In the spring of 2015, Pamela Pearson (Revealing Oldknow’s Legacy’s Learning and Interpretation Officer) put a request out for a local artist. I immediately replied. They were looking for an artist interested in working with heritage and social history to engage audiences. I ticked the box for local, artist, interested in the heritage of the Peak Forest Canal – as I live aboard a narrowboat and have a studio in one of Oldknow’s former buildings. It felt promising. Or maybe I was reading too much into it!
It turned out it WAS promising, and I was invited to be part of the first Mellor Mill festival happening on the 19th of July 2015.
The first workshop was to create signage for the Mellor Mill site on sandbags, with the public joining in and making it their own. In an ideal world, screening printing or stencil spraying on to the bags would have been perfect. But when you are working in a unique location like Mellor Mill everything is thrown out of the window. The site dictated that there was no access to electricity or water (other than the River Goyt!) There were no cleaning facilities or printing station. Everything needed to run my workshop had to be set up. We needed to be audience friendly, in particular make for the youngest of ages upwards.
The signage was for visitors, particularly when there was no one on site. All areas of the Mill were to be referenced, the images were to act as clues to what was there, the type of work which had taken place as well as to signify the individuals and images for individual buildings.
When I am not freelancing my practice consists of relief printing, painting, drawing and working through a 1001 ideas. Chatting with Pamela whilst taking in the then recent archaeological excavations we bounced ideas around. Forgetting the site’s restrictions we worked our way through the possibilities. Relief printing came out on top and outdoor meetings soon became normal.
I was lucky to be given access to the archives, photographs, finds, written extracts and other ephemeral items, fascinating reading and difficult to not be side tracked by the details and finds. Any questions no matter how clueless were answered or looked into.
Images were drawn, reworked and simplified. Sponge letters were ordered along with fabric paints and fabric medium to add to paint, lots of sandbags, foam boards, a lot of glue, a mountain of lino and time was spent sharpening the relief tools ready for the delivery. Days were spent carving, sticking and testing. All but one of the linos worked - Samuel Oldknow proved tricky, the first attempt resembled Christopher Walken in Sleepy Hollow, he had to be redone I didn’t want to be scaring anyone. I got there in the end.
July the 19th arrived, the car is loaded up and a 5 minute drive to the site, for the day I had the lovely Chloe to aid me in creating, and a good time printing was had by all. I don’t know the figures for attendees but we were busy all day. From 10am till 4pm, Samuel Oldknow, Mellor Mill and Mellor Lodge were printed all day, at least *250 clogs must have been printed along with 13 bags of water symbols to be place where the waterwheel once stood. Bags were pegged on the fence, water and wet wipes handed out to clean everyone up. Including Chloe and I. After the workshop finished we needed to leave no trace. Everything was packed up, sand bags gently laid on top of each other and all rubbish put in the car. You would never have known we been creating a colourful chaos all day.
What happened next?
There is always that initial feeling of oh that’s over, but really it’s not. There are always elements that need tying up after a workshop. I try to sit and write feedback and thoughts on the workshop whilst they are fresh in my mind, partly for the project I’m freelancing for, and for me to be able evaluate. Figures are counted and material stock take is quickly done. Everything needs to be cleaned in case they are needed again, scrubbing lino can be tedious but satisfying after a fun interactive day but honestly sponge letters took the longest to clean and dry. The bags were pegged up to dry.
A week later they were ready to be water tested and heat set, some had an extra layer of a fabric varnish. The work was so fast I worried some the medium had not been mixed on site properly and they needed to stand up to the four seasons.
A few weeks later the bags had been filled with sand and Pamela and I set out to distribute them across the site. A morning of appropriate footwear and lugging the sand bags around along with a few publicity shots taken by resident photographer Arthur Procter, it felt satisfying seeing it all in place. All the primary and bright colours really popped out amongst nature.
Just a couple of things to take care of to fully tie it up. The admin work post work shop always need to be done, receipts in order, invoice completed and time to mull over potential work for the site… if the Revealing Oldknow’s team wanted me back.
This first workshop turned out to be one of many, if you’d said I’d still be working on the project 3 years on I’m not sure I would have believed you. It’s lovely to work on a local project that is entwined with how and where I live, from a family point of view the project has offered many opportunities for us to be involved and continue to do so. From a sustainable community it allows a greater inclusion and awareness to the area. I hadn’t lived in Marple long when the opportunity arose and whilst juggling two little ones the project has been really supportive with my needs as an artist and mum which sometimes are less harmony and more winging it till bed time. Speaking of which time to hit the sandbags.