'The Green Man' is most commonly represented as a face surrounded by leaves, or with vegetation sprouting from the nose, mouth and head. Sometimes the face is composed entirely from leaves and foliage. Green Men are used as decorative architectural features, usually representing fertility and the regenerative cycle of the seasons.

I am interested in reinterpreting ‘The Green Man’ as symbol of the city of Stoke-on-Trent at this point in time; a motif that not only represents a sense of regeneration and renewal but one that could also be used to bring about changes, by highlighting what is effectively public artwork that already exists.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

SHOP Residency Launch and Progress so far

The first few days at shop have been really busy and so far I have collected a good amount of research, feedback about the Green Man, along with people's ‘Hope for Stoke’.

On the opening Saturday of my residency at SHOP a few visitors had come to share an abundance of knowledge about the Green Man and were so interested in the project.

Outside looking in

Public Responses

Robert had come in to express his interest in the Green Man, and my project, and sat and had a good read through some of the research books whilst he was here. He will be coming back to the clay tile workshops and share some of his skills as a sculptor/ ceramicist which will be appreciated on the day.

The 'Green Man Library' in use

I had another visitor called David- creator of the Creative Stoke website. David was already very knowledgeable about the Green Man, ancient traditions, customs and folklore of Britain and the local area. He had previously sent me this link to some fascinating albums on flickr, Stoke old town's archaic faces and creatures and Stoke-on-Trent's house gargoyles some of which are Green Men. He had some interesting insights relating to my project that he wanted to share:

He told me about a mysterious photographic ‘tradition’ where images exist of young girls submerged in hedges, this seemed to be a widespread phenomenon as various images exist. It is thought that the girls in the images were responding to children’s literature at the time but no-one really knows where it came from. How fascinating. David thought it would be a good idea to re-create these images using local hedges and local girls. It is something I intend to research further as I love the idea. I have been trawling the internet for these images but cannot find anything. David is returning to SHOP with some further research and books; I hope some more info about this idea is amongst the resources he brings for me.

Another interesting bit of information relating to the history of photography that David thought relevant is this image of a leaf which is thought the be world’s earliest example of a fixed photograph.

The picture had previously been attributed to Henry Fox Talbot, who is credited with taking the world's first photographs in the 1830s. however it is now thought that a letter 'W' on the image may stand for Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805), as Wedgwood was known to have experimented with photography in the 1790s, while living in Bristol, but none of his work was thought to have survived.

This has nice links with the ceramic industry and the ‘n
atural’ elements associated with the green man. I created some quick responses to the image using imprints of the clay that will be used to construct Green Man plaques in my workshop tomorrow along with imprints from Spode moulds, and a lithograph leaf.

Cut lithograph leaf response
Clay leaf prints on paper, ceramic mould

We also talked about the Anglo-Saxon history of the Stoke minster site. I am intrigued by the fact that it was once a Pagan site of worship- perhaps the Victorian architects that designed the buildings along Church Street were responding to this, as the Green Men are present all along this street- creating an avenue, or procession of Green Men leading to the site. Mercia MacDermott writes about this in her book ‘Explore Green Men’, stating that the Victorians were enthusiastic ‘revivers of traditions’ however none of them attempted to revive folk customs that the foliate heads represented, the use of them was just ‘part and parcel of the gothic style’. She goes on to suggest that these Green Men are therefore meaningless and can ‘tell us no secrets, because none was embodied in them’ however, in one circumstance, I disagree with this as I have found something very interesting about the Green Men on the Jackson’s Buildings, which is revealed in the piece ‘A Conversation with the Green Man’ which is currently on display in SHOP- come and have a look. I do also like this idea that these Victorian Green Men of Stoke are blank canvases, that currently have no meaning, that myself and the public can re-interpret and give meaning to be relevant to our town today, as this was my intention for the project from the start.

The Green Men that appear within Stoke Minster are to be found on the organ there. This was created in 1899 by James Jepsom Binns of Bramley, Leeds. It was commissioned by master potter Henry J. Johnson for his home at Oulton, near Stone. He later moved to Westwood Hall, Leek (now Westwood College), and the organ was installed in his music room there, Before finally being installed in Stoke Minster In 1921. To me, the Green Men that look out from the front of the organ over the interior of the church ‘completes’ the small trail of the Green Men of Stoke, and the symbol is so fitting to the area with it’s history as a Pagan site of worship that it is a strange coincidence that these Green Men ended up there.

A lady called Lynne who is a Cleaner at the Famous Lion pub was interested in the Green Man on the building she works in and also in the lithographs, as most of her family were involved in the ceramic
industry and she had worked cutting lithographs. She was interested in coming back to cut some out ready for my workshops- reviving and old process she was familiar with. She also wants to take some away with her to make handmade cards with. Working with the lithographs also brought back memories for her of the ‘pear drop’ smell she associated with the litho process.

She told me how she misses seeing Stoke busy with people from the Spode factory- in particular the familiar ‘blue pinnies’ and ‘men with white trousers’ that descended on the town in lunch breaks. I love this idea that something as simple as coloured clothing acts as a beacon of thriving industry. I also think this would make a brilliant performance; to infiltrate the town with this visual symbol of the old industry here. Who would remember and respond to seeing people in this attire once again? Blue and white are colours also synonymous with Spode factory and the ceramics industry, referencing the plate patterns.

A lady called Tammy has been in a few times on her Lunch Break. She was interested in the Ghillie suit style Green Man costume as she owns a Ghillie suit and is a trained sniper! She made it clear that she already knew all about the Green Man especially how he could become a symbol of Change for the town and made some really interesting comments about the regeneration of the town- how she hopes for change that is ‘transparent’ and ‘useful’.This idea of transparency is one that is referenced in the GREEN/REGEN piece with the multilayered transparent lithographs layered over the town through the window.

I have struggled to take notes of all of the amazing comments people have been making I could do with a dictaphone. The questions to answer on the back of the Green Man trail map are proving to be a good way of collecting some of the public’s thoughts so far.

Photographer Martin Elliott was set up outside on the Launch day. He was approaching people to photograph- characters that he was interested in as a document of Stoke town which will be featured in an exhibition in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, the idea of the portraits is to create a connection with the inhabitants of the city in 100 years time- leaving them a message for the future. David’s presence certainl
y drew more people in to SHOP and created an area alive with activity visible from the road.

Behjat Omer also installed his portraits in the empty shop opposite, again visually activating the area. I like the way the Green Man we are constructing in drop in workshops is a similar scale to his portraits and they look across the courtyard to each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment