the art of straw-plaiting

There is always a nugget of social history to uncover, and the cottage industry of straw-plaiting is just one example.   In the winter when the work in the fields was completed, the women of Sible Hedingham used lengths of straw to plait and make into bonnets and other items to sell.  This was not only for their own benefit, but the work was of such high quality there was a regular consignment sent to sell in London, forming an important source of income.  There are some beautiful examples in the local museum, and artist Tim Ward has used this as inspiration for railings commissioned as part of the Bloors housing development in Sible Hedingham.

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Railings referencing straw-plaiting cottage industry

 

The brown-field site formerly had industrial uses, including the Rippers’ carpentry company making windows and air-planes, whichever was required.  Tim has used this to create beautiful benches installed in the pocket park at the entrance to the development.

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Bench referencing Rippers carpentry workshop

The sweep of the top-line reflects the curve of the waterway.  Formerly piped, Bloors have opened up the stream providing a new habitat for insects, but also providing greater capacity to prevent flooding.   The waterway flows through the centre of the development and into public open space that was previously closed off by the factory.  It’s a very successful development made all the more memorable by the artworks created by Tim Ward.

Working in partnership with Bloor Homes

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walking the line

Nihill Place in Croydon has been named after the local race walker, Paul Nihill, and now the public art is installed the new development is complete.

Tom Pearman has produced a suite of contemporary pieces that reflect the tram and train network and this concept of moving along a line.   The tram and train system was crucial to the growth of Croydon as a major suburb of London.  The town grew quickly in the 1930’s and the art deco colours are used in the artworks.

A new development of blocks of apartments is difficult to navigate so Tom’s design includes signage for each of the blocks.  The signs relate each individual block to each other and the  ‘map’ at the entrance shows the arrangement around the inner street.  They are colour coded for easy reference and look very classy beside each entrance.   The colour scheme and repeated lines are taken from the main artwork, a panel of repeating lines representing the network of infrastructure and movement along it from station to station.   The piece although flat has a 3D effect particularly when viewed from different ends of the inner street – moving along the line and looking back the artwork appears to fold.

Tom Pearman has also completed another impressive commission for the Mayor of London as part of the ‘Clean Air Campaign’.    He has a very clear, often humorous, graphic style that is well-developed but always reflects the place and the community represented by the artworks.  This is the mark of a high quality public artist.

Working in conjunction with Bellway Homes.

CB1 still a work in progress

The Station Plaza at Cambridge Station,  is noted for finely detailed buildings, discreet brick work, tiled elements, intricately laced balcony treatments which are subtle and tasteful. It’s also noted for being bland and having lost the impact of arriving at a particular destination. There is no sense of arrival in Cambridge.

As the redevelopment reaches its conclusion, there is a void. It is a box without tricks and the public art is an unconnected series of pieces that are mostly invisible to people passing through. Artworks that invite interaction give that element of surprise and fun that make a journey positively memorable. The public art here is a series of pieces that need signposting. The artworks are so quiet, so subtle that they are obscure and ignored.

Just because art is outdoors or in a public place, does not necessarily make it accessible. The point or success is however, judged by the public. Does it reflect local identity? Does it create a sense of place? Does it perhaps reference an historical connection? In a civic space there is an opportunity for artworks to comment, to make statements about who we are, where we are, and to reflect what we are about.

As far as referencing the history of the area, the historic ‘Ceres’ bronze by William Boyd was renovated following its re-discovery in Spillers Mill. The renovation of the Mill is one of the most successful, combining the form of the industrial building with a streamlined street scene that complements the surrounding new architecture and the station building itself. The ‘Ceres’ sculpture however, is rather isolated located in a courtyard to the rear of the building.

To the front, Dryden Goodwin has a series of portraits, embedded in the pavement around the bus stops. The miniature portraits etched into stainless steel discs, the material has

the dryden-goodwinappearance of service covers, and most people queuing at the bus-stops are unaware that they are there. This isn’t surprising as it’s difficult to get close enough to see the portraits without causing a trip hazard. There is a mismatch of design elements, material, scale and location that is disappointing.

 

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‘Continental Drift’ by Troika, is not very public installed in the entrance to the cycle park. Antoni Malinowski’s ‘Transparent Drawing’ – located on an elevation opposite the bus stops is well above eye level, too discrete to catch the attention. The less said about Jem Finer’s ‘Super Computer’ the better.

 

The curved bench by Partridge cb1benchand Walmsley is the most successful piece to date. Elegant and functional. It’s a high status bench in an area where seating is really quite limited.
Doug Alsop’s ‘Reflective Editor’ is a geometrical work designed as a gateway piece. The highly polished surfaces reflect the form and movement around it. It Image result for troika cambridge stationinvites interaction but is most useful as a perch seat and closely resembles an architectural design element. How many people notice it as an artwork is debatable.

One piece has yet to be installed. Gavin Turk has been commissioned to create an artwork for the central space; there is a definitely a need for something dramatic, inviting interaction, filling the void. Curator is a most overused word at the moment, and as a curated space this is sadly lacking in any commentary. The voice of the storyteller is silent. Maybe the Turk piece will bring it all together. Currently the most exciting part of the station area is the movement, the dance within the plaza, created by the travelling through of people, taxis, buses and bicycles. It’s worth visiting to watch the drama unfold, but if your interested in the artworks, you’ll need a pair of binoculars and a map.

The article was first published in January business pages of Cambridge News