When I started this project, I knew that I did so because of the stories, the reasons why follies exist, why they have meaning, and how their meaning can change depending on our own histories and perceptions. So when Alan Terrill got in touch and sent me the photo and article below (first printed in the Folly Fellowship Magazine in 1999), I felt grateful that he was willing to share his story. I have created a new category, 'Folly Stories', to hopefully add to over the years, to show that follies, and the stories linked to them, are as alive now as hundreds of years ago. Thank you, Alan.
Rohan’s Tower was completed in May 1999 and stands at the bottom of my garden overlooking fields stretching to the North Downs. Since moving here six years ago I had toyed with the idea of building a tower for the millennium, but nothing other than the location had been decided, when in August 1997 my son Rohan was taken ill with cancer, and all such ideas had to take a back seat in the endless trips to hospital. During his illness we discussed building a tower and he said I’d have to make it with a ramp to the top so he could get up to the top in his wheelchair. Strangely enough I found such a tower in Copenhagen last summer, with a ramp big enough to take a carriage and horses. When he died, aged 12, in April the following year, I set to work with a passion to make him a worthy memorial and to give me a purpose in life in the terrible months that followed. My son’s grand passion was Lego, and he also had a great sense of humour, so I determined to make his tower incorporate some colourful elements and not be too grim and gothic. I scoured the architectural salvage yards for staircases and found a suitable straight fire escape rusting in the nettles not far away. I had two extra legs welded to the platform to make it freestanding, and with the help of a neighbour with a JCB, erected the staircase and platform onto a concrete base. I cleaned the rust off the metalwork and painted it in the bright primary colours of Lego bricks.
I looked around for suitable bricks and chose some nice shiny blue paving bricks which were available with matching kerb bricks which I thought I would use to give the tower rounded corners. I also chose two circular Greek key slabs, designed to go in the centre of patio designs, which I thought would look nice mounted vertically. The evenings and weekends throughout the summer and autumn were spent patiently laying bricks to a general plan in my mind but with nothing on paper. A gothic arched doorway was made in one face and above this I mounted a stone plaque with `Rohan’s Tower 1998' engraved on it. Engraving reconstituted stone is one of those things you do quite easily with a hobby drill, yet somehow doesn’t get a mention in those TV adverts. I got the plaque in place before the end of 1998, thus solving the problem of whether the date refers to Rohan’s death or the construction of the tower. My daughter bought me a gargoyle for Christmas which I determined to mount near the top, and after some searching I managed to find two more all different, so there was one for each face of the tower. After a couple of on the spot redesigns, the tower eventually reached the top of the handrails in April, the only problem being how to finish it off. I thought battlements too cliched and uncomfortable to lean on, and although I fancied small obelisks I couldn’t find any small enough to fit. Eventually my wife suggested using the giant Lego bricks they sell as lunch-boxes and I have to admit they look rather nice when the sun catches their bright yellow surfaces. A stained glass window saved from a refurbished board room was added last, and makes the inside look slightly less like a privy. A maze in the shape of a tortoise is being marked out at the foot of the staircase, its shape only discernible from the top of the tower.
Just after completion, we held a sponsored bike ride for my son’s old school on the bike track which encircles the tower. In order to include the tower in the proceedings we asked the children to bring their teddy bears with them for a spot of bungee jumping from the parapet of the tower. They obliged by bringing all manner of bears dressed in helmets and goggles, and some of the braver bears took to skydiving onto a small trampoline.
I’m satisfied to have built my first tower and it provides a nice spot to watch the hot air balloons which pass over on summer evenings. I hope it will make people smile despite its function as a memorial.
Hurrah! Yesterday, the I had the perfect travel companion for the six-hour drive necessary to visit two potential follies. One of them was just a recce, to continue discussions about 'who, what, when, where, why and how' from a position of knowledge. It was also the opportunity to visit a site together with a fellow glass artist, and a dear friend. This folly, which shall remain nameless until confirmed, will be a challenge, but one that I would love to take on.
Then we went on to visit Williamson Park in Lancaster, to meet Will Griffith, Operations Manager at the park, to view the Ashton Memorial. I had chosen this folly weeks ago, for its beauty, its location, its background, and for the fact that it actually has an established exhibition space. The 'follification' in this case will involve a series of workshops, where I hope to explore the idea of a 'memorial' - sadness and loss, yes, but also memories and celebration of times had. Not all pieces made will be linked to loss, and not all will be for 'real' people. At the moment, I am hoping to create two parts to the exhibition - one a number of large pieces of sheet glass with flamework, but also a much larger number of small, postcard sized pieces featuring people's memories and messages. I will post another blog, a bit further down the line, about my thoughts and motivations behind this particular folly..
Exact dates will still need to be confirmed, but workshops will be held in 2012, with the exhibition taking place in 2013.
Tomorrow, I'm 'packing' my harshest critic (thankfully, he takes up less than 4ft of space), and together, we will be setting off to visit not one, but two potential follies. Whereas I hoped to have news last week of one that is far, far south, this time, we're heading north. So I will be taking lots and lots of pictures, just in case they do work out. I am not being deliberately obtuse, I am bursting to share good news - but only if they're definite, so do forgive me if I keep things under wraps for just a little bit longer - knowing my luck, I'll have three confirmations in a single day, and then I'll be busy busy updating this website with extra pages - fingers crossed!
This morning, for the first time in a long, long while, I tried to draw 'properly'. I felt I owed it to everybody to come up with some sort of artist's rendition of Rapunzel Tower at Stainborough Castle. As you can see, I'm no natural with a pencil :) But the experience led to an unexpected epiphany - my three-year-old suddenly declared he had drawn the castle as well! And so I thought - hang on! What a fantastic idea! Wouldn't it be fabulous to collect drawings, paintings, etc. of Rapunzel's Tower (it doesn't have to be Stainborough Castle, artistic interpretation is welcome) from other young artists? And so, here is the first proper 'Get involved' call to arms - er, pencils, crayons and paintbrushes. I would *love* to see more interpretations of Rapunzel's Tower. The more, the merrier - if you work in a school or pre-school, please get the kids on it. If your child says they're bored, tell them the story (if they don't already know it) and get them to draw (or build?). The project is still small, so I don't expect an avalanche, but it would be fabulous to see some drawings on here! You can either upload them to the Facebook page
, or drop me an email at sabine[insertemailsignhere]sabinelittle.com. And to get you even more inspired, here is my son's interpretation - do I detect a hint of Kandinsky there? :o)
Today, I took husband and child to Wentworth, to once more stand in front of 'my' tower of Stainborough Castle in wonder. In the very near future, I'll need to go up there again, with a tape measure, to start planning the specifics, but with the abandoned tower firmly locked, today, I was forced to zoom in on the top window. Through it, you can see the sky, since this tower has no top. This is the reason why I'm hoping to get a lot of my planning done before it gets much colder, if past years are anything to go by, once it starts to freeze, that'll be it for access until March - because I'm not going up those steps when they have ice on them - I suppose health and safety concerns everybody, even artists :o)
I did pay a brief visits to the other follies that I have already identified - three so far at Wentworth, but since they are dependent on the success of this one, I just waved at them briefly. Then, while the little one played in the playground, I produced a highly accurate technical drawing of the hanging mechanism for Rapunzel's Tower...can you tell what it is yet?
I just had a fabulous meeting with Peter Clegg, the man in charge of the education and development programme at Wentworth (home of Stainborough Castle, aka Rapunzel HQ!) It is so lovely to hear how many people are supportive of the project! Together, we are tentatively thinking about supporting events, workshops in schools and at Wentworth, lectures, etc. With a bit of luck, the date (which is yet to be finalised) will fall around Wentworth's Rhododendron Festival, which will make for an absolutely stunning backdrop for photos! Even more excitingly, the lovely people at Wentworth are happy to talk about a long-term collaboration, provided that this first one goes well, so I'm keeping everything crossed!
Just as I walked away, I saw a bunch of red deer on the estate, however, my camera phone wasn't up to the job, and so a picture of Rapunzel will have to do. Now that it's all a definite go-go-go, I'll try and mock a sketch or similar up, so that everybody interested can get a look-see of the intended!
Magritte famously said 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' to illustrate that pictures of something aren't the same thing as the real 'something'. As straightforward as that sounds, in sculpture, it gets a bit ore complicated. You create a real something, which may refer to something completely different, something buried within the observer, and it might be a different 'something' to different people. I like that!
But actually, I digress, and it's not what this post is about - it's about things not being what they seem - I've not posted in a bit, but this is not a lull, in fact, it's anything but! I am exchanging emails to get new follies on board, I'm negotiating access, I'm meeting with the folly-keepers of those follies already established, and I'm trying to come up with a secure, long-term project plan. And I'm making glass to fit some follies. But, in a chicken/eggs/hatched kind of way, I obviously can't report on stuff until after it is agreed, so, to the outside, it looks like a lull, whereas it is, in fact, folly overdrive!