The third church I came to on Sculpt, the Art in Churches pilgrimage, was the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel at Well.
Well is an ancient settlement, and this church is at least the third that has stood on this site. An entry in the Doomsday Book of 1086 reads, 'Welle - there is a church there and a priest'. The church of that period was superseded by a Norman building (c1190), and the present church was begun in the early fourteenth century. The building has a wealth of interesting features from different periods of history including a Roman mosaic, medieval stained glass, sixteenth century graffiti and the original altar. It is this blending and melding of the fabric of centuries that makes up both the church and the village that inspired Harriet Hill's installation piece, 'Rock of Ages'.
Rock of Ages takes the form of a suspended rock about three metres in length, formed in willow and then covered in wet felting using wool from the local Masham sheep, with baler twine worked into the surface. It is suspended from the church roof with taut shock cords. The Rock is, perhaps obviously, a reference to August Toplady's hymn of 1763, 'Rock of Ages', and symbolises the community that has been there since ancient times, layered and evolving, but always present, the local wool and familiar farm materials a reflection of the ordinary people who have worked the land around the church and played a crucial part in its long history. The taut, red suspension cords draw attention to the architecture and space within the building and speak of the life blood that has ebbed and flowed through the community since ancient times, and as the rock floats eerily above the ground, casting strange shadows as it is pushed back and forth, perhaps it gives us a cue to consider what the future will contribute to this unbroken heritage.
Harriet Hill's work responds instinctively to the specifics of each space, her work as a contemporary felt maker challenging ambiguity, scale, but also a great sense of play, inviting viewers to explore in a very tactile and fun way. I watched two small boys push the rock back and forth between them, enjoying the bounce and elasticity of this giant egg swinging through space, and reflected that their engagement in this ancient place was now as much a part of its timeline as a Roman mosaic, a mention in the Doomsday book and the colours that lit up the floor from medieval glass-work.
I collected my postcard and continued on to Snape.
This part of my site isn't about me at all.
It is about watching, observing and reading the work of others. Those who know what they are about, who have honed their crafts over many years and for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration.
I have learned, and continue to learn, so much from each show watched, each book read, each art work discovered and each person encountered, and I am humbled by their generosity of spirit in giving so much.