On Wednesday 4th Feb, a group of us gathered at Aylesham Heritage Centre for a brilliant hands-on day of drawing and stitching, led by artists Marcia Teusink and Rosie James. For many of us it was an opportunity to re-excavate and re-dedicate time to drawing in our practices and for some it was a brand new experience.
Taking inspiration from the unique East Kent mining heritage that Aylesham dedicates its time to preserving, we began by making charcoal studies of imagery taken from the mines, each of us drawing a section of a larger image. Marcia demonstrated how to work with charcoal to establish different areas of light and dark, and getting stuck in to the rubbing with our hands was an absolute necessity…
When these were finished, we all joined our drawings together to form two large pictures – one of the some miners clambering through a dark mine, the other of a train pulling into the station to pick up a batch of coal. Seeing our rather hazy, ambiguous-looking works all of a sudden join together and come into focus was a bit of a revelation for us all and a lovely collection of work to contemplate.
Our second batch of drawings somewhat reversed the first, this time applying white chalk to black paper to create studies of some WWI mining artefacts from the archives – a canary cage (which were used to warn miners of dangerous gases that had leaked into the mines), lanterns, work gloves and preserved lumps of coal. We were again trying to draw by creating areas of light against the dark: applying, removing, rubbing and re-applying.
After a while the rhythms of this process became a very contemplative space for me, as I found myself drifting into memories of my grandad telling me stories from his time working down in the mines – the canary bird cages and coal carts, the floods and collapses, the black faces and hands and mouths…suddenly the chalk and the charcoal and the working with my hands all became very symbolic.
I think some of this feeling might’ve filtered through into other peoples’ work too as some of us started to layer up and really poeticise our images with pieces of text, coloured line and details from various WWI and coalfield-inspired source materials:
After a morning of drawing, everyone thoroughly enjoyed a very lively conversation with ex-miners committee members from Aylesham Heritage Centre, who all had a wealth of knowledge and stories to share from their days of working in the coal mines. They told us about the extreme conditions they had to endure whilst mining several miles below ground, yet also entertained with many anecdotes about ‘illegal’ cart riding, ‘visits from the ladies’ and working nude. These are all stories that I’ve heard before from my grandfather but it was compelling to see them being exchanged in such a dedicated way with many others, in the very place and amongst the very archives that record them. This organic act of uncovering, re-layering and spending time with these different interwoven histories and forms again made me feel that the day of drawing and stitching was quite a symbolic thing…
After this we shared our drawings with the ex-miners and learnt more from them about some of the objects we had been studying:
Some lovely textile works were made in the afternoon with Rosie’s stitching workshop, using sewing machines and experimenting with various threads and fabrics to translate some of the images into commemorative bunting for display at Aylesham Heritage Centre later on in the project.
Overall a very enjoyable and reflective day.
(Images: Louisa Love, Clare Smith and Rosie James)