Murals and Sculptures: Cynefin – Week Four

A lovely day for a walk to Penllwyn Manor in Blackwood accompanied by three of the children’s fathers. Unfortunately, my attempts to gain access to the house proved unfruitful, though Douglas, the kind man at the council did his best to persuade the present owners of the building to let us have a look around. We got a glimpse of the house from behind a gate, and Ceri gave the class sketch pads and asked them to do some on-site drawings or rubbings of the wall.

I showed them how to stain their drawings and add tones using natural materials such as leaves. We also found some old stones that seemed to be part of the house and imagined what lay beneath them. Some ideas were: a tunnel through which servants/slaves may have escaped, a well, a vault containing Captain Morgan’s ill-begotten treasure.

We were inspired by a mural on the community centre wall (see below), and later that morning, Ceri asked the children to paint their own chosen elements from the project. We explained that there is going to be an exhibition of all the work from the project at Llandough hospital in July, and it will be good to have bigger, bolder work to display on the boards for staff, patients and visitors to see as they pass along the corridor.

The children painted some wonderful images including characters and scenes we have looked at so far.

In the afternoon, Eve Shepherd, the sculptor commissioned to make a statue of Wales’ first black head teacher, Betty Campbell came to talk to the children about her work. Although she wasn’t allowed to show us the statue itself, she showed us pictures she used of Betty to develop her piece of work, and gave us an insight into how she approaches a commission. She showed us a sculpture she made in collaboration with refugee children for the National Maritime Museum, called Sea Deity – see here. It was gratifying to see how much the children had absorbed when they answered some of her questions about Betty and other significant people such as Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks.

We also got a tour of Eve’s studio to see some of the tools she uses to begin a sculpture. The children asked some very good questions including, What made you want to be a sculptor? Eve told them that she had struggled at school, and it was only when she was given some clay one day and sculpted a penguin, that she felt ‘at home’ and that she had finally found a way to express herself. She gave us some tips on how to go about making our own sculptures on a smaller scale and encouraged the children to believe in their own unique abilities even if they struggle to fit in to the requirements and confines of the curriculum.

The sculpture of Betty Campbell will be unveiled in September in a prominent position in central Cardiff. Eve told us that it is a significant event because it is the first named statue celebrating a woman in Wales though there are, “hundreds of rich white men”. It is interesting how elements of the Cynefin project have turned out to be intersectional, highlighting other areas of inequality, something that other creative practitioners reported when we got together to discuss our projects this week.

During the lunch hour, I went to pick up some air drying clay as Ceri and I felt it was important to make the models while Eve’s talk was still fresh in the children’s minds. Two helpers and I prepared balls of clay as a base, and pencils around which the children began to shape their wonderful characters. Eve suggested using items such as buttons, stones, so the children worked outside with access to twigs, feathers and flowers. It was lovely to see them working in groups on the grass or in the gazebo. At the end of the day, Ceri and I couldn’t believe how much the children had achieved.

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