Autumn outings

This is my first journal post since the Beneath the Beacon exhibition and trail drew to a close in September. After the busyness of the summer spent checking on the figures and mechanisms, hosting visitors and working with local folk musicians on a related song project, the aftermath was something of an anti-climax.

 Colonel Rutherford writing home from the front.

Colonel Rutherford writing home from the front.

Since being collected from their temporary homes the characters have taken up residence in my studio. There they jostle and clamour to catch my eye everytime I cross the threshold, clearly impatient to get back in the public gaze.

After the exhibition and trail I’m struggling to know where the characters should go next. I want the whole alphabet to be on display rather than individual figures being shown piecemeal. But this means finding a venue large enough to host all 26 figures or several new locations across Penrith.

I took Colonel Rutherford and Lady Gillford along to the Penrith Remembrance celebrations where they showed off their wartime credentials, the Colonel’s automaton writing home from the North African campaign and the Lady’s knitting socks in response to Kitchener’s Call.

 Sarah Losh, the first of the static figures to be reworked as a hand-cranked automaton.

Sarah Losh, the first of the static figures to be reworked as a hand-cranked automaton.

The next outing is planned for Saturday 1 December when Sarah Losh (A is for Architect) will visit the stunning church she designed at Wreay, just south of Carlisle. Along with a few other characters she will feature as part of a performance of songs and poetry inspired by the Beneath the Beacon characters. Tickets are £5 and available from Bookends, 19 Castle Street, Carlisle, or Ad lib, 9b King Street, Penrith, or Wreay Syke Fold, Wreay or call 016974 73744 or 016974 73687.

Sarah’s is the first of the static retablos to be re-worked as a hand-cranked automaton - a process I’ll be undertaking with all of the figures in the coming months. My next journal post will show how she, and her flying dragon, have been animated.


dusty archives giving up their stories

 H - Huckster John Close: his story box is on display at the EVAN Gallery in Penrith's Corney Place

H - Huckster John Close: his story box is on display at the EVAN Gallery in Penrith's Corney Place

With a week to go in the Beneath the Beacon Alphabet Trail there's still time to see the characters come to life in Penrith.  The trail runs until 2 September in shops and other venues around the town.  Pick up a leaflet at the EVAN Gallery on Corney Place.

If you've visited you will have seen that each character is accompanied by a copy of an historical document that tells part of their story.  These documents are the link with my original inspiration for Beneath the Beacon. 

In 2015 I was working for the Cumbria Archive Service, trying to connect communities with the rich treasure trove of written history held by the Service at Lady Gilford House in Carlisle. 

I could sense the people whose experiences and memories were held fast in the boxes of documents on the shelves - all kinds of letters, papers, press reports, minutes and records  - and was wondering how to bring them to life.   

 U - Unfortunate Mary Chambers' Certificate of Freedom from the Paramatta Factory

U - Unfortunate Mary Chambers' Certificate of Freedom from the Paramatta Factory

As someone who prefers to work in three dimensions I started to think about the possibility of creating figures based on the characters.  And so the idea of creating the story boxes and automata was first sown.  

With (for the timebeing) the Trail coming to a close we'll be showing the archive documents and transcripts on the Beneath the Beacon website alongside their characters so that virtual visitors can explore them online.  

If you'd like to hear a different angle on the trail, on Friday evening (31st August) at Penrith Playhouse local musicians and poets will be performing songs and poetry inspired by the people Beneath the Beacon.  Tickets are only £5 and are available from the EVAN Gallery or here.  I love the way the musicians have picked up on the stories and re-interpreted them in their own way.  The characters have once again taken on lives of their own, heading off in directions that the archives can only hint at or suggest.  

 

THE LAST LEG OF THE JOURNEY

The first dozen of the characters set off today on the last leg of their journey, jostling and bickering in the back of the van.  Arriving safely at the EVAN Gallery on Corney Place they disembarked and now impatiently await the display cases, plinths and interpretation boards that will complete the exhibition. 

 l-r william jameson, samuel lacy, william fairer, percy toplis, william robinson, sarah losh, poet close, margery jackson & joseph pocklington togther with felix, jane and richard III hiding shyly

l-r william jameson, samuel lacy, william fairer, percy toplis, william robinson, sarah losh, poet close, margery jackson & joseph pocklington togther with felix, jane and richard III hiding shyly


 One of Colonel Rutherford's charming illustrated letters home during World War II

One of Colonel Rutherford's charming illustrated letters home during World War II

 

In the next few days their automata colleagues will arrive at the venues around the town where they'll be showing off their moves for the next five weeks. 

Each one is liberated from its static state when a 20 pence piece is inserted in its coin slot, with the proceeds going to local charity, Hospice at Home.  

In the meantime former colleagues at Cumbria Archive Service have been busy digitising the original documents that tell the Beneath the Beacon stories.  The Archive houses thousands of records at Lady Gilford House, Petteril Bank but few in the county know of their existence.  

Ranging from official records to intimate correspondence and hand drawn maps to press cuttings, they were the inspiration for bringing the characters to life.  

The exhibition is accompanied by a heritage quest for families that draws upon these sources.  It consists of twenty-six questions, one for each character.  

 Revd Sidney Swann at the controls of his home-made flying machine

Revd Sidney Swann at the controls of his home-made flying machine

 

This weekend is a busy one by Cumbrian standards with the Penrith Show, Potfest in the Park and Kendal Calling going head to head in the local visitor attraction stakes. 

I hope that some of the people drawn to town for those events will find out about the exhibition and call in while they're here or come back in the coming weeks to see more.  

THE CHARACTERS RETURN HOME FOR THEIR PR SHOTS

In the last couple of weeks I've been working with Gavin Jacob Power to photograph the Beneath the Beacon characters in their home landscape.  Our journey took us from one highlight of the Cumbrian landscape to another.  We visited the fellside village of Croglin, birthplace of Margery Jackson's servant Watty before heading west via Sarah Losh's architectural gem at Wreay Church, and then to the Lake District where we climbed to the summit of Latrigg.  There we enjoyed a panoramic view of glorious Derwentwater and the Lake District fells, captured by Peter Crosthwaite in his pictorial maps. 

 Margery Jackson and her servant Croglin Watty in Croglin chuchyard.  Photo by  Gavin Jacob Power . 

Margery Jackson and her servant Croglin Watty in Croglin chuchyard.  Photo by Gavin Jacob Power

I'm delighted with Gavin's quirky compositions as they show the figures off in a landscape that they would recognise today.   

 Wiliam Graham, the Poacher of Longdales, by the Eden at Armathwaite.  Photo by  Gavin Jacob Power . 

Wiliam Graham, the Poacher of Longdales, by the Eden at Armathwaite.  Photo by Gavin Jacob Power

I hestitate to pick out a favourite, but if pushed, I'd go for the photo of Hugh Lowther, the Yellow Earl with Lowther Castle in the background.  

 The Yellow Earl, exiled from his family home which can be seen in the background.  Photo by  Gavin Jacob Power . 

The Yellow Earl, exiled from his family home which can be seen in the background.  Photo by Gavin Jacob Power

The photos will feature alongside the characters at the EVAN Gallery as part of the Beneath the Beacon Exhibition which starts in a fortnight's time, on Saturday 28 July.  

 Lorna Graves, back among the landscape and livestock that she loved.  Photo by  Gavin Jacob Power . 

Lorna Graves, back among the landscape and livestock that she loved.  Photo by Gavin Jacob Power

eden valley evenings

On Monday evening I rode up the Eden Valley from the sandstone bridge at Armathwaite to the Bailey bridge at Langwathby and then back by Great Salkeld.  The cluster of houses at Longdales above Coombs Wood show no signs of their most infamous resident, poacher William Graham.  William appears in the Beneath the Beacon alphabet as D is for Defendent, after his sensational acquittal for the murder of a local gamekeeper.  The pretty cottages basking in this week's May sunshine bear little resemblance to the rough thatched hovel where William and his family eked out a thin living.    

 D is for Defendent: William Graham, the Poacher of Longdales who is caught in a mantrap as part of the Beneath the Beacon automaton alphabet.  

D is for Defendent: William Graham, the Poacher of Longdales who is caught in a mantrap as part of the Beneath the Beacon automaton alphabet.  

 M is for Miser: Margery Jackson whose brother William enjoyed untroubled, summers at Croglin Hall until Margery's chance visit to nearby Nunnery proved terminal for his health and wealth.  

M is for Miser: Margery Jackson whose brother William enjoyed untroubled, summers at Croglin Hall until Margery's chance visit to nearby Nunnery proved terminal for his health and wealth.  

The switchback road from Longdales continued past Nunnery where Margery Jackson's letters to brother William were returned with disdainful interest, sparking (M is for Miser) Margery's righteous fury and re-igniting the drawn-out legal battle over her inheritance.  I could imagine Margery, letter in hand, agitated, walking to and fro in the gardens above the river valley.  Did her relatives try to calm her emotions and turn her away from litigation, or did they stir her passions and encourage her claim?   

Beyond Nunnery and Kirkoswald the road passed the ancient stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters before descending in a sweeping curve to Little Salkeld, home of Colonel Samuel Lacy (X is for eXploder), and the Watermill, home of the eponymous biodynamic stoneground flour.  A mile or so further on, in Langwathby, the locals sat on the green outside the Shepherd's Inn enjoying the last drinks of the Bank Holiday weekend.  

Eschewing the climb over Penrith's Beacon and its attendant characters I headed north and west past Wan Fell and Brackenburgh and towards the sun as it slowly sank behind the Galloway hills.  

 

 X is for eXploder: Colonel Samuel Lacy

X is for eXploder: Colonel Samuel Lacy

just ten weeks to go...

After more than two years of hard work there are just ten weeks to go until Beneath the Beacon happens. 

The Automaton Alphabet exhibition and trail will go live on 28 July and run until the first weekend in September.  The response from the Penrith shopkeepers has been really positive and we'll soon be announcing the venues that will host the automata. 

Since the website has been live we've had some interesting traffic from China and the Eastern USA as well as dedicated viewers from just across border in Newcastleton and over the Irish Sea in Craigavon.  We hope you like what you see and will make the trip to Penrith to follow the trail.  

In future posts we'll be making connections between the project and related events, themes and places. 

In the meantime here are a couple of photos that appear elsewhere on the website.  The first is Sarah Losh's retablo - A is for Architect.   The second photo is Colonel Rutherford's automaton - C is for Colonel. 

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