‘Utopian Realism’ is an exploration of rural utopianism, idealism and industrialism in the North East of England and Mid Wales by the artists Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Northern Highlights

Between Sunday 22nd May and Tuesday 31st May this year (2011) Mair and I spent time together in the North East of England, making a brief foray over the border to Scotland to visit New Lanark.

Below is a brief synopsis of our time together.

We kicked off with a rather wet, but none the less, interesting and informative guided walk around Allenheads. It was part of the North Pennines ANOB Northern Rocks Festival and couldn't have been more fitting for our purposes. Ian Forbes, our guide for the day, was focusing on Thomas Sopwith, his relationship with Sir William Armstrong and their impact on the village and the surrounding landscape.

Next we headed into Newcastle to visit the Mining Institute. No photographs can do justice to this architectural gem. Going in for the first time is a bit like unearthing a beautiful mineral. If you are ever in Newcastle near the central station I urge you to go, you will not be disappointed. It also contains just about anything you might possibly want to know about mining. We were delighted to find that our very own Thomas Sopwith had designed the furniture for the library. Call me strange but it tickles me to sit on a Sopwith chair at a Sopwith table reading about Sopwith, perhaps I'm loosing it. He came from a family of cabinet makers, hence his ability to realise many of his ideas in wood. The wonderful librarian Jennifer was able to summon up a choice selection of publications for us to peruse, but I left with that "tip of the iceberg" feeling and a large dose of the "biting off more than you can chew" blues. Here's where the beauty of having a partner in crime comes into it's own, on the way home Mair was able to talk me round, when you have been planning and thinking about something for so long it is really hard to just relax into. I soon realised I was just being impatient.

Mair also managed to talk me round to a trip to Scotland. As you will discover if you follow this blog we are also looking at the life and works of another nineteenth century gent, an incredible man called Robert Owen. His model workers village, New Lanark was the inspiration for this project. Mair had come across him a long way back, as he was born in her home town, Newtown in mid Wales. So on Thursday we set off over the border to visit New Lanark. We stayed the night there at the youth hostel and spent a happy two days looking round this World Heritage site. It is an inspirational place and we most definitely want to work with them in stage two of this project. In the meantime it provided us with many, many photographic images and video clips, which may develop into works during stage one.

On Saturday we had the pleasure of spending the day with several of the Friends of Killhope, a charitable organisation associated with Killhope Lead Mining Museum. I have a close relationship with the museum as I have worked there for 5 years as an information assistant. However, I had never really met any Friends of Killhope or fully understood what they do, so this is a great opportunity for me to find out more information which will be of benefit to me as an artist but also assist me in my "day job" too. Dick, Margaret and Shelagh very generously gave up their Saturday to show us numerous items for their extensive archive. They are also very well connected and gave us contact details for a host of useful people in the field of geology.

Finally on Tuesday, after a few days of digesting information and planning our next get together, Mair and I made our way back into Newcastle for a second visit to the Mining Institute. We had requested some maps of the Allenheads area to look at, these maps are quite lovely, I especially like the way the mineral veins are marked with gold. I also like how some maps are virtually bank with just a tiny bit of information in one corner. Once again we met some great people. Aaron is a photographer who is undertaking a commission at the institute. Colin is an ex mine manager who has travelled extensively and knows a canny bit about Sopwith.

At this juncture I am going to try to put together some images and pieces of text to reflect this experience. It is not an easy task as there is such a mass of varied information swimming round in my head. I"m hoping the act of editing for this blog will help clarify things.......

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