Leamington Spa – Making Histories project

In November 2018, I received an email from Lily Crowther, the curator at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum. It was an invitation to take part in a joint exhibition with six other ceramic artists that would open in 2020. The title – Making Histories, gives a clear lead towards the focus of this project, which would involve the artists in visiting the museum stores and responding to pieces they encountered there, ultimately creating new works for the show….

The group of artists were chosen carefully to cover a diverse range of backgrounds and approaches. My area of interest – landscape and local materials, linked to local history, culture etc. and functional pieces, had led Lily to my web-site, and my work with schools and community was another reason for the invitation.

On my visit to the museum store in 2019, I was drawn to two pieces particularly – both from the Roman period: a lamp made in Egypt, and a mortarium or mixing bowl (think mortar and pestle), from SE France or Roman Gaul, made by G. Atisius Gratus in the first century AD. The lamp led me towards a project with a wonderful local primary school, and saw us digging clay from the edge of an old clay pit on Newbold Comyn (with permission from the local council), and working towards a lighting of the children’s  lamps at an open afternoon for parents at the end of the first half of the Autumn term.

The mortarium led me to local investigations – specifically to the Roman kiln sites in North Warwickshire near Mancetter, that had been the production sites for thousands of mortaria in the first and second centuries AD. Warwickshire as it turned out, was mortaria central in Roman Britain! The local clay, the grit from the bands of intrusive igneous rocks in the area, the abundance of woodland and coal for firing and the proximity to Wattling Street (now the A5), made this the perfect spot for the large scale production of these bowls, that were a key part of any Roman kitchen, with the specific function of helping prepare sauces (like the famous Roman fish paste / sauce – garum), with grit lining the inner surface helping break down herbs and other ingredients added.

The project involved extensive geological and geographical exploration and sought help from local farmers, county and district councils, archaeologists, and others…… Unfortunately, the exhibition opening (scheduled for March 2020) was postponed – with the hope that it will be given a new run later in the year….

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