Soil Culture Forum

Falmouth University, 2-5 July 2014

soil culture forum poster and logo; dirt dialogues poster for WCSS 2014 (p ward 2014)soil culture forum poster and logo; dirt dialogues poster for WCSS 2014 (p ward 2014)

The first major event of the Soil Culture[i] programme organized by CCANW[ii] and RANE[iii] at Falmouth University took place over the last week. The event brought together talks, workshops, social gatherings and exhibitions of artwork and posters from local and international artists, soil scientists and agriculturalists to celebrate and investigate how the arts may contribute to shifts in attitudes and understanding of a matter we take very much for granted – soil.

woodlane campus library display (with francesca owen) and work in group show, falmouth (p ward 2014)woodlane campus library display (with francesca owen) and work in group show, falmouth (p ward 2014)

painting with earth workshop at soil culture forum, falmouth (p ward 2014)painting with earth workshop at soil culture forum, falmouth (p ward 2014)

My own contribution included the forum logo, a small display of soil inspired work with Francesca Owen in the Woodlane Campus Library, a poster commissioned and printed for the 20th World Congress of Soil Science in South Korea by Alex Toland[iv], a Painting with Earth workshop and a number of art works in a pop-up exhibition on site. It was good to meet, hear and see the rich and varied work of those of like minds and inspirations, and especially to hear the no-nonsense common sense of Graham Harvey, author of one of my favourite books, The Carbon Fields[v]

“Why, she wondered, were Indian peasants being pushed into debt and penury by a system of agriculture that was supposed to bring prosperity to rural communities? And why did monocultures, which were intrinsically of low productivity, come to be accepted as highly productive though they required huge inputs of chemicals and fossil fuels, and then produced less food than traditional, diverse farming systems?” from The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey, p.100

“Organic milk, for example, is a blend of the good and not so good.  Organic standards require that at least 60 per cent of the ratio must be in the form of grass and forage.  In terms of its nutrient content, milk produced to this minimum standard won’t compare in quality with milk of cows getting 80 per cent of their feed in the form of grazed pasture, organic or not.  And, as on conventional farms, milk produced to higher standards will be diluted with milk produced to the bare minimum standard.” from The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey, p.136

a simple prayer for the earth, participatory painting with earth pigments, falmouth and westward ho! (p ward 2014)a simple prayer for the earth, participatory painting with earth pigments, falmouth and westward ho! (p ward 2014)

soil circle for soil culture forum, falmouth (p ward 2014)soil circle for soil culture forum, falmouth (p ward 2014)

It is always exciting how participation in such events can provide the space to create new work and to make and renew contacts. Let’s hope that the forum will lead to increased future awareness, projects and collaborations towards our need for changes in attitude and policy around issues of our care and relationship with soil, a living substance upon which our and all life depends. Also thank you to Daro Montag for all his hard work organizing and raising funds[vi] for this event.

© P Ward 2014






[vi] Funding for the Forum was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

searching for a different rainbow (SOIL CULTURE)

Lulworth Cove, Dorset 201013

As you may be aware, over the last 5 years I have been researching, almost exclusively, earth pigments in North Devon, (with minor dalliances to West Somerset, Dartmoor and Cornwall and anywhere else I have had the privilege to have walked for that matter). This aesthetically geologic journey began with an invitation by Appledore Arts Festival in 2008 based upon an application I proposed to paint with mud – a process I had first embarked upon while living in Co Clare, Ireland in 1992, as a means to express the resonance of Nature through my painting.

the magic and wonder of it all (mud and paint, p ward 1996) the magic and wonder of it all (mud and paint, p ward 1996)

Initially, I gathered finely sorted soil from local molehills and then added manufactured colours and paints to introduce children to the Earth – something many from inner city locations had surprisingly and somewhat disturbingly never had the pleasure of experiencing. As I continued my hands-on research in North Devon I unveiled a range of vibrant and definitive earth colours at once universally familiar while also strikingly specific to the region. I began to question if such colours, wherever they may be sourced, may in some way define or influence the culture of that region – whether it be purely aesthetic (if there could ever be such a thing!?) or more industrial and agricultural through the minerals they may signify and provide, and hence the soils and habitats they promoted? For me the purpose of my art process has been to explore and share our relationships within the animate earth, and so my work with rocks and soil is a fitting vehicle for such an intention. Through greater awareness and development of this avenue of research I was more recently invited to work with CCANW and RANE to help develop SOIL CULTURE – a programme of events between 2013-16 to highlight and discuss the importance of soil through the arts. As part of this project my work is presently being exhibited at the Innovation Centre in Exeter University and will soon be taken to Bristol, along with an earth-painting workshop, for the Soil Association National Soil Symposium on 13-14th November[i]. My own interest in such projects, and indeed my own fascination with earth pigments and naturally sourced materials, is how engagement with such processes may entice us (the apparently civilized and privileged ones of the West) to ‘get our hands dirty’ and to hopefully begin to better  appreciate, understand and further enrich some of our roles, responsibilities and relationships within this world.

84 dots, meeth white clay (p ward 2008) 84 dots, meeth white clay, north devon (p ward 2008)

Most recently, on the advice of a fellow artist, my research took me to Lulworth Cove, Dorset, on the geologically celebrated Jurassic Coast, with the promise of a green clay – a colour, like blue, notoriously difficult to locate in the mineral world. My own experience of earth ‘greens’ so far has been of ferrous (iron III) oxides (created anaerobically in swamps millions of years ago) found in West Somerset and Heasley Mill, and of Copper Carbonate or Malachite at the old mines around Heasley Mill, North Molton, in North Devon. However both had proved somewhat difficult to process and maintain the greenness evident in the field, so the promise of a green ‘clay’ was most appealing. It was to be my first visit to Lulworth, renown for its striking coastal form and array of sedimentary folds, layers and faultlines, although I had been aware of the site since school days[ii]. So it was with great excitement, despite the best wind and rain Engalnd’s autumn could provide, that we set off, trowels and containers at the ready, in the search for another rainbow. While the promised green did not live up any better to expectations we were by no means disappointed…  

lulworth cove, looking south (p ward 2013) lulworth cove, looking south (p ward 2013)

lulworth cove pebble palette, earth pigments; cretaceous upper greensand, lulworth cove (p ward 2013) lulworth cove pebble palette, earth pigments; cretaceous upper greensand, lulworth cove (p ward 2013)

earth colours, lulworth cove (p ward 2013) earth colours, lulworth cove (p ward 2013)


every singular place has a palette of sorts, conjoined

a rainbow of its own evolving experience

product and provider of when and where and what we may sense to be


wherever we are, we may chose to reach out

to absorb and inhale this plethora of time

to exhale and physically express our own intimate response

in line, in hand, in respect of nature as itself and all within


lulworth cove rainbows (p ward 2013) lulworth cove rainbows (p ward 2013) 

© P Ward 2013

[i] For more information and opportunities to get involved please visit