In the 4th and final episode all 6 crafters worked in pairs to produce items that reflected our time spent in the house, to be used indoors, outdoors and to help us continue to grow as creatives.
Rod and Stephen were teamed up to create a mirror for the hallway, Abi and Niamh had to produce their own version of the world renowned "Studio" magazine and Bryony and I had the exciting task of producing a weathervane for installation near to the summerhouse.
All three items were completely unanticipated by us and even the pairings seemed left field. Up to this point, all of my previous tasks had been two dimensional and very heavily image based. I was excited to learn that I would now get the chance to work in 3D as this was very much my background and training. I was also really pleased to get the chance to work alongside Bryony as we had formed a strong friendship during the process but had not previously had much chance to work creatively together.
The first day or so was spent talking and thinking about our direction for the weathervane and where it might take us, apt, due to its function... We knew that Voysey, who designed the original example was meticulous in ensuring that everything he created for a particular home was connected to its locality and surroundings. Bryony and I had heard that nearby there were some nature spots of significant beauty. As we considered which of these might provide inspiration for the final task, we also reflected on our journey thus far, got to talking about how our relationship had developed and how our thinking had become aligned in many ways.
In week 1, when the printing of my wallpaper was complete, I spent the evenings with Bryony in the metal shed getting to know her better and assisting with piercing and forming small things for her and Abi's projects wherever possible. Bryony and I had spoken about our families and we realised that we had something important in common, we had both recently lost our mothers. My mother passed away a couple of years back and this had had a strong influence on my design work in the sense that it had made me re-evaluate what was important to me, both in life and creativity itself, in terms of purpose. Bryony's loss was much more recent and therefore in many ways more raw, yet we had found parallels between our emotional state and ways of coping.
We spoke about how we felt our mothers would be proud of our time in the house, Bryony said that she kept finding feathers in the metalshed which made her feel like her mother was with her. This made me think about how closely connected birds were with the idea of delicate presence but also strength and freedom, especially birds of prey. Our discussion reminded me of a song that was important to me and my mother called "Eagle when she flies", we knew from this conversation that the strength and freedom we had both derived from our mothers would be influential in forming the ideas for the weathervane as it was this that has connected us both as artists.
We had formed a starting point with key words around strength, connection, and freedom, but we knew that in order to make the weathervane "truely Voysey" we needed to link these ideas with both the use of the item and most importantly the summerhouse and local area.
We reflected further on the time we had both spent with Niamh in the summerhouse during week 2 when she was generating ideas for her bedspread and realised that the this spot had become a significant place for both of us during our time spent at Wyndcliffe Court.
Bryony would go there in the remaining days when she needed time out from the intensity of her work and the darkness of the metalshed, it had brought her comfort and energy by providing a place to write to family. Through the light, the views and the vast nature she was surrounded by, she was able to find balance and harmony to become realigned with her purpose when things got too much.
For me, I had gone to the summerhouse at times to reflect and consider my direction when creating. Losing my mother had made me question my reasons for designing, and I knew that time away brought about clearer thought.
The summerhouse provided a place of peace and calm, a place away from any turbulence, deadlines or storm of confusion and it beckoned you to look out across the river Severn and consider the bigger picture and new directions. It had become a place of possibility where one could focus in looking out over it's panoramic views. In a sense, the summerhouse also generated strength and freedom but in addition, it provided clarity of vision.
We had read that the nearby "Eagle’s Nest" held an even more spectacular viewpoint, high above the Wye at Wyndcliff, and was a place of tourism during the Victorian era providing inspiration, peace and renewal to it's visitors. Recognising the parallels with the key visual messages we wanted to create, we considered this an appropriate place to visit and start thinking about the forms and images for the structure and detailing of the weathervane.
It was a long walk to the top but the whole visit proved fruitful! During our journey we came across these unusual leaves in the shrubbery (It's amazing how many little details you pay attention to when your mind is open and relaxed). I was fascinated by the heart shape at the bottom near the stem and kept them with me until we returned to the house in the hope that I could incorporate it somehow as a link to the locality.
When we reached the top we marveled at the view and stood for ages watching actual actual birds of prey swooping and soaring high into the air, they were so focused and yet so free. The patterns with which they moved at times seemed stormy and troubled yet, in a flash they were able to redirect with purpose and fly away with clear direction. There was huge contrast between the undulating nature of their hovering flight and the clean lines produced by their departure, we wondered if this could assist us with the form of the iron curves in the main structure.
On top of this, the sheer amount of landscape we could see from this vantage point left us in awe. A sign near to the viewing platform told us of Coleridge, one of the Romantic poets of the early 19th century, who described Wyndcliff view as “the whole world imaged in its vast circumference”. This made me thing of an orrery (a model of the solar system), and we now had a third visual spark to help with developing the form of the weathervane.
The final point of inspiration from this visit out came as we returned to Wyndcliffe Court, in a nearby village shop that we passed, I noticed handcrafted Welsh love spoons. One of them had heart shapes similar to that which I had noticed in the leaves earlier that day, second to that it was almost a perfect arrow shape for our weathervane. We figured there was no better statement to connect the locality back to our mothers as the original inspiration.
The next task was to begin sketching out ideas... We referred back to the images of the original Voysey weathervane that we had been provided with as a starting point...
There were several elements to consider, the bird at the top, the form of the iron scrollwork, the directional arrow and the letterforms to indicate North, South, East and West, not to mention how to install it on top of the post near to the summerhouse...
Our early sketches looked at the scrollwork and I can easily admit that our thinking about and eagle in flight away from turbulence and storms meant that my imagination meant I got carried away with the amount of scrolls I thought we could include given the one week timescale.
The form of the directional arrow became clear to us very quickly, it would mirror the love spoon almost exactly except at the bottom end which would incorporate the shapes we found in the leaves at the Eagles Nest. How we would attach it to spin with the eagle at this point was less clear as was the form of the eagle itself and the typeface for the letter forms.
After our first day of soul searching, scouring the landscape and sketching, we were a little worried that we weren't prepared enough to go to the forge the next day. The production crew had booked us four days to work with Ross at Anvil Forge in South Wales and we also feared that this would leave us insufficient time to work on making the eagle, arrow, letter forms and painting and finishing to a high standard.
As it turns out we worried unnecessarily, upon arrival at the forge we talked through our ideas with Ross and he reminded us that the key was to simplify the design and use any existing formers that were there for our scroll work. He also has benches and vices available for us to use to work on the more intricate components as needed around forging the ironwork.
Bryony and I worked together to streamline our design so that the essential elements were finalised, taking into account existing formers at the forge and allowing us to make a start on the ironwork and main structure.
We set up a flow chart of what we wanted to achieve during our time at the forge and even ambitiously set ourselves a 3 day target to leave more time for the finishing. We decided that we would both work on the main frame together, heating, hammering and twisting the iron by dividing the components up between us. This worked so well that at one point we were even hammering in unison like drummers!
As the parts were created we began to see how to connect and join the other components such as the arrows and the letterforms. Bryony took responsibility for the drilling and I cracked on with designing overlaps for the letters and directional arrow so that these could also be attached by riveting and fixed into place.
Work at the forge was progressing well and by the end of day 1 we had the main frame assembled. Day two saw us continuing with the scroll work and creating twists in the arms to mirror the twists in the love spoon arrow.
Back at the house that evening I began to consider how we could incorporate the orrery idea at the centre using brass rod, Bryony suggested that it could be coiled and cut to form circles the tricky part would be attaching it to the main frame. We decided that if I could overcome this aspect tomorrow trying out a push fit structure, whilst working with Ross to produce a stand, together we could also get the scrolls attached to the main frame. This would mean that Bryony could focus on making the eagle in copper on the last day back at the house and I would be able to help with project pergola.
It was an ambitious target even with a simpler design. The most difficult parts of day three was getting the brass rod to push fit into the main frame accurately and securely and attaching the scrolls to the main frame.
Each scroll had to be held in position with clamps whilst a tiny square cuff was formed as an open link, whilst red hot it had to be delicately wrapped around the frame and scrolls and clamped tight shut before it cooled down. We had about a three minute window to do each one and it took three of us to apply the cuffs using tongs to avoid burns an position it accurately to grip the scrolls tightly.
Despite a few difficulties, plus some worry and doubt we managed it, and Bryony even came up with the lovely idea of stamping ours and our mothers initials into the cuffs. By the end of day 3 with help from Ross at the forge we had a fully formed weathervane frame and a stand!!!
Despite the progress made ahead of schedule, the battle was not yet won. Back at the house we had two days remaining to create the eagle, finish and attach the arrow and letters, paint the whole thing, let it dry and install it at the summerhouse, oh yes and there was still the pergola to do, we recognised that we were still quite pushed for time!
Even though there was still lots to do, one lovely thing about that final week was having Bryony share my studio. She still needed to use the metalshed to form the eagle but the drawing of the bird and the arrow and letters could be finished off in the relative warmth of our newly shared space. This also became our area to hide the weathervane from the other crafters until it was fully painted so that we could surprise them with the finished form.
In those final few days, all six of us were juggling a range of our own jobs and cross-collaborating with the boys. Their mirror was a highly complex design with several elements and materials that demanded a range of skills and workers to see it to completion. Bryony worked on the brackets whilst finishing the eagle, I helped Stephen to cut the bone in between waiting for paint to dry as he also had ceramic washbowls and accessories to make and Abi was painstakingly finishing the intricate dovetail joints inbetween helping Niamh to complete the magazine. Meanwhile, Rod completed the marquetry and laminated surround before the final assembly.
In the library, Niamh was still working away at her typewriter creating thoughtful articles for the magazine which Abi had illustrated. She also had to saddlestitch 6 copies together and embroider the front cover of one. The articles were so thought provoking and as a whole the magazine fully reflected both the arts and crafts Studio title and our time as crafters in the house. We were all lucky enough to get our own personal copy which I will treasure!
Those finishing touches took us all through day 5. Then it was time for everyone who was able to create the detailing for the pergola. We began with a leaf making exercise using copper shim and borax, a technique that Bryony showed us how to do. Each person in the house made little baskets for tealights and bright red autumnal leaves for decoration.
It was towards the end of this day that Abi and I turned our attention back to the pergola and its main construction. With the help of David our technician we were able to have the main frame assembled by sundown.
As the sun rose on day 6, our final day, Abi began installing the frame whilst, Niamh, Bryony and I scoured the gardens for more foliage which Stephen helped us to install. We completed the pergola at the entrance to the house with literally ten minutes to go before the reveal to the judges.
It was finally time to unveil our weathervane. "Immi" the eagle crowned the top, standing proud in full glory and about to take flight (Immi, or Imogen as we named her means "in the image of her mother" which we felt was a fitting final touch to the overall presentation).
The finished piece symbolises the gathering of strength from the love of those close in seeking new direction that could change your world from chaos and turbulence to global opportunity. As a whole, the piece is essentially a tool for self reflection and an encouraging reminder that the winds of change can be a positive thing.
This will certainly be my lasting thought from time spent in the Victorian House of Arts and Crafts, I've a sneaking suspicion that this experience will have a lasting impact on both me and my work...
Photo credits to David Jones
If you would like to discuss any of my work produced at the house or my thoughts on the experience and its impact, please contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org