the day was well organized and funded and went along smoothly with a good number of children and parents enjoying the free activities on offer. The organizers hoped that the day would also offer the artists an opportunity to try out something new and I think we all got something useful out of the day. My own contribution was a painting with earth communal painting, ‘a line made by walking’ parallel to the Bideford Black seam that run’s close by and a get-your-hands-dirty activity involving a large bucket of Torridge river mud and a big dot of Bideford Black painted onto a 5x5foot piece of paper, akin to Long’s large wall pieces. It was exciting to see how the works evolved and how involved people got, smearing layer upon layer of unctuous smelling mud into the circle, and also how liberating the activities were for those who seldom get the chance to ‘paint big’.
Many thanks to the organizers for a great day and hopefully through our combined efforts a few more children, and adults, will think twice and linger a little longer on the wonderful life around them while they’re in this world.
© p ward 2014
in preparation for our first event at eARTh – a meeting of COMBEbusiness group to share ideas around how the arts are and can contribute to sustainable economic development in the ilfracombe, woolacombe and combe martin area of north devon on the 5th november[i] – we have been getting busy making new work, refamiliarizing ourselves with painting and enjoying the possibilities of the space to share and exhibit work (as well as juggling babysitting of our 7 month old baby). we have published a new website about the space and our work together – http://www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts.
here is some of the work in progress…
my own work has principally been inspired by reusing and repainting some over and into some old canvases, allowing me to nudge gently back into the painting process. while this has raised a few old nagging questions about the purpose and validity of painting in the 21st century, and left me to ponder where to keep them all while they’re waiting to find homes, I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in a practice that I have been working with for quite a long time. it has been pleasantly surprising how quickly one can confidently slip back into the ‘zone’ of aesthetic contemplation and creativity. after a most productive and revealing break from painting onto canvas (or board), while exploring the more conceptual dimensions of my work on the MA art & environment at falmouth university, I have come to see and consciously place my work within a more global and historical context. this has similarly given me more confidence in my approach and hopefully a more realistic and effective position.
i was recently contacted by an artist in residence at the florence paintmakers arts centre in egremont, cumbria[ii], enquiring about the development of learning programmes about earth pigments. the arts centre and enterprise has been based on the site of an old haematite pigment mine. the pigment was originally used extensively in more industrial applications – iron oxide paint – but is now being developed as a range of artists colours along with a selection of other earth colours from the area. as a result of our exchange I was sent a very finely ground sample of ‘egremont red’ which I have used as a background in the above painting. when mixed simply with water and pva it initially has a rich warmth that when dries gives a soft metallic sheen – very satisfying and quite unlike any iron-based pigments I have used from devon. many thanks to lorna and jenni in egremont – I look forward to seeing what you make of north devon’s pigmentsand to visiting your project some time in the future.
eARTh’s mission statement…
ART, as an interdisciplinary and interactive process of investigation, is essential and intrinsic to our understanding of the world we inhabit both for the enrichment of our own experience and the development of sensitive and responsible relationships within it.
eARTh aims to provide a space for such investigation in the outstanding and unique environment of north devon utilizing contmporary artistic skills and experience, developed itself over many years through such investigation.
alongside their own evolving work as environmental artists peter ward and francesca owen are asking how the arts may be utilised to stimulate ecological awareness and influence the policies that are shaping the world. they are more than happy to share this work with any organisation or party committed to such research.
but first and foremost eARTh hopes to celebrate the wonder and beauty that is this world…
we are now planning our next event – an open studio for a week during december to share our latest work with a broader audience – watch this space. many thanks and lots of love to francesca[iii] for her determination to get the studio up and running, her patience and beauty with noah’s constant demands and to noah for his patience with his arty parents 🙂
© p ward 2014
At a second attempt, a motley crew of eight interested and involved parties mustered opposite the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford for a day of exploration into the blacker than black, the dirty sticky stuff, the pigment pride of North Devon[i]. To lead the party were myself, an artist by most accounts who has previously dabbled creatively most deeply into this unctuous substance, and Dr Chris Cornford, director of IGI Ltd[ii], who has conducted personal but extensive geological research into the pockets of vitrinite (coal measures) that punctuate the underworld between Greencliff on the coast and Umberleigh on the River Taw 12 miles inland.
Having chosen vehicles we headed to ‘the source’ at Greencliff to start the day. Dr Cornford settled into his rhythm, spinning geological tales, tales over hundreds of millions of years, tales of light and colour and structure and form, of crushing heat and weight, of forests and mountains before our imagination. For all we knew he could have been making it all up but science has a funny way of drawing us in – of describing our observations and imaginations with such doubtlessness that our questions seem trivial. Just let the waters flow over with the words and I’ll see you on the other side. The story wrapped up for another day. Given to permutations and evolutions in its dreams before it is unearthed on another.
Thus we enjoyed the magnificence of the coast, the seam and its company for a while, taking our fair share as others had evidently done before us – mini mines punctuating the 70-degree cliff-face smudge, a puddle of paint appearing at its base, art and science happily wandering hand in hand, not adulterated pseudo-science or wishy-washy art-fangled nonsense, but ART & SCIENCE, making no excuses for their individual natures but co-existing and complementing, enriching experience in their own ways for whoever may have an ear, or an eye or a sense at all.
So after a most generous lunch and perusal of past work in the Burton Art Gallery & Museum, the afternoon was spent in the inspiring presence and environment of the Sandy Brown Museum in Appledore, a starting point for my own earthy adventure. And armed with the morning’s preamble and a few buckets of black thick gritty carboniferous clay, we set to work in our own ways, exploring our own relationships, surprising our presumptuous preconceptions, being frustrated by a lack of colour and a dull ache for more. This is BLACK. I am BLACK! Do with me what you will and I will do as much as I can muster. I will sink in deeply, drawing light from this most pleasant day until we learn to play in joy and recognition of our own natures. Light and shadow arm in arm…
Many thanks to all those who participated; to Sandy[iii] for sharing her space, to Chris for giving of his time, knowledge and enthusiasm and to beautiful Nature for sharing her abundance so generously.
© P Ward 2014
(the following series of statements were written some time ago to help redefine my work as an artist. the images document a similar process through actions within our new workshop space – eARTh.)
…more concisely it has enriched my relationship with the natural world – through observation and increased sensitivity to its rhythms, entities and energies – and with myself
my work as an artist (environmental, ecological or earth) hopes to share this sense of enrichment
from this statement it may be seen that there are strong similarities between my perception of art and of education (or forms of learning) – I make no apologies for this
art and education may both provide spaces for people to enhance and transform their experience and hence perception of the world, and they can both be enjoyable and entertaining
through utilizing my skills in graphic design and illustration this originally took the form of illustration and interpretation for environmental education projects
art may also be enjoyed as a form of escape, but to escape from what is always the question, or as a means to focus our sense of interconnection – art and life as ecology
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot
“Aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment is not simply a matter of looking at objects or ‘views’ from a specific point. Rather, it is being ‘in the midst’ of them, moving in regard to them, looking at them from any and every point and distance and, of course, not only looking, but also smelling, hearing, touching, feeling. It is being in the environment, being a part of the environment, and reacting to it as a part of it. It is such active, involved aesthetic appreciation, rather than the formal mode of appreciation nurtured by the scenery cult and encouraged by photographs, that is appropriate to the natural environment.” Allen Carlson, 2009
“Re-engaging with the raw materials from which our lives are shaped is a potent reminder of the difference between what is real and what is only illusory” Anna Konig
painting with earth
as a painter my intention has been to share a sense of resonance and connection, a sense of the spirit of nature, that have inspired and supported my actions in this life
an obvious way to do this is to use earth pigments, to use nature itself
another way is through experiential workshops in the environment
initially I collected soil from mole hills and mixed this with paint
later I was invited to research earth pigments in north devon where there is a rich history and abundant supply
working with pigments, gathering and processing them, and learning about their nature and history transformed my art practice from one focused on the production of objects (paintings) to one based in process and collaboration
this is not to deny the fundamental processes and products of traditional art but to embrace all and any means and forms of communication and expression and to maintain my practice as an artist
my work has included illustration for field guides, interpretative displays for environmental education projects, environmental art workshops, collaboration with ecologists, geologists, geomorphologists, conservationists, foresters, dancers and choreographers and work for museums and ecologically inspired companies and even arts organisations; I have illustrated and written books, made paintings on canvas and cliff faces, installed installations in galleries and the environment, performed residencies, organised events and made films for public and online viewing
none of this has altered my artistic intent…
to enrich and inform experience of the natural world and ourselves within it.
© p ward 2014