Million Pound historical footprint

by Ofentse Sefolo
Million Pound historical footprint

The Sunderland Council recently launched a £1 million redevelopment project to landscape and create a permanent outdoor footprint at St Peter’s Church in Wearmouth, UK.

The church was built in 674AD and was the home and study place of the Venerable Bede. It also represents some of the most precious extant artworks from those times.

To ensure the project adequately reflected the cultural and historical significance of this landmark, the council commissioned local artist Simon Watkinson to do justice to the revered site and its new creation.

Simon found inspiration for the project in two key areas:
• While conducting in-depth research into the history and archaeology of St. Peter’s, Simon discovered that the founder of St. Peter’s, Benedict Biscop, travelled to Rome six times over the course of his life, which seemed an extraordinary journey for someone living in the late 7th century. This gave Simon the inspiration to design a timeline that would allow people to “walk the life” of Biscop and express his influence on the building.

• The second major design influence on the project was an installation that Simon had seen while visiting an Emperor’s Garden, Sento Gosho, in Kyoto, Japan. This seemingly unremarkable project was a floor installation that featured a cobbled beach.

Community art

The idea of a communal art project was born, which would not only commemorate this landmark site, but also involve local communities and Sunderland assets in its creation.

Simon’s idea was to create a “path” of key points in history relating to St. Peter’s and its famous residents. Visitors would be able to walk around the gardens and read all about how this historic site had been built and used throughout the years. Each moment in history would be framed by local cobbles from Roker beach, which would be collected by children from local schools.

Key to the success of this project was ensuring that the material from which the path was made was durable, workable and attractive. Simon needed a reliable supplier who would be able to provide paving slabs from such a material.

Artful aluminium casting

Hard-wearing, long-lasting with excellent weathering characteristics, aluminium was the perfect choice. Specialist Castings 75 years’ experience in casting with aluminium meant that they could offer guidance and expertise to the artist on how best this material could be used.

The local casting company worked alongside the artist to create the full series of slabs for use within the installation, working in intricate detail to ensure the artistic vision was fully realised. The casting process involved creating the required elements for the slab, which in this instance consisted of text/images of key points in the site’s history, along with the cobbles collected by local pupils.

With the installation now complete, the result is a perfect collaboration between designer and manufacturer, and is enjoyed by the countless visitors who come to St. Peter’s every year. Siobhan Carton, deputy head teacher from St. Mary’s RC Primary School said, “The children really enjoyed collecting and decorating the pebbles. This gave them both a strong sense of ownership of the works and a history lesson to boot!”

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to St. Peter’s Church in Wearmouth, UK for the use of the information contained in this article.

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