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Over May half-term, I got a chance to go down to London and visit Alexander Pope's Grotto, on the grounds of Radnor House School, in Twickenham. I'm particularly excited about this folly, because my work will involve the pupils at Radnor House, and I'll get a chance to be "Artist in Residence", taking key parts of my work down to Twickenham over a number of visits, and returning to the site throughout the year.

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The grotto is far more integrated into school grounds than I was aware of, and I even found evidence that it must have been the site of the school's Easter egg hunt (by the way, guys, you missed two chocolates and three fluffy chicks!)

There is a table with stones, partial fossils and shells, and I got a good chance to take lots of pictures of features and mosaics.

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Understanding the layout of the grotto was particularly important to me for this first visit, it's something that's difficult to convey via pictures, and I wanted to make sure I understood the potential of the grotto right from the start - where are there niches that could be used for display, where are the light sources, where are the features situated, and what importance might be attached to them? The grotto tunnels right underneath the street, and exits at St Catherine's School across the road. After our visit, we found the steps leading down to the grotto on the other side.

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I am particularly happy to be working on the grotto, because, for the first time in this project, there is some eloquent writing about the folly. In a letter to his friend Edward Blount, written in 1725, Pope writes:

I have put the last hand to my works…happily finishing the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru’ the Cavern day and night. …When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture…And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms…at which when a Lamp…is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.


I think I'll be able to use that as a good starting point to play!

I'll keep you all updated as the folly continues, of course - expect fossils, shells, mosaics...........and probably a bit of evidence of the literary fight between Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope!

 
 
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A year ago, I relied on ten lovely people to help me plan and execute Rapunzel - carrying army stretchers through Wentworth Castle Gardens, spending two hours getting the frames rigged up, and then either staying or returning to take everything down. I will truly be forever grateful to these people - you know who you are!

By comparison, last week, I briefly turned up at Wentworth to meet Mervyn, one of the volunteers. Together, we drove to the Rotunda, and once we'd got the locks open, it took us less than 15 minutes to rig up the frame of the chandelier. Then, yesterday, I dragged "the munchkin" and hubby to meet Pete from Wentworth Castle Gardens, at a leisurely 9.30am (unheard of!!) Together, we went out to the Rotunda. Pete returned to get a brush to clean the floor, and, by the time he had returned, we had most of the glasses rigged up already!

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Due to one school dropping out, there were less glasses than anticipated, but the chandelier still looked lovely with the custom-forged ring made by Neil Gregory (of Wentworth Forge). The glasses were wired up with 0.4mm steel wire - plenty strong to hold an individual glass, but so thin that you had the impression the dangling glasses were held by the air alone.

The weather was less than perfect - in fact, had it been Rapunzel yesterday, we would have had to cancel, less because of near-freezing temperatures and constant drizzle, and more because of the constant, driving wind. However, this did not deter the general public, and I was truly touched by the number of people who had made a special effort to walk all the way through the parkland to see the chandelier, ranging in age from 8 months to 80 years. It is a fair track down, across open land, without protection from the wind!

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With each folly, I try to have a theme, an overarching idea, which rings true with the folly itself. For Rapunzel, it was playfulness, since Stainborough Castle was originally planned and built as a (rather grand, admittedly) play-castle. For Lady Mary's portrait, it was perseverance, creating over 6,000 glass beads for a mosaic portrait of a very persistent lady, who fought to have the small pox vaccination introduced to this country. The Rotunda used to be a summer house, for entertaining, for people coming together. So the chandelier was intended in the same spirit, for the whole community working together, to paint the wine glasses in question, and then to return to admire their work - as well as the stunning views. So, with this folly, I would like to say "thank you" to the community - for painting the glasses, and for coming to see them, even if you didn't paint one! And, of course, as always, special thanks to Pete, Nigel and Toby (aka the munchkin, who took the first picture above).

The next folly at Wentworth will be the conservatory, in the autumn......watch this space!

 
 
I have only just realised that, while I posted about individual exhibits on the Facebook Page, I have not done so here - sacrilegious! I'll be introducing some of the exhibits individually, so, without further ado, here is my thinking behind "Pocket-sized Grief":

The series "Pocket-sized Grief" consists of small, palm-sized sculptures, based on the Kübler-Ross model, which points towards five stages of grief. While not all stages may be experienced, it has been used in counselling and therapy since 1969. For me, it was important to create pieces that are personal - small enough to hide in a pocket, just as grief is often hidden by the individual, tucked away out of sight from the outside world - but also tactile, inviting handling, running a thumb across a groove, or simply being comforted by the shape inside the hand or pocket. Just like grief cannot be pushed away and examined from afar, these sculptures invite others to engage, to occupy themselves with the pieces, at an intimate, personal level.

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1. "Denial" - a smile, a closed eye lid - "I'm okay, everything is fine, don't worry!" But the glass is crackled, the smile breaking, the truth forcing its way into eyes that do not want to see.

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2. "Anger" - the inside of a fist, cast and personalised to fit just one person - this is *my* anger, why is this happening to me? Yet, the shape is perfectly contained within the hand, and so the outside world may never know what goes on inside.

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3. "Bargaining" - a weight to throw on the scales, "I would give anything, if only...". But inside the weight, a person, reminiscent of a games piece of a board game, because, in attempting pointless bargains, we only play with ourselves, and fool nobody.

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4. "Depression" - an opaque black sphere, caught on the inside, there appears to be no light, and no way out. The cork is pushed in so hard that access from the outside is difficult, while others try to help, it is the person on the inside who must push upward, forward, onward, out of the darkness.

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5. "Acceptance" - "no use crying over spilt milk", the past will not return, no matter how much we want it to. A glib statement, yet it holds a truth both fundamental and unavoidable. Acceptance slowly dawns. And yet, also the shape of a tear...nobody promised that acceptance would equate happiness.

 
 
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It's nearly half way through the project, and I am enjoying my work on the Follies immensely. One of the reasons I wanted to do "Follies for Follies" was because I am interested in stories and characters, and I feel that, over the past 20 months, since I first thought about the project, every single folly has had its own little quirks, and I thoroughly enjoyed the problem-solving that went hand in hand with this. So I thought, in no particular order, I would share some of these quirks.

Listed Buildings - pretty much a given for all follies I have worked on, the most fun one was Rapunzel....how *do* you get a 24ft sculpture secured to a building, without leaving a single mark? (thanks again for Ben and his fabulous knowledge of ropes!)

Distance - getting things from a to b without roads leading where you want to go......the main challenge is still coming up, at Clavell Tower in Dorset. Sculpture needs to be "dismantlable" (yes, I made that word up!), so it can be taken there, on foot, in parts......although the army stretcher solution for Rapunzel's hair comes a close second - or maybe carrying a glass window, in pitch black darkness, across a large parkland (Cannon Hall).

Weather - no, not the "I hope it doesn't rain, so people come", although that's important, too. I mean the "I'm hanging a large dangle of glass from a window, if it's windy, the whole thing won't work" (Rapunzel), or indeed the "access is difficult for a few months each year, as wet weather makes the doors swell, and we can't get in" (Rotunda).

These are just some of my "fun" moments...I'll think of a few more to share!

 
 
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Hurrah!

Well, it was not the most traditional in the way of Easter Sundays, but it was, nonetheless, a fantastic day. After loading my friend Rachel's van on Saturday, Toby (my son, also known as the munchkin), Rachel and I set off just after eight in the morning. Deciding to brave the Woodhead Pass, we were surprised by how little snow there actually was (bearing in mind that we still have some 7ft drifts in places!) By the time we got to Lancaster, the only snow visible was on the peaks of the Lake District, in the distance.

First to make it up the stairs to the gallery was the Sea of Memories (with us arguing to get it out of the way while we were still fresh), followed by tables, grid wall, table covers, and the remaining sculptures. The UV lamp had made the journey up, just in case anything got broken, but it wasn't needed.

Once I had worked out how I wanted to room set up, we made short work of it - it is only a small exhibition after all.

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The general public were in and out all the time - and thank you to the two men who gamely helped shift some heavier bits and pieces!!

And so, this is it! The exhibition will be up until the 5th of May (that is take-down day, so if you're planning on coming on that day, make it early). Following the exhibition, the Sea of Memories will hopefully travel to a few galleries, so ships are still available to sponsor, and will be added in May, in time for its next outing.

Thank you to everybody who has supported this particular Follies for Follies journey - I am truly grateful for your support, humbled by the stories you have chosen to share with me, and thankful that I was allowed to add your loved ones to the Sea of Memories!

 

Snow!

03/23/2013

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I can't believe it! After months of planning, foiled by snow! This week-end, I am due to set up at the Ashton Memories, but look at the picture. This is what my village looks like, and so, sadly, I have had to postpone setting up by a week.  I am terribly sorry, and my sincere apologies to all who were planning a visit this coming week!!

 
 
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It's finished! Inspired by the words of Y6 at Christ Church School, Lancaster, the House of Hopes is complete. What does a House of Hopes have to do in an exhibition about Memory/Loss, you ask? To me, it is the other side of the coin. Memories, loss, memory loss...it is all focused backwards. My exhibition, however, is not only about looking backwards. Our memories have shaped who we are: the losses we have felt, the people we have known, they have influenced us, and we live on. We live on to hope and dream, and our hopes and dreams, too, have been influenced by our memories. To do our parents proud. To make the best of chances given. To build on who we are, what we have, including what we have lost. Fragile, maybe, like a house of cards made of glass, but building, nonetheless. And the future hopes and dreams of Christ Church Lancaster's Y6 are a wonderful reminder that, in the unwritten future, anything is possible. Thank you, again, to the lovely Y6, for inspiring and helping to create this piece of work.

 
 
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You'll remember that, back in November, I went to Christ Church School in Lancaster, where the Y6 helped me explore the concept of "Memories" (see here for the write up of that day). Well, since then, I have been working to turn their work into a piece for the exhibition, and I thought I'd share the progress with you. 

One piece of work the students did involved hopes and dreams, working on the understanding that, with a bit of luck, our current hopes and dreams will be our future memories. To me, hopes and dreams are like a House of Cards - some are reliant upon one another (for Y to happen, X must happen first), and a House of Cards is fragile - just like our hopes and dreams, and just like glass. So, I wanted to build a House of Cards out of glass.

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First (above), I used an actual playing card to measure the size I would need, and cut up enough glass for four tiers in my glass House of Cards. Then (right) I attached the students' words, which I had printed on special paper. They are called "Decals", and are printed in actual glass pigments. The yellow layer will burn off, so that only the black writing remains.

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To burn the yellow layer off, and to make the writing permanent on the glass, the cards have to go in the kiln (left). This is the biggest of my three kilns, I call it "The Beast". Because glass can shatter if it is cooled down or heated up too quickly, it took quite a while to get the cards hot enough, and then cool them down again - nearly a day overall.

I'll share the next steps in another blog post - and to my fab Y6 at Christ Church Lancaster, I hope you enjoy seeing how your creation is coming to life!!

 
 
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Ever since the project started, I wanted to work on a grotto. In fact, this was so important to me, that I simply couldn't make my mind up! Then, out of the blue, a link presented itself. You see, Lady Mary (Wortley Montagu, you know her by now) was an avid letter writer. And many of these letters, she wrote to Alexander Pope. At first, they were the best of friends, sharing endearments, witticisms, poems, etc. But later, their relationship turned sour, and their exchange became somewhat vitriolic. I was intrigued. But I was even more intrigued that Alexander Pope had built a...grotto! For those who know me a bit better, the fact that this grotto contains not just shells, but a plethora of fossils, will help them share my excitement even more. 

Today, this grotto stands in the grounds of Radnor House School, an independent co-educational school for pupils 7-18 years old. And they have been very welcoming, with the result that I'll be working at the school and the folly in the latter half of this year, and the early half of next year, for several short-term stints, serving as the school's Artist in Residence, and culminating in a 'follification' in early summer 2014. So, there's a new folly in town, and a very happy artist, who has found the perfect grotto. You can find the new folly here.

 
 
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Well, I'm tickled pink. Today, Lady Mary returned to her ancestral home, Wortley Hall, where, from now on, she will greet visitors the moment they step through the door. Special thanks to Johnathan Da Rosa, General Manager at Wortley Hall, Ed, the lovely man responsible for installing Lady Mary, Rachel, for the eternal loan of her van, and Karen Dennis, Project Development Officer at EPIP (East Peak Innovation Partnership), for coming up with the idea that Lady Mary might want to go home! What a fab start to the year :)

(Picture below:  Johnathan Da Rosa, me, and Jade Ridley-Edwards, Sales Manager at Wortley Hall)