Sunday, 4 March 2018

Fragments: The Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Project


One of the biggest projects that I've been involved with this year, saw me returning to my roots as a craft/artist potter, but still with a strong history and heritage theme. This project explores the culture, heritage and landscape of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne just off the Northumberland coast.

The project is described on the Peregrini website: “Fragments is a multi-disciplinary community arts project to celebrate Holy Island and the adjacent coast, and the experiences of those involved with the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership” and for my part involved “the creation of six ceramic pieces that evoke the area’s rich natural and cultural heritage” with the intention being to “create a legacy for the Creative Arts and Landscape Appreciation”.  Also creating work for this project were; photographer Jose Snook, and poet Katrina Porteous with whom I had several discussions and who kindly allowed me to include passages from her poems on my pots

The project kicked off with a series of meetings with people who, in corporates talk, I suppose one would describe as “Stakeholders”.  I met with members of the local community, people from local history societies, wardens from the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, fishermen and many more.  From these meetings I gained a good understanding of what this landscape means to the people who live and work in it, and while there was no way I was going to be able to use all of the ideas generated, the experience gave me a really good starting point.  Beginning in August, I ran a series of clay sessions with community groups, giving each person the opportunity to create ceramic “fragments” that would form part of the final exhibition, and go on display alongside the vessels in Berwick Museum and Art Gallery in 2018. In addition each participant created their own “Fragment Vessel” which was fired and will be returned to them after the exhibition. Again, ideas and designs gleaned from these workshops have helped to inform the design of the final vessels.

Peregrini Fragments Vessels

When Archaeologists excavate a site what they find are fragments of the material culture of past civilisations but they are also the fragments of peoples lives.  Likewise palaeontologists find the fragments of fossils. Many visitors to this coast spend at least a few minutes picking up sea-worn fragments of pottery and may find along our beaches sherds that date back as far as the early Neolithic, 6000 years ago, broken clay pipes smoked by sailors and coal miners as they plied their trades, pieces of blue and white porcelain that graced the Sunday tables of fishermen and women at the end of an arduous working week, and fragments of stoneware pop bottles discarded by children after a trip to the beach.

I've been a potter all my life, always aware that the vessels I create will remain in existence, even if only in fragmentary form, for many thousands of years, I have made my mark, left my legacy. But eventually, clay being a natural material, the forces that made the clay in the first place will grind these pots to dust and return them to the earth.  Most of my work over the past fifteen years has involved working with Museums and Archaeologists to replicate the pottery of ancient cultures. More often than not this process begins with me handling and interpreting a few small fragments of original
pot.  This is what I call “Having a conversation with the original maker” I feel a real bond with my predecessors.

Almost every element of these pots has been shaped by the input that I have had from the community groups, with whom I worked during the development stages of this project.  It would however have been impossible to incorporate every memory, story, legend, important building, object, feature, character, animal, plant, etc., the final “edit” is therefore my own, so if I have missed out anything vital please forgive me.  I would however point out that I didn't want these vessels to be a “one glance” event, I want you to work to find the secrets and connections that they hide, and I hope that there are many. So if you  don't find what you are looking for on your first visit to these pots, go back for a second and third look.

Cocklawburn Vessel
The form of this vessel was inspired a Bronze Age collared urn, but greatly stretched in length, the decoration on its surface is in layers or strata, as it became clear during the community sessions that most of the things that people remembered about Cocklawburn were connected to its geology. Included within the design you will find references to the lime burning industry, coal mining, the railways and farming, but also more recent use of this landscape for recreational purposes. Look out for fossils including the now famous Rhizodont.

Sea Vessel
Taking it's form from a Post Mediaeval Jug and topped by a traditional Northumbrian Fishing Coble, albeit much forshortened.  The sea is many things to many people, especially those who live on an island and I've tried to capture some aspects of the sea in this vessel.  The lines of Katrina Porteous poem not only describe the tide but for me the describe human impact on the landscape!  

Sanctuary Vessel 
Based loosely on a traditional slipware country pottery figure group, atop a blue and white pottery vessel, ceramic colours that dominate many of the fragments found along the shoreline.  I've tried to represent the idea of refuge, safety, tranquillity and sanctuary, from war, religious persecution and everyday life.  The lines from Katrina Porteous poem “Refuge Box” dominate this vessel.

Myths & Legend Vessel
In the form of an Anglo Saxon Urn, this vessel incorporates fragments of stories myths and legends, from Cuthbert's Beads and the Laidley Worm, through the Franks Casket and visions of Dragons to the legend of the Glass Beach created by one of the youngest participants in the Community Workshops.

Conflict and Defence Vessel
This vessel is in itself a fragment, a sherd,  broken and wounded.  In it you'll find references to conflicts ancient and modern.

Teeming With Life Vessel
What it says on the pot!  In the form of an egg, itself the prototype form for most pots. You will really have to search the surface of this vessel to find all its secrets just as, when you walk in the landscape, you know it's teeming with life but it's often very difficult to see.

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