painting a parish future – Pendeen in St Just, Cornwall 

ESRC Festival of Social Science, 10th November 2018

 

background

 

I met Dr Joanie Willett at a ‘Melting Pot’ event at Exeter University’s Environmental Sustainability Institute at Penryn Campus in Falmouth, Cornwall. The purpose of the event was to provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations. Dr Willett was fascinated by aspects of the geology behind earth pigments, particularly of those connected with mining waste, and of the potential for public engagement that my workshops provided. I was intrigued by Dr Willett’s studies around Parish Councils and how to promote public engagement in the political process, reminding me of conversations I had in Australia around the ecological basis of Aboriginal tribal councils. 

 

After a further meeting, held as a walk along the ‘Tin Coast’ in West Penwith between Pendeen and Botallack, we decided to organize a public workshop exploring these principles. Funding was obtained from the Economic and Social Research Council and Exeter University as part of the Festival of Social Science, a national event making Social research accessible to the general public. 

 

where the personal becomes POLITICAL: the idea

 

Our personal experiences, knowledge and perceptions of the places we live are all valid contributory factors to the cultural truth of a place. In Western democracies the starting point for policy decisions are ideally based in such cultural truths. Parish councils, of which there are some 10,000 in the UK, are the gathering places for the diverse cultural perception of our local communities. Beyond this such cultural perceptions are strongly influenced, if not determined, by the geographical identity, the physical ecology and resources, of a place. 

 

painting a parish future offers a creative space to cultivate and share personal experience, knowledge and future visions of the places that we live. 

 

It is hoped that the creation of such a space within a working Parish may encourage a spirit of commonality and cooperation within groups that may too easily become competitive and detached from the truth of a regions imminent ecology, in respect of all its inhabitants.

 

painting a parish futureis a collaborative research project led by politics lecturer Dr Joanie Willett and ecological artist Peter Ward in association with Exeter University’s Environmental Sustainability Institute. The project will utilize a shared knowledge of local political process and creative environmental engagement.

 

An initial enquiry will gather local people, parish councilors and experts to walk and share experiences and knowledge in a reflective process in the Parish of St Just in west Cornwall. The daylong event will culminate in a communal painting using gathered materials to express a shared vision of the future. The painting and further documentation of the event will be exhibited at the ESI at Penryn Campus and at a local venue in St Just Parish.

 

painting a parish futurewill run alongside ongoing national and local initiatives ‘Going Wild’ with Cornwall Council and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the St Just and Pendeen Neighbourhood Development Plan.

 

The project will provide a model for further actions in local communities across the UK, international research with Indigenous communities in Australia and the basis for an academic paper in relation to such activities, as well as a real focus for community action in the place it is performed.

 

 

in practice

 

The event was advertised locally in the Parish ‘Outreach’ magazine, through flyers in local shops and on notice boards and through personal invitation to relevant experts. It was hoped that we would have a group of about 20 people for the event. In practice, we were fortunate that a County Councilor expressed her interest from an early stage, inviting a simple presentation at a Town Council meeting in St Just to further promote the event. On the day, 2 people who had signed up did not show leaving us with a group of 7, including Dr Willett and myself. While the response was a little disappointing, and indeed raised a very important discussion regarding public engagement, the small number did allow for more focused time and intimate space for discussion and sharing and better engagement with the process.

 

Part of my personal motivation for the event was to begin to learn more about the place that I live. Both my own background research about the area and the process of organizing the event provided interesting insights into the present social dynamic and historical roots of the parish. Another part was to establish contacts within the community and with relevant organizations for future projects. 

 

Poster/invitation for painting a parish future – Pendeen in St Just; 7 Cornish pigments, earth colours used in communal painting © p ward 2018

Participants included an artist, a politics lecturer, an environmental educator and project manager, a childminder, County Councilor, Town Councilor and a geologist, providing the basis for lively, diverse and informed discussion throughout the day with many thoughts for positive action being shared. 

 

The morning walk took us through the village of Pendeen to the recently restored leat (a community project initiated by a member of the group), through the historic mining community of Lower Boscaswell, to the medieval ‘holy’ well and then through remains of Geevor Tin Mine and ancient field networks down to the coast, before heading back to the Parish Hall for lunch. Conversation within the group flowed easily between the whole group and individuals and covered topics from local planning policy, local history and geology, the influence of the environment on agriculture, national environmental and political attitudes, interspersed with a shared appreciation of the natural world, and in particular the local environment. Lunch was a homemade vegetable soup, made using exclusively local produce from the community farm, along with local cheese and bread and a splendid array of cake.

 

Pendeen Parish Hall, photo courtesy J Willett

 

The process of painting (interesting for my part for the lack of ‘artists’ in the group) took participants a little out of their comfort zones but allowed us to ground our thoughts in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The pigments themselves offered further insights into the local environment, as well as paint making. The painting itself was structured through an approximation of the evolutionary process, starting with imagery around geology, then land use and flora and fauna and lastly human intervention. Despite the initial discomfort, participants recognized the value of the process, at whatever level individuals felt able to contribute, and enjoyed the end result.

 

painting a parish future – Pendeen in St Just, photos courtesy J Willett and M Ward

 

conclusion and further action

 

Despite the somewhat disappointing public response to the event, it was agreed that it had been a useful and inspiring day with everyone feeling they would use what they had learnt in some way. Some said they ‘had never participated in anything like it before’ and that it had revealed a new way of working in the public sphere. I was personally encouraged by how everyone got involved with the process and in particular how the act of painting with local pigments was enjoyed and valued.

 

As a facilitator, whenever I approach an event such as this I will necessarily fill my mind with any relevant information I wish to share and a structure I aim to run the day through. In practice, especially when working with adults, it is essential that such plans are held merely as guidelines and that the process and dynamic of the group are allowed to express themselves for a satisfactory outcome to be achieved. Indeed, it is inherent to the process that the day is allowed to progress organically within any practical limitations, such as time, space, numbers and sustenance, to be true to itself. What is exciting about such a process is exactly those surprises or unknowns that arise, leading us to new ideas and future actions.

 

Through contacts made at the Town Council presentation, it is hoped that the painting and research will be exhibited at St Just Library, while also being shared with the Town Council and Local Neighbourhood Development Plan as an example of public engagement. Discussion has already begun regarding further collaboration with Dr Willett with the possibility of developing the event in other areas. Business and public groups in the area have also approached me to run similar workshops for upcoming events.

 

painting a parish future– Pendeen in St Just, communal painting, earth pigments on board © p ward 2018

 

Thank you to everyone who participated in the event, for the support and interest of the local community and especially to Joanie for her contributions and collaborative insights.

© P Ward 2018

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7 Cornish Pigments: first findings

THIS TOXIC(?) BEAUTY

Cornish Landscape (raw and ground Cornish pigments) © p ward 2018

The 7 colours shown here have been gathered close to historic mining sites in west Cornwall. Some are waste products from tin and copper mining and may contain toxic minerals such as arsenic and cadmium, ironically both used historically in paint and pigment production. Despite being found alongside public rights of way until sufficient mineral analysis has been made of the samples I am unable to share them with the public.

However, I am comfortable enough to start using them myself (with care). Inspired by the milling process used to extract tin I have started to mix the raw materials with water before filtering with a fine sieve. This minimizes the grinding process and hence the possible inhalation of dust. So far I have only used PVA glue as a binder but enjoyed the difference in colour, provenance and nature of the pigments compared to the North Devon pigments I am more familiar with. As such the imagery has started to take on its own character relevant to the materials, the geographical space and my personal experience of Penwith and west Cornwall. I am currently working with Geevor Tin Mine Museum to develop educational workshops using the pigments. The mine itself and attendant museum is utterly fascinating allowing me to better understand the differences between pigments from natural landforms and those extracted from deep underground. In due time I will be able to better share my findings but for the time being here are some of my first paintings made using the wonderful, beautiful but maybe a little toxic Cornish pigments.

As yet the paintings are relatively small (up to 60x60cm) but I look forward to taking some of these ideas to a larger scale and context. If you are interested in any of the work shown here or would like to support or contribute to any further research please get in touch.

7 Cornish pigments – paint samples on paper @ p ward 2018

Cornish Quilt (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

6x6x6 (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

red, grey, green (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

grey, green, white, mauve I-III (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

fox walking (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

dagdu (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in landscape I-V (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

botallack black – arches, obliterate, behind a rainbow (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

vertical palette (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

untitled – explorations in colour and form I-IV (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

falling (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in relationship I-III (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in relationship – butterfly (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

storyteller IV (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

bird box (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

4 vertical colours (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

sketch I and II (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

house on wheels – sketch (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

With thanks to the people and places of west Cornwall. In particular, the staff of Geevor Tin Mine, Fiona, Natasha and of course Francesca and family for your inspiration and support.

© P Ward 2018


terms of engagement

a conversation of sorts 121117

Q:

“What’s the difference between a social or educational project and an artwork?”

uncomfortable orchids, London © p ward 2017

A:

each may indeed have much in common and much to share.

it is the means and manner through which they communicate,

in which they engage, inform and sometimes transform that renders them effective or benign.*

.

an understanding of an audience, a demographic, an ecology

may encourage participation and transformation

reaching out and beyond those and that originally targeted.

.

the artist, teacher, social worker and ecologist intuit a means

to estimate, interpret, facilitate and hence empower (oneself and others)

literally, pictorially, intellectually, imaginatively, actively, physically, emotionally and most skillfully

.

the aesthetic that directs whatever intent motivated the craft,

that manipulates, interferes with and informs the intrinsic (or created) dynamic

towards a specific end or beginning or…

.

it is not necessary to determine how or when or what

those (or that) which experiences may take away

or if anything further does become

.

but it is in relationship that one may experience and affect movement

from one moment to the next

.

from one breath to another

.

so different too

that a tension reveals

swinging back and forth and around

.

we are all children in this world

vulnerable

unknowing

.

dancing under the stars

of this earth

that we share

.

pavement, London; pavement, Nantes © p ward 2017

© P Ward 2017

(* yet how we may quantify such effectiveness is another matter.)

 


please accept my resignation 131016

 

some things I have seen, done and made that have made me think, feel and smile over the last few months…

“Reading true literature [Nan Shepherd] reflected, ‘it’s as though you are standing experiencing and suddenly the work is there, bursting out of its own ripeness . . . life has exploded, sticky and rich and smelling oh so good. And . . . that makes the ordinary world magical – that reverberates/illuminates.’ ” taken from Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.

folded-paper-little-family-special-gifts-friendship-earth-pigments-on-canvas-p-ward-2016folded paper; little family; special gifts; friendship (earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2016

wooden-tray-full-of-found-things-earth-2016wooden tray full of found things © eARTh 2016

the-exmoor-best-exmoor-zoological-gardens-p-ward-2016‘the exmoor beast’!?, exmoor zoological gardens © p ward 2016

crow-point-p-ward-2016crow point © p ward 2016

sycamore-p-ward-2016sycamore © p ward 2016

drawing-a-line-coast-to-coast-with-skedge-13916-earth-2016drawing a line, coast to coast with skedge 13916 © eARTh 2016

learning-to-draw-i-p-ward-2016learning to draw I © p ward 2016

learning-to-draw-ii-iii-iv-earth-2016learning to draw II, III, IV © eARTh 2016

towan-beach-roseland-peninsula-bottallack-mines-st-just-cornwall-p-ward-2016towan beach, roseland peninsula; bottallack mines, st just, cornwall © p ward 2016

west-somerset-railway-bicclescombe-park-shed-ilfracombe-earth-2016west somerset railway; bicclescombe park shed, ilfracombe © eARTh 2016

painted-palette-earth-pigments-on-wood-earth-2016painted palette (earth pigments on wood) © eARTh 2016

offcuts-in-an-offcut-frame-palette-mask-earth-pigments-on-wood-p-ward-2016offcuts in an offcut frame – palette; mask (earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2016

figure-offcuts-in-an-offcut-frame-viii-earth-pigments-on-wood-building-blocks-p-ward-2016figure; offcuts in an offcut frame – VIII (earth pigments on wood); building blocks © p ward 2016

resignation-definitiondefinition from google search

with special thanks to francesca, noah, agnes, family and friends for your love, support and companionship 🙂

© p ward/eARTh 2016


home: research, research and inspiration – early 2016 update

water, air and earth

sticks and stones

and, somewhere, fire

.

as the year unfolds

to a new life

within us

.

and you grow

and hold us rapt

in your emphatic personality

.

we deliberate upon Nature

each delicate

and deafening response

.

there is red and black and grey and green

dirt to some

riches to others

.

grinding away

what is left

to leave

.

more

and more

and more

.

we play

and learn

we play together

.

knees

teeth

home

.

home- county clare, Ireland © p ward 2016home: County Clare, Ireland © p ward 2016

The year began with family and friends in a rainswept County Clare, Ireland, my home for 10 years. Many of the places I wanted to revisit and share were beneath meters of water. Things, of course, had changed for better and worse but the spirit of the land still shone through.

home- lake vyrnwy, powys, wales © p ward 2106home: Lake Vyrnwy, Powys, Wales © p ward 2106

Then more mountains and lakes, family and friends, as my brother’s path shifts to the Welsh borders, an area I have not visited before but will visit again. This time snow, ice, fog and sunshine accompanied my journey. Lake Vyrnwy reservoir submerged a Welsh village to supply England with water.

home- Ilfracombe, winter 2016 © p ward 2016home: Ilfracombe, winter 2016 © p ward 2016

And at ‘home’ the winter lashes the coastline, reshaping and reforming. Ilfracombe was originally named after King Alfred and was gifted to two of his sons as a sheltered harbour on the western approaches to his kingdom. Before then an iron-age hill fort overlooked the natural harbour from, what is now, Hillsborough nature reserve. This part of the North Devon coast is formed predominantly from Devonian slates, sandstones and shales and boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in England. We have a new studio here that we hope will provide a base for our creative endeavours and space for others to enjoy.

home- Barnstaple Bay and Hele, North Devon © p ward 2016home: Barnstaple Bay and Hele, North Devon © p ward 2016

home- Holdstone Down, Combe Martin, North Devon © p ward 2016home: Holdstone Down, Combe Martin, North Devon © p ward 2016

let’s talk dirt! (White Moose Gallery, CCANW, Heritage Lottery Fund, Bideford Pottery, IGI Ltd, Roger Cockram)let’s talk dirt! (White Moose Gallery, CCANW, Heritage Lottery Fund, Bideford Pottery, IGI Ltd, Roger Cockram)

In May, as part of the CCANW Soil Culture project, I led a walk and talk with the White Moose Gallery and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to celebrate North Devon’s relationship with its earth resources. “Let’s Walk and Talk Dirt!” involved local potters, Harry Juniper and Roger Cockram, geologists Chris Cornford and Andrew Green, and soil scientist David Hogan to present some different perspectives about our local resources. Participants really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the events but were frustrated by the lack of time to explore the subject matter in more depth. We are now working towards a ‘summer school’ to further explore North Devon’s potteries, pigments, rocks and soils.

Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2106Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2106

Jacob’s Ladder beach, Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2016Jacob’s Ladder beach, Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2016

The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, East Devon invited me in May, to run painting with earth workshops to accompany their ongoing Soil Culture exhibitions. The first workshop introduced the ideas to a small group of partially sighted children from the WESC Foundation, providing a space for us to enjoy the more than visual experience of the process and materials. I was also excited to be exploring a new area of the country, encouraging me to find new pigments and learn about their geology and history. The second workshop, for artists, included an invigorating morning field trip to Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth to gather small quantities of the iron-rich red and green mudstones, and whatever else took our fancy, followed by an afternoon of furious experimentation grinding and binding a selection of pigments with a variety of mediums. It was great to meet some new faces in such a lively and friendly gallery.

home- Wessex – Branscombe beach, East Devon, Hardy country (chalk and flint) © p ward 2016home: Wessex – Branscombe beach, East Devon; Hardy country (chalk and flint) © p ward 2016

Something that did surprise me was the presence of chalk in the landscape of East Devon. Having been raised in Portsmouth I am familiar with the chalk and flint of the South Downs and Isle of Wight but wasn’t aware of it so far west along the coast. The sedimentary Cretaceous beds at Beer, that I saw from Branscombe beach during a day of research, lie above Upper Greensand that then rests on the more familiar Mercian Triassic red mudstones of South Devon. Apparently there is an ‘unconformity’ here in that the interceding Jurassic layer is missing, the area being land during that era. The nodules of flint and chert present in the Chalk and Upper Greensand that make up the beaches are also apparent in the local architecture creating further similarities to the South Downs and other Chalk areas across Europe.

One such region, that I also feel an affinity with through my ancestry and boyhood cycling adventures, is the Wessex Downs. The ancient country of Wessex encompassed Hampshire, west to the Cornish borders, and Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset. In more recent times its character and characters have formed the backdrop for the literary works of Thomas Hardy. I was recently contacted by a research fellow from Exeter University to collaborate in a project to explore the value to health and well being of arts-based environmental workshops. His previous research looked at the work of Thomas Hardy in relation to the Wessex landscape. We are now waiting to see if our initial funding application has been successful before embarking on a major AHRC project around a similar theme. It has been fascinating working with a complete stranger towards a shared goal.

Hele community group sculpture proposal sketches © eARTh 2016Hele community group sculpture proposal sketches © eARTh 2016

Meanwhile, closer to home again we have been working with the local community towards re-landscaping an unsightly patch of ground behind the bus shelter in our village. It was good to be invited, to meet some more of our neighbours, to learn about the history of the village and to think how to we might alter such a space to celebrate the area. It was recently discovered that the area is owned (rather than it being public space) which has put the project back somewhat!?

sketches in wood and stone © p ward 2016sketches in wood and stone © p ward 2016

And back in the studio I have been enjoying putting together some new work (see previous post) using old offcuts of wood, old pots of paint and some new pigments. After 9 months I finally feel like I am settling in, enjoying the space and making something new, as well as finding time for my other interests and beautiful family. With a new arrival imminent we’ll be working hard to keep it up…

jacob’s ladder, earth pigments on canvas © p ward 2016jacob’s ladder, earth pigments on canvas © p ward 2016

corn mill close, masonry paint on painted board © p ward 2016corn mill close, masonry paint on painted board © p ward 2016

offcuts – sketch in wood © p ward 2016offcuts – sketch in wood © p ward 2016

© P Ward 2016


Soil Culture: The Publication

The Soil Culture project led by CCANW and RANE will be drawing to a close soon with its final exhibition at Peninsula Arts in Plymouth from 16th January to 19th March 2016[i]. The project as has been documented in a 120-page publication with essays by prominent soil scientists and soil artists, along with illustrated accounts of residencies and other activities enjoyed during the 3-years.

soil culture – the publication (cover), images © p ward 2015soil culture – the publication (cover), images © p ward 2015

My involvement in the project began when I met CCANW director Clive Adams in 2009. I presented him with six small glass pots of ground earth pigments from North Devon. He suggested I meet soil artist Dr Daro Montag at Falmouth University who was just starting an MA Art & Environment Course, which I subsequently attended.

north devon landscape (ground earth pigments) © p ward 2008north devon landscape (ground earth pigments) © p ward 2008

I was invited to join the Soil Culture project development team in 2011. My contribution has also involved workshops, exhibitions and some of the imagery used to promote and support it. I was recently asked to write a short essay for the publication and retake a series of photographs of ground and raw earth pigments to be used for the cover and chapter/section headings…

Soil Culture - The Publication images © p ward 2015raw and ground earth pigments for soil culture publication © p ward 2015

The publication is available from http://www.ccanw.co.uk/ at a price of £15 per copy.

 

© p ward 2016

[i] Peninsula Arts Gallery, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University, PL4 8AA.
Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-4pm

 


eARTh has MOVED…

MIDWINTER OPEN STUDIO

Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th November, 1100-1600

After an exciting first year, including a great exhibition at the White Moose Gallery, a number of successful workshops and OPEN STUDIOS and participation in other international projects, eARTh has relocated to a smaller, more rural space at Hele Corn Mill where we (myself and partner Francesca Owen) will be continuing our work with local earth pigments and plant dyes.

eARTh at Hele Corn Mill hele corn mill and eARTh studio © f owen 2015

Hele Corn Mill dates from 1525 and is a unique working watermill in North Devon. Located just 300m from stunning Hele Bay beach just east of Ilfracombe, a visit to the mill makes a perfect family visit. Opposite the mill is the Miller’s Wife Tearoom, where you can relax and enjoy a traditional cream tea or a slice of one of many delicious cakes, which are homemade every day. For directions, parking and opening times please visit www.helecornmill.com.

You are warmly invited to a pre-Christmas opening – a chat, some nibbles, a glass of wine and some art. If you cannot make the opening please feel free to visit anytime. eARTh will be open on a regular basis along with workshops, exhibitions and events throughout the year and is looking forward to seeing you soon.

For more information please visit www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts

© P Ward 2015