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.  

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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