Wednesday, 9 December 2015

CRT Annual Showcase

Just over a month ago, on Friday 6th November, I was invited to hold a stall at the Canal & River Trust Annual Showcase in Shropshire. There were many other organisations and individuals attending, from wildlife, boating and angling organisations to charities working with young people and the resident Blacksmith at Ellesmere canal yard.

I displayed the newest additions to the Monty Canal modelling kit: some fish-bellied 'cast-iron' beams, and the moulds used to make them. The CRT education specialists and workshop leaders had a stall too, and it was good to talk to them about some of their canal-connected activities including a modelling kit they use with younger children in sandboxes.

I also presented information about the other strands to the residency, such as the Newtown Field Trip, the textile collaboration and this blog.


In the afternoon there was an opportunity to take part in planning sessions and I joined the Montgomery Canal group. It was a good chance to put forward ideas that have emerged from my research and time spent on the canal but have not directly become part of the project. It was also a good forum to talk about the contact I've had with different communities along the canal, as well as my own points of view on the future of the canal as a native of Mid Wales.


After a few trials and mock ups we are starting to plan how everyone's ideas can work together in the final banner. See below for a watercolour outline of the layout I did to help visualise what will go where. 

Some of the visual influences we are incorporating in to the design are Trade Union banners, retro-futurist art, geometric pattern and traditional canal boat painting, as well as the engineering, flora and fauna of the Montgomery Canal itself. In terms of textile techniques, collectively we are likely to use applique, maybe even reverse applique, paper-piecing and needle-felting, to name but a few.

I look forward to our next meet-up in January when we will start to construct the  background and central elements of the banner.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Mock Ups & Motifs

During last Thursday's session working on the banner we started laying out the text to try out different ways to structure the design. We agreed it would be a good idea to wait until the motifs are designed before positioning the text or cutting the backing fabric to size, so we can make sure there is enough space for everything. 

Below are some possible layouts, although they may evolve again as the collaboration develops. The backing fabric will be dyed to fit in with the shared colour palette too.

Possible layout for the backing fabric


Possible text layout

We made a rough guide to the size of some of the motifs that will go on the banner (see image below). The motifs could be oval, square or irregular shaped and most people are going to make two, one for each side of the banner, that mirror each other slightly.

Here are a few images to show how people's ideas are developing...

Liz did some experiments with fabric textures, colours and patterns...

Diana tried different combinations of colours and backdrops for her industrial cog motif...

Mary is planning two floral motifs inspired by canal-boat painting. Joan was inspired by the two images below to design a 'paper-piecing' motif based on lock gates.

We decided to meet again in January, to give people a chance to develop their ideas and to give a bit of space around the busy Christmas period.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Banner Palette

I've been working on a shared colour palette for the textile collaboration. Because of the difficulty in getting an accurate colour match on a computer screen or printer I decided to use watercolour and give everyone a postcard version of the palette instead.

Devising the colour palette in watercolour

Just to give some idea, here is the final palette below. Although the colours look different on screen they are essentially a mixture of strong canal-boat inspired colours on the right, and more watery grey, green and blue on the left.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Field Trip Follow Up

On the Morning of the 15th October, twenty or so of us gathered in the Canal Road area of Newtown and set off in search of clues and traces along the 'ghost' section of the Montgomery Canal between Newtown and Pwll Penarth. We were a varied group including geologists, historians, poets, artists, canoeists and the generally curious.

We started at the remains of the last bridge, just before the mysterious and now filled in canal basin. Joining the dots from there we followed the line of the canal taking in the sites of missing bridges, the canal-influenced architecture, the pump-house and a missing lock, hidden canal-side sheds and bridges.

Stopping at spots where the aura of the canal as a living, industrial entity was still at its most concentrated and potent, I supplemented the power of the imagination with images of artefacts I have come across in archives and museums during the residency.

Most of us on the walk were familiar with the route we took, but we attempted as a group to strip away our habitual responses and look in a different way. Contributions from geologist Andrew Jenkinson and Kate Lynch, Heritage Officer from the Canal & Rivers Trust, added insights from other angles.

Standing by the Pumphouse looking at images of its engines and chimney before it was removed.

At the end our walk and talk evolved in to a well-earned chat and sip at Newtown Market Hall.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Beautiful Beams

Progress on the Monty Canal Modelling Kit! I've moulded the first miniature 'fish-belly' bridge beams, making it possible to model one of the Monty Canal's signature bridges. They are a very satisfying shape to pull out of the mould, and on this scale a lot easier to handle than the original cast-iron ones...

Like the bricks, these have been cast using plaster with added iron - so they are almost authentic! The red colour gives them a look of rusty rather than fresh cast-iron.

Ta daaa!

I found a few volunteers after the Canal Field Trip last Thursday to try out the new components.

 The model below ended up with an unorthodox but intriguing staircase detail.
Bridge model with unorthodox staircase detail!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Spider Stitches & Bulrushes

I'm getting ready to meet up with a group of stitchers from the Llanymynech area on Friday, to start designing a collaborative textile piece for the Montgomery Canal. 

Last weekend I visited the National Waterways Museum in Gloucester, and found some nice examples of stitching by canal boaters. These belts using 'spider stitch' were apparently made for the boatmen by their daughters.

Last time I met up with the group we talked about designing applique motifs inspired by canal flora and fauna, and someone mentioned bulrushes. Minutes after leaving that meeting I came across some lovely bulrush specimens near Llanymynech and took a few photographs for future reference...

Monday, 21 September 2015

Heritage Open Day Llanymynech

I held an Open Studio at Llanymynech Heritage Area on 13th September. It was a chance to talk to volunteers and local residents I had met earlier in the year about progress on the residency. I explained how the canal-modelling workshop I held in Spring has developed in to the idea of a Montgomery Canal modelling kit that will be available to loan after the residency. 
It was also a chance to seek people to get involved in a new stage of the project - designing and making a textile artwork for the canal. After conversations with Joan Zorn of the Llanymynech Limeys, it looks like I have struck gold as apparently there are quite a few avid quilters and stitchers in the area....

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Re-making The Monty

In August I finally made a trip to see the Ellesmere canal yard and have a look in the 'Pattern Shop', a room about which I had heard much and was very curious to explore.
The yard itself is great, with a dry dock and a huge maintenance workshop (see below) of which I am extremely envious. What artist doesn't dream of a studio so well equipped and cavernous? The crane outside is also pretty impressive. 
The yard is an interesting mixture of buildings still in use for their intended purpose, such as the dry dock, where a narrow boat was being repainted, and spaces such as the weighing house that look as they would have done the day people downed tools in the 1930s.

The maintenance workshop / Mega-studio

Next to the maintenance workshop, the original blacksmith's shop is still in action, occupied by blacksmith Rowan Taylor who shares it with a selection of relics and artefacts from canal engineering days. 
One such artefact is this pattern for an iron fire-box. These were used in the little lock-keepers huts to keep warm when there was no adjacent lock cottage. They are temptingly reminiscent of parts from a giant meccano set.

Pattern for an iron fire-box

And now to the Pattern Shop! This was something of a pilgrimage for me. I love mouldmaking and casting and had been told there were many of the original designs or 'patterns' for moulding all sorts of components on the Montgomery Canal. 

This is indeed the case, and what follows are glimpses of a treasure trove of wooden patterns, carved in to all sorts of unlikely shapes that would be more recognisable in metal, but are somehow made strange by their conversion in to this mellow material.
Patterns for all sorts of components: handrails to gearing to depth measures...
There was a sense that you could put all these parts together to create a wonderful, completely wooden world.

The wooden treasure trove

Some particularly nice gearing and cogs

Rather than speculating wildly (although that would be fun) I am going to find out more about the patterns and their uses at the Heritage Open day on September the 12th and will post some more images of specific curiosities then.

Until then I will leave you with an image of the wooden pattern for the handrails on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. If you've ever walked across this aqueduct you'll agree they are crucial, with a lot riding on their durability. The gaps between the rails are rather wider than I would like, but it adds an extra thrill, and it's good to know they can always make more...

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Bridge Builders

The headteacher at Abermule Primary School approached me as they had been doing a school-wide project on the canal during their summer term. I agreed it would be good to collaborate with pupils and get them involved in the design of the 'Modelling the Monty' canal-modelling kit.

Pupils from the school spent a few weeks in the run-up to my visit moulding their own plaster bricks using silicone moulds I had made. We decided I would come to the school and we would build a bridge model to test the kit. We also thought it would be a good idea to make a stop-motion animation of the process.

Earlier in the term pupils had been working with their music teacher performing songs celebrating the building of the canals and the glory days of canal transportation, and one of the songs they performed, titled 'Grand Canals', forms the soundtrack to the animation above.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Signs & Sketches

I have been gathering ideas for a textile banner for the Montgomery canal which echoes the one made to celebrate the arrival of the railway in Newtown in the 1800s. 

I've looked at ideas that echo the style and typography of the original banner, which proclaimed 'Success to the Railway', but with imagery that reflects the idea of water power. In the sketch below I've depicted water frothing and pouring through lock gates, with drips of wet paint infecting the text as well.

I like the idea of a banner which mimics one of the officious Shropshire Union Canal 'NOTICE' signs. Here is a sketch of a watery sign, which could carry a message about the process of canal restoration.

I've also been tempted by the idea of a retro-futurist or Steam Punk image that specifically references the Montgomery Canal, so I've been exploring the 'Steampunk User's Manual', below, which covers visual art, literature, design and music.

The emphasis on industry got me thinking about the iconic engineering on the canal. A Monty canal Steampunk image would have to include the paddle gears designed by George Buck, as they are unique to the canal, and they echo the Steampunk obsession with cogs. 

George Buck Paddle Gears

Equally original are the 'fish-bellied' iron bridge decks, cast at Brymbo ironworks in Wrexham. Old photographs of the ironworks, (before it was converted to  a steelworks in 1885) evoke the amazing productive power of the area and how all the materials and components for building the canal and its structures could be obtained in relatively close proximity, within the melting pot of industrial activity that spanned from Ironbridge across to the coal-fields of Wales. The image below is the stuff of which retro-futurist dreams are made!

Brymbo ironworks in the 1860s, copyright Peter Appleton and Wrexham Heritage Service

Iron 'fish-bellied' bridge deck on an unrestored section of the Montgomery Canal near Newtown