A sculptural intervention, made from straw, atop heritage working boat Scorpio (Canal and River Trust) was created and processioned from Hatton Locks to Coventry Canal Basin over the course of four days. Realised by master thatcher Westley Marriott, the giant ear of corn sculpture references the local growing and harvesting of our Atle spring wheat at Hatton Farm; marks the return of straw/thatch to Coventry, previously burnt away in the Blitz; its movement manifesting the concept that sculpture is not fixed but rather transforms and iterates through time and space. Connecting the rural and urban Warwickshire contexts and focusing on sustainability, the grain has been turned into flour and the straw will be transformed over the next four months by our lead artists, working alongside communities from Coventry, to form part of the culminating Hand Earth Gesture Return public art installation at the Coventry Canal Basin this July. Watch >
A special thanks to Gordon, Heather, Sue and Chris from the Heritage Working Boats Group who kindly volunteered to steer the boat over the four day journey from Hatton to Coventry (plus getting it from Birmingham and back), as well as everyone else that gave their time and help to make this happen.
Hand Earth Gesture Return is an experimental artwork that publicly manifests across different media (film, photography, sculpture, performance, installation, events) over the course of a year, as chapters. Through this approach we aim to share the development and evolution, across time and space, of public sculpture, of an idea, of materials and their processing.
Coming next –
Chapter 4: The Build
Creating the sculptures with the public.
We’d like to acknowledge and thank all our supporters to date, including the National Lottery players.
In Summer 2021, our wheat field at Hatton Farm was harvested and transformed into The Rick (Chapter 2). In March 2022, volunteers helped take down the Rick, thresh the remaining straw, and load it onto a trailer to be used for fabrication at Hatton Locks, and moved to Coventry.
At Hatton Locks, outside the Canal and River Trust building, thatcher Westley Marriott and Pangaea director Lucy Tomlins experimented with ways to manipulate the straw and ultimately create our Hairy Barge.
On Wednesday 23 March, the Hairy Barge journey commenced. Starting mid-way through the Grand Union Canal’s famous ‘stairway to heaven’ flight of 21 locks at Hatton, the meandering journey reactivating the route of many commercial goods from our industrial past; passing through today’s towns, villages, countryside and urban landscapes compressing time and offering interesting, if not fleeting, visual juxtapositions as the boat travelled by.
The route: Day 1 took in Warwick, Leamington Spa (stopping at Procaffeinate) and on to Radford Semele. Day 2 picked up the Oxford Canal at Napton and on to Braunston. Day 3 took in the ample countryside around Dunchurch, Hillmorton and Stretton-under-Fosse before mooring at Hawkesbury Junction. With the last leg taking in the urban landscape along the Coventry Canal.
An ongoing feature of the HEGR project is an activation of the visual and material themes connecting the hand, to earth, to gesture and to lifecycle through drumming. HEGR drummer Mahandra Patel joined the journey to respond to the sounds and sites over the course of this chapter.
The Hairy Barge culminated in an event day at Coventry Canal Basin on Saturday 26th March. A number of talks and workshops at the intersection of heritage, craft and contemporary art marked its arrival into Coventry.Kadence Music welcomed in the boat, and later led a hand drumming workshop.
Pangaea’s Zoe Petrie led a clay workshop, allowing the public to get their hands dirty and learn traditional craft skills making flowers inspired by the work of HEGR Kolkata-based artist Dolon Kundu. The five flowers represented in the adornments include true indigo (indigo tinctoria), woad, wormwood, periwinkle, rose and lotus. Woad and indigo plants are used in both Coventry and across India to make natural blue dyes. The combination of these flowers suggests a shared heritage and connection through industry and the colour blue.
Art historian, researcher and straw artist Sylvia Martin demonstrated craft possibilities with straw (STRAW ATLE MARCH 26 22 – Sylvia Straw). Significant interest was shown in the display/example works of folk straw art (from eight countries) she presented. This included art students/people wanting to develop their own art using sustainable materials – such as corn husk and sea grasses, as well as straw – and to start businesses/develop the concept further. Visitors to the corn dolly/straw art demo included local folk from the Indian, Polish and Ukraine communities (children, youth and adults), members of the Home Schooling community and even some farmers from the wider rural community involved in the project’s earlier growing stages.
Members of the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Parkash, Coventry, made fresh roti with our traditionally harvested flour while heritage grain farmer and co-founder of the Heritage Grain Trust John Letts provided knowledge and insights into heritage grains. Artist Jim Woodall and Head of Architecture at Coventry University Sebastian Hicks tested structures using clay and straw, building towards this summer’s culminating installation.
Running concurrently at Draper’s Hall was ‘Making Places’, hosted by Heritage Crafts, at which our film from Chapter 1: The Seed was shown. This conference, with keynote speakers Patrick Grant (BBC Great British Sewing Bee, Community Clothing) and Prof Martyn Evans (Director of the Manchester School of Art), asked: What can we do to help reconnect people with their craft heritage and show how the skills of the past are reflected in the making activities of today… and can continue to be a source of productivity, well-being and community into the future? In fact Hand Earth Gesture Return is a live case study of exactly how to do that in a way that is designed for, and resonates with a local context, as well as the diverse communities that co-exist within it.