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

Monday, 6 July 2015

Modelling The Monty

At Saturday's Making Waves Festival in Welshpool I set up a little demonstration stand next to the Canal & River Trust. With Dan Austin as my co-engineer, it seemed like a good time to try modelling something specific from the Montgomery Canal. In the end we decided to try modelling one arch of the Vyrnwy Aqueduct.

The Vyrnwy Aqueduct (real not model)

First we made a layout of the butresses...

Then we used a sliced-in-half tin as our 'centring' structure. Not strictly authentic, and a few visitors to the stand joked about whether the canal engineers would have used giant chocolate tins to form their arches.

Plenty of people stopped to comment on the construction process, and there was much speculation on the design and its stability.

Adults were inclined to observe and pontificate, whereas young people were rather more keen to get stuck in and start adding bricks, and once they got started it proved fairly addictive...

It was a much wider arch than had been attempted with the previous models, so we weren't sure if it would hold firm, but with a bit of extra reinforcement above the arch we managed to remove the support in the end. Ta daaa!

The conversations I had with people during the event lead me to believe that it is a very universal human desire (which we don't grow out of) to make models of things that exist or that we would like to exist out of model bricks. Lego, although fun, is not 'real' or messy enough for many miniature engineers.

The idea that the brick moulds, plus pictures and instructions, might be made available as a 'Model the Monty' kit proved very popular. The model itself survived the journey home and will hopefully soon have another arch added before being photographed for the proposed kit.