The Wildman is something of a mystery in Marsden Park. It appears twice, once as a relief on the main entrance, and once as a statue that has gone missing. The statue is now replaced, but sits indoors at the Old Hall. Sue says: “It used to be in one of the gateposts but somebody stole it, so we made another one. The original was totally naked and his club was much bigger.”
The Wildman features in the last of the ‘Missing from Marsden’ posters. As a symbol, The Wildman captures the essence of the park as an ambiguous space, a meeting point between man and nature, where the rules of who governs are unclear. The park is an open public space. With so many gates and entrances, I was surprised to learn the park remains accessible at night time. Dotted around the parameters of the park you can see some sections of the old railing, most have been removed for the war effort. But these railings are now ornamental and have no real functional use of separation. The Wildman, if he ever existed, would be at home here.
I was lucky enough to get a group of young people from Safe Space. They joined me in the park on Halloween before the rain. I had an idea of an ‘intervention’ - a lost signpost, wandering around the park, not sure what to point at, asking the members of the public for guidance. Originally a costume, then a prop, the lost signpost turned out to be a mask. I invited fellow artist Joyce Branagh, a playwright and wordsmith, to help me bring the lost signpost to life. She said ‘think of what you can feel, or hear, not just what you can see…’
The lost signpost tells what different areas of the park are feeling. The signpost was taken for a walk, and the young people came up with words including ‘old but hopeful’, ‘fragile’, and ‘mysterious’ to describe different spaces. ‘Mysterious’ was meant to point at the sky, which is ‘always changing’.
We took turns being the signpost, the director and the photographer.
I also had some chalk and birdseed, and permission (and encouragement) from Lee Johnson to use the space freely. One girl drew a picture of a bird and tree in the flower beds, and another drew a witch in chalk. Happy Halloween!
I was told about the lost swimming pool at the very start. It is still a talking point, I was warned. Some one told me that hardly anyone used it because it was too cold, even at the height of summer, but now it’s gone people talk about it frequently. Michael used to work there when he was a young lad. I had to include it in the ‘missing poster’ series.
As I was walking around, looking for a tree to pin the poster, I overheard a mum telling her child: ‘That whole field used to be a swimming pool’. There was no nostalgic note in her voice. More a feeling of wonder about how a huge object like a swimming pool can disappear. The missing swimming pool provides a shared story that links everyone.
Carrying my missing posters around, I was approached by a lady with two girls. The day before she noticed the children’s stories and the tree house when walking the dog. She remembered where they all were, and took the girls out on a long walk, letting them find the artworks in the park. The girls told me about the tree house and rabbit that lives inside.
They were keen to help me so we spent about two hours on a frosty morning, pinning the rest of the missing posters all over the park for other people to find.
I started making a series of posters following many conversations about what is missing from Marsden Park (-most recently the ‘Witch’ I installed at the Chapel arch.)
I had plenty of material to choose from, but settled for missing architectural elements and stoneworks that have been removed over the years, including a stone otter, a gate, a swimming-pool, a stone peacock and a statue of the wildman.
It was a hot Sunday when I was sketching in the park. A lady came up to me and asked “did you do that tree house?” , referring to the rabbit I installed in the trees. Yes, I admitted.
She said: “and there is something else, there is an owl somewhere.”
That was me as well… I forgot to take the owl and tree-house down after the session with the nursery children.
Hesitantly she asked: “did you put the witch down there?” – gesturing towards the chapel arch.’Yes,’ I admitted. It’s meant to be the White Lady, the local park spectre.
“I told my friend – that’s really good. It’s not going to stay,” she said.
I explained it needed fixing, so I took it down. She was relieved. She thought it is hanging up in someone’s bedroom. “It’s really good. You could sell those!”
Seems that inadvertently I added to people’s anxieties about things going missing and that vandals are active in the park. We had a discussion about that. “I guess it depends who comes in here,” the nice lady concluded.
Then she asked: “will there be activities in the afternoon?’
I was puzzled. I have not been in the park long, and have not advertised any activities to the public. “There could be, what sort of activities do you have in mind?” I asked, getting ready to prepare a make-shift workshop.
“Could you put more things for us to find in the trees?”
I certainly could.
I gathered the clay fragments together. How to make a whole out of fragments? and is it necessary? Or honest?
On an average day I met about 8 to 10 dog walkers, I met 30 children from nursery, 30 primary school children, 15 young people from Safe Space and the Zone Youth Centre, and about 10/15 Friends of Pendle Parks. That’s quite a lot of people in three weeks, but a small fraction of the people who use the park. So why try to make a whole picture when I only have fragments?
Instead I decided to make some prints, using the fragments as building blocks to capture the spirit of the park:
Fragment of Marsden Park
Impression of Marsden Park
I then cast the clay pieces into plaster, placing unlikely fragments of the park side by side, recalling my encounters as I peeled off the clay and uncovered the layers of plaster beneath- a lady’s shoe print from the path by the marshes next the bark from the tree by the Old Hall next to stone path that leads to the sensory garden next to Charlie’s paws who I met on my way to the playground, all of my impressions of Marsden Park mixed together.
I felt star struck when I met Alan Bamber, the stone mason who has restored many elements of the park over the years.
He is adding a new piece of stone to the wall at the entrance of Marsden Park. He knows the stonework of Marsden Park intimately, and he gave me a quick tour of the Latin names of the stonework. “This is called ‘Sparrows Pecking’,” he explained. I thought is looked very much like my initial idea for the clay tablet book:
Alan’s mallet is 200 years old, and has been passed down through generations of stonemasons. It is half the size it was he was given it, as he cut bits and reshaped it over the years. “I got two years to go till I retire, so it’s going to last me,” he joked.
Throughout these weeks I have been making a Book of Clay together with people I met in the park:
The clay tablets were a ‘contact sheet’ between me and park users, and between us and the surfaces of the park.
Pressing the clay onto the park, I received the pieces back with impressions of the people I met on one side- big and small fingers, shoes, pram wheel tracks, dog paws, and the textures of the park on the reverse- stones, grass, leaves, twigs, earth, pavement, railings.
At the end I gathered these fragments together, looking for an image or message in the gaps between the pieces.