Today I went to St. Saviours’ Hall on the Barbican for an exhibition by Ancient Scent, a group of artists who take residencies in different places. Their project Ancient Scent: Ireland was a residency “inspired by the spirit of Ithell Colquhoun’s own journey to Ireland, recorded in her psychogeographical memoir”. During this project, Ancient Scent spent a week in Ascendancy House in Ballycumber, and visiting sites such as Durrow Abbey, Clonmacnoise, and Leap Castle. The work in the exhibition was made after their return in April 2017, and created during group art workshops.
The artistic styles and the mediums which Ancient Scent use are really diverse, from photography, to pottery and ceramics, all the way to creating an imaginary cult. The individual artists within the collective inspire each other’s work, so the exhibition isn’t just a lot of different objects on the same theme, but feels more like a full fusion of all of the artists’ skills and ideas. Walking around and looking at the pieces was like wandering through a folktale, serene and magical at times then creepy and menacing at others. I’ve never been to an exhibition quite like this before, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Ancient Scent’s work.
Yesterday I went to the House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey with my local home-ed group. The House of Marbles has galleries of marbles and old pottery, a glass shop filled with artwork made in the building’s own glass-making workshop, and giant marble runs.
The marble runs by Alex Schmid are hypnotic to watch. My favourite is Curriculum Vitae. The marbles are lifted to the top of the run by a chain then let go on to the track. I counted at least five different routes the balls could follow, including loop-the-loops, staircases, and counterweight trebuchets. The marble runs are all made of thick wire welded together and the name of the piece, the year it was built and Alex Schmid’s initials are spelled out in the metal body of the marble runs.
Upstairs there is an enormous marble run, the biggest in the UK, called Snooki. This one uses snooker balls and includes staircases, trebuchets, and a Newton’s Cradle. There are also sections where you can’t see the ball but can hear it whirring round a funnel or rolling down inside a pipe, it is exciting waiting for the balls to reappear from these parts
The marbles gallery contains hundreds and hundreds of marbles and there is a lot of information about the different types, materials, and the methods of making them. I learned that people have been collecting and playing with marbles for centuries and that they have been made from clay, steel, stone, glass, and precious rocks. There are several different types of marbles, including Clambroth (striped swirls on creamy background), End of Day (made with “grits” which are leftover bits of glass), Sulphides (a clear marble with a clay figure in the centre), and Clears and Opaques (single colours). Some of the materials used to colour glass marbles include Gold, Copper, Cobalt, Silver, and Uranium and the swirls and spirals inside some marbles are made using coloured glass canes.
The shop selling Teign Valley Glass has tons and tons of beautiful pieces of art made out of glass. There are glass apples, birds, vases, and glass bowls that look like sea foam and waves. Each piece is made right there in the workshop and is a unique object, and the whole room is full of colour.
There were glassmakers making small glass birds while we were there, and we watched them work for ages. First, one glassmaker would put a glob of glass onto the end of a large metal rod and heat the glass up in the pot furnace until it was glowing orange. He then rolled it in coloured powdered glass, then fused it all together in the pot furnace again. He did this several times with two different colours. Next, he used a pad of wet newspaper to shape the glass into the bird’s body. He then took a pair of tweezers to stretch out a bit of the glass to make the bird’s tail. Finally, he spun it around a few more times in the pot furnace and used the tweezers again to pull a smaller part of the glass out to make the bird’s beak. The process was mesmerising to watch and it made me think about how much effort and time is put into making glass art by hand.
In another room at the House of Marbles is an exhibition showing the history of the Bovey Potteries. The first thing I saw was a scale model of the potteries as they used to be. All around it are cases full of pottery that was made there or found nearby. There are a lot of different types of pots and cups with inspirational messages written on them, and little clay figurines. Much of the crockery is decorated with detailed and pretty patterns, and I’ve taken pictures of these so I can experiment with the patterns at another time. There is a lot of information on cards throughout the room, and a short video about the potteries’ history.
The House of Marbles was fascinating and seeing all the different kinds of artwork has definitely given me some inspiration, and I haven’t even seen everything that’s in there yet! There is a whole section on board games that I didn’t have time to explore. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit again sometime soon, and I recommend a visit to anyone interested in marble runs or local history.
This Summer I went to two Open Days at the Flameworks Creative Arts Facility (Twitter) in Plymouth. My student ambassador from Saturday Arts Club at PCA, Luke Axworthy, is a metalsmith who does work there and I hoped I might see him at work but unfortunately he wasn’t there on the days I visited, although I did get to see his very neat work space!
On the first day, I had a quick look around the building. There were artists working on jewellery, ceramics, metal and painting. We spoke to Louise Rabey (Etsy) who was working on a watercolour illustration of ‘two Nidorans nuzzling in the sun‘ (click to view that on her Instagram page). She showed us her portfolio and we realised that J had bought one of her pictures at the last DevCon. Her artwork is brightly coloured but softly drawn and cute and she draws animals and fan art of things like Pokemon, Disney characters and Undertale. She had a friend with her who was really nice and talked to us about doing professional cosplay as Daryl from The Walking Dead. Louise shares a studio space with Luke, Lorna Davey (another brilliant artist who I met at the PCA Graduate Show) and another artist who I unfortunately didn’t meet.
Downstairs, I watched Piers Edsall (Twitter) helping a young girl with blacksmithing and she looked like she was having a lot of fun so I asked if I could try too. I went in with my brother J and Piers gave us gloves, aprons and goggles to wear. He explained how we would be working with very hot equipment – so hot that if we touched it our fingers would fall off before we had a chance to feel it! He showed us the tools and anvil that we would be using then gave us both a hammer each and metal rods.
Piers put the metal rods in the forge and heated them until they were red-hot. Then he explained how to hammer the rods around the tip of the anvil to make them curved. It was satisfying to hit the metal into shape but it was also very noisy! We also had to bend the rods to make a wavy shape. Piers was really friendly and we saw one of his kraken creations which J loved because he’s really into monsters. Piers is going to be building a huge sculpture soon and I hope we get to see it. He also talked to my brother about a ‘Little Smiths’ course that they hope to run at Flameworks which sounds really interesting.
A pot I made using a pottery wheel supervised by ceramicist Christina Peters at Flameworks (Summer 2016).
On our second visit we took my friend along and she got to have a go at the blacksmithing too, while I watched from behind a safety screen. Afterwards all three of us got to do some pottery making at a pottery wheel with Christina Peters. It was really fun but tougher than I expected because you have to put a lot of weight onto the clay. The pictures above show mine and J’s pots ready for firing. Christina talked us through the whole process while she created a sample pot. She was really good at explaining about the different types of clay and how to work the wheel. She’s extremely enthusiastic and I could tell she loves her work. She also talked to me about how she was making mugs for the cafe Rumpuscosy next door to the Radiant Gallery.
We also met Jill Coughman who was gathering ideas for a new piece. Her studio is bursting with paintings including a huge artwork of mermaids. Downstairs I watched Lesley Peate polishing some tiny pieces of copper jewellery. There was so much to see and I enjoyed walking around a lot and I recommend that anyone interested should visit on their next open day. 🙂