The more time I spend here, it is the materials of this Priory that impress themselves upon me, through touch, texture and through the act of recycling. Let me explain: recycling is a feature here and comes in many forms: the reuse of stone over the centuries as the building was converted from a sacred to a domestic space; the careful use of natural materials (wood, stone, metal) during its recent restoration by Landmark to preserve the older sense of time associated with Woodspring; and then most recently the reuse of some lead (it was stolen from the tower) into…nobody knows…perhaps melted down to make a new lead frog! Woodspring’s history is so much expressed through its materials, and in recognition of this to make an artwork inspired by this place it will need to involve moving materials on in some way, to continue the flow. Ah! An idea is forming….
It is a delight to come across a museum that is a simple collection of objects related by their proximity and little else. Free from being told what to think, or what the relevance is of every item (however speculative, such as in the Ice Age Art show in the British Museum that I went to see last week), you can come up with your own story. Woodspring has its own small museum in a part of the church that wasn’t converted into the house. In it lies this lead frog, one arm raised above its head, the other down by its side – swimming the crawl! The frog was found a few years back when clearing out a pond nearby (true, really, the guy who found it visited today). Why lead? Why the crawl? Why such detail as all the spots down its back? I love mysterious objects such as this! (Hopefully I will be able to get it out of the cabinet tomorrow to take a closer look.) Thanks Ed for filling me in on how this amphibian was found.
You can see the pointed imprint of the cloister roof on the side of the house, and from its height it is possible to say that the cloisters would have had a first floor, probably the space for the library and scriptorium. The archaeologist was here today giving a tour and mentioned that none of the books from the library have survived; infact, it is documented elsewhere that during the Reformation books from monastic libraries were sometimes used to light the fires to melt the lead (from the roof) and bronze (from the bells). This may sound brutal, but in many ways the Priory has survived because it has been recycled, the nave being converted into a private house within a couple of decades of its Dissolution. This seismic shift, played out in the reuse of materials and space, was described by the archaeologist as the end of the medieval way of seeing the world (with its sense of circular, seasonal time) and the beginning of our capitalistic mindset (with its sense of linear, progressive time). Fascinating, and links a little with the timelapse observations that I did earlier. Thanks Vince for your wonderful tour. So much to think about.
Part of my work at Woodspring is to research into the place for artwork ideas. There are many different ways of observing, and I am particularly interested in the different senses of time that run parallel here: historical time, rural time, visitor time. I set up my timelapse camera to simply observe some of the different time frames during the day. Here is the result.
Home from home for the weekend! This is my impromptu studio at Woodspring, away from the main rooms so as not to clutter them with all my kit. Here I can work with video, sound, 3D and printing, and have had a constant stream of visitors today (Sat). I have been thinking, rather than bombard you with a whole stream of posts from the two days I am based at the Priory, I will spread the posts out over the next week, a couple a day.
Woodspring Priory is often described as ‘isolated’, partly because it is right at the edge of the land on the coast of the Severn Estuary. But that hasn’t always been so. These waters used to be plied by Severn Trows, small cargo sailing boats that would transport grain and other goods up and down the Severn Estuary. At one time the Priory has its own waterway, so that the boats could come right up to the edge of the estate to offload. So if you think of the water, as well as the land, then Woodspring is not so isolated, not so cut off. In this picture you can see the collapsable mast of this boat design which allowed it to pass under the bridge at Gloucester, also on the Severn, and travel on up to Tewkesbury. I like this picture (engraving 1798, from a drawing by C. Catton), as it connects me to Woodspring. I live right next to the cathedral pictured on the left (but Gloucester, apart from the cathedral, doesn’t look quite like this today!)