Thoughts on plinths & plaques

Edgar, Jon; sculptor; 2016-02; DSC_6550The plinthing of a sculpture (image: A.Purkiss) allows it to be viewed as the sculptor intended, hopefully with the absolute minimum of visual clutter in the natural environment. Concrete plinths weather quickly, have similar constituents to the stone itself and are visually unobtrusive, especially once vegetation has softened the edges in contact with the ground surface. The proportions of the plinth to the sculpture will thus take a few months to feel ‘right’.

The naming of a sculpture and its material gives a lead in for viewers who need a cerebral prompt; questions are posed and forms and material are considered. Plaques or nameplates in the environment want to be minimal (and of materials which do not encourage levering off as a keepsake).

portalplaqueThe acrylic plaques above – for the work at Hindhead – use a Gill Sans typeface and white on black seems to work well for contrast without looking too garish in landscape. Anything larger than 10x5cm, fixed on the vertical face of the shortest (sheltered) side of the plinth, looks too prominent and start to disrupt the view of the work.

The lottery-funded Hindhead A3D project is mentioned in the plaque above. The Rise of Northwood project block has involved over 1000 people in the process. How should they be referred to? Helpers? apprentices? passers-by?

It is important to create something succinct, which does not become an interpretive panel. Indeed, much like the role of the sculpture itself.

The name – and my unveiling notes

Heirs and Ancients has it! By a good margin, with over 120 votes. There were 200 people at the NT Northwood event on the dull half-term Wednesday. Faces of the South Downs Photographer Anne Purkiss dropped by and took an image for posterity, recording the people – Hannah Woodhouse, Bob Epsom, Mike Imms and the sculptor, who received the virgin block on that cold morning in 2014.

My notes for the unveiling follow; referred to after Hannah Woodhouse’s introduction and prior to David Hunt’s unveiling of the stone.

A commission by the National Trust has allowed 35 days of outreach to Slindon visitors – and to tell them more about the Rise of Northwood.

A sculpture has resulted.

We scheduled those days very carefully to make contact with people; over 14 months in 3 separate calendar years.

we have moved the stone to 8 different locations, turned it 4 times… and it has involved 1350 of you, tapping away with mallet and chisel, wearing safely goggles…or talking about the forms you see in the stone

it has GONE LIKE CLOCKWORK – a major logistic operation – so all credit to Hannah Woodhouse and the other National Trust Rangers, staff and volunteers, and to the contractors who have moved the stone with dexterity and precision

its resistance to erosion will mean that it will mark Northwood and the memory of John Springthorpe Hunt – whose bequest has made the restoration possible …. for a long long time.

Both the new woodland and stone are monumental, but created in many small yet persistent actions by kind hearted people

My carvings rely on the block being opened up quite randomly, before pictures and stories start to imprint on the forms of the rock. This results in far richer imagery than if things are pre-planned

the old Sussex word BEHOWTEL – letbehowt’will  – sums it up – let the consequences be what they may.
Two quick stories to account:
on Day 15 at Gumber, a tiny tree was carved upside down on the top edge of the block, as one boy had listened to me talking about the block being turned. It still exists

the Pynn family from Worthing turned up for the last public carving day, after having been at the 5th session carving and planting trees a year earlier and having followed the sculptor’s Journal to keep up with news
won’t it be good when rather than just the sculptors descendants, HUNDREDS visit in 100 years time to say: ’my Grandfather or grandmother made that!’

I have been quite surprised at how the block’s stories have stayed very close to home, despite the great cultural connections unearthed around the Northwood area. (I’m talking to the Petworth Society 7.30 tonight about some of that, if anyone is interested)

Remember to vote on the names over lunchtime…. but ideally after you have looked at the stone, walking around and seeing what YOU can see. The hard work has now been done by me and my 1000+ apprentices – now it’s time for you to see what it means to you!

Jon Edgar 17/2/16

Your vote counts!

2016 Northwood sculpture Jon Edgar web useThe sculpture at Slindon will be unveiled here on 17th February 2016 at noon as part of a family event. You can help choose the name up until then!

The National Trust’s Rise of Northwood – the replanting of the majority of a historic woodland lost in the first and second world wars – was made possible by a bequest from John Springthorpe Hunt, who loved the South Downs. An unplanned sculpture has evolved, responding to people and place over 35 days during 14 months, the block being moved around the Slindon Estate to engage with visitors and involve them in the working process. In the early stages, I am interested in the block ‘opening up’ quite randomly through the thoughts of others, so the forms subdivide as the block is turned a number of times. At about day 23 a stronger response gave a final direction and the later carvers acted as apprentices for the few minutes, or hours, they paused for.

Names for the block start to suggest themselves as the final forms develop; I have perhaps a hundred or more which did not quite work. The following are put forward for a final vote at the Forge, Slindon and on the day. You can reply to this post if you wish to cast your view, or book here if you would like to come along on the day to the free event.

The three names for consideration*:

Alluding to the thing which has influenced the stone most in the final imagery. And perhaps to the solidity of the block itself – a focal point amidst the blowing, growing leaves.

Alluding both to woodland growth and to the block’s process of change; also to activity with virtue (parental interaction, volunteering, nurturing, environmental concern, the intentions of the benefactor, the vision of the National Trust for both replanting and for art) Lastly a play on words, as not normally a descriptive term used for a particularly craggy block. The least recognisably descriptive, but giving most for viewers to think about beyond the outward appearance.

‘Heirs’ are young trees in old Sussex dialect. Alluding firstly to the forms of the trees (present and suggested), the Northwood bequest – from man to landscape – as well as to the family interaction visible in the community planting – and the stone.

The published Sculptor’s Journal will be available later in the Spring, documenting and archiving the artistic process beneath the visible sculpture; the thoughts which have taken place and the discoveries of others’ activity in the area.

Jon Edgar is talking about sculpture projects (including Slindon, Petworth Marble, and the creation of a posthumous head of Capability Brown) to The Petworth Society at the Leconfield Hall, Petworth GU28 0AH 7.30pm on 17th Feb; £4 including refreshments.

*If you cannot get along to see the work on site and would like to see more pictures of the sculpture now to help you decide, please make contact.

Day 32: fitting

On arriving at Norewood Lane in the drizzle, I chanced upon a family returning to see the stone, having carved 12 months ago – pictured here. We walked together to the stone and talked about the forms and which side the block would have been on when they last carved. I tried to capture a picture when they were all deep in their chiselling. As I looked through the screen, I was taken aback – the parental interaction mirrored that which has developed in the stone. An affirming feeling.

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The plinth is now constructed and starting to harden off behind its protective wooden structure. Another budding carver arrived and worked as an able apprentice for several hours until the brightness suddenly disappeared at 3pm. The sky darkened and we fled across the fields amidst a stinging hailstorm, a fitting end to the very last weekend public carving session.

Come and see the sculpture and plinth united at the free half-term NT event on Wednesday February 17th! For details, see here.
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Day 31: Inertia

2016-01-06 12.14.18With the New Year in, a break of 14 days ends enforced Christmas stoppages. There is absolute silence in Northwood – no long tailed tits or buzzards today – and the one human I see in the afternoon is out purely to  visit the stone.

Bright sun breaks through at one o’clock, ending the creative inertia that a month’s low light has cast. The stone responds, the forms illuminated and the light and shade enhanced for a brief spell. The sculptor’s partial hibernation is rudely disturbed and mood improved.

A new and perhaps essential figure is emerging late, low down in the block. With the stone close to its final resting place, my work is approaching the end, and it is time for you to don wellies and make the effort to visit and respond.

Next carving Sunday 10th Jan; diary 17th February when a half-term midweek treeplanting event will celebrate the – your – stone.   

Day 30: improvisation and why things veer to the human form

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A fabulous bright day with buzzards and kestrels observing progress from overhead through 6 hours. One visitor late in the day, a returner I’d met at Gumber in June. It was helpful to talk through some of the now-resolving forms rather than just talking to myself. I’m cutting hard into the remaining areas, trying to get as much contrast into the forms through degrees of shade.

More on this post in the published book.

Day 28 & 29: afforestation

2015-12-12 13.55.39Two dry days, Saturday with a cold wind chill; just two visitors from the London and West Middlesex Conservation Volunteers, building wood pasture tree guards. Sunday was incredibly still and five took up the chisel. The stone is resolving steadily and the areas for continued reduction lessening day by day.

More on this session in the published book.


Day 27: recuperation

The very first cancelled session a fortnight ago – a suspected spider bite while putting on a glove led to a prolonged downing of tools. A storm spooked the dog, who as well as emptying two chocolate advent calendars, howled all night. So today, I gingerly started carving feeling a bit fragile, with a be-gloved hand over the chisel. After a two mile walk to the stone, I could not start at all without consuming half my day’s food.

We are a year on from the first session, and Northwood is bleak when the wind rises and no-one is around. The climate warmed with the Chichester Conservation Volunteers busy across the field, planting oaks in stony ground.

Four carvers today; and the last visitors made the day – they were keen to enquire and participate before moving on as dusk rolled in.

The cloud was down over the hill on the return to Bignor and rain starting to fall.

Next  carving Sat 12th and Sun 13th between 10 and 2ish.

Day 26: excretion

2015-11-08 09.47.06More of this post in the published book.

I arrived in low mist to our starting location of one year earlier to be greeted by a poo bag hanging on ones of the hurdles around the stone, in a location two miles from civilisation. What possesses certain dog owners?

A gruelling day; only two visitors passing to converse all day and therefore much chiselling of the toughest, gnarliest part of the block was achieved – I was fit for nothing but a very slow walk to Norewood Lane by the time dusk drew in early. 2015-11-08 09.50.41The young trees around me were in good health – yew, hornbeam, oak, hazel, birch and dogwood were all thriving, perhaps at greater spacing now than their planted density.


Back carving in Northwood Sunday 22nd November; possibly Thursday 12th if dry.