The Hometown Tree
I have just finished working on an exciting project with the children and staff of St Mary & St Giles South. I was asked to create a permanent installation enabling the pupils of 2017 to leave an artistic legacy in the school to commemorate the 50th birthday of Milton Keynes. Enabling and participation are an important part of my practice and I decided to design a collaborative piece of art which everyone could add to individually. All the parts would join together to form a whole, expressing the collective vision of everyone in the school.
The Hometown Tree is like a school family tree. It has the strong, central structure of the trunk, growing into branches that support the individual ceramic leaves which stand for every person who took part. Each leaf was designed, made and glazed by a pupil, teacher, or teaching assistant. The leaves are all personal but also all connected.
I discussed with the children their favourite things in their hometown, either somewhere they liked to go or something they liked to do. Then they made drawings. Once everyone had a design they were happy with, we began to work in clay. Each child cut out the shape of a leaf, made their design in 3D on the leaf, then glazed their finished design. For many of the children it was the first time they'd tried anything like this, but they all took to it quickly and were interested to learn. Staff joined in too!
I fired the completed leaves in my kilns at my studio. Whilst they were firing I went back to the school and painted the tree on wooden boards attached to the wall in the main walkway. The children were full of enthusiasm at seeing the tree go up, and were all very excited as I started to attach the leaves. They loved walking past,commenting on the development of the painting and offering suggestions, and trying to spot if their leaf had been attached yet. There was such a buzz in the school whilst I was working; so much interest, chatter and energy. It was a lot of fun!
There was a real feeling of togetherness in the school during this project. It was lovely to hear children of all ages chatting to each other about the work. This is the beauty of this sort of participation art; everyone can have a sense of pride and ownership in the finished piece. I could feel the excitement growing as The Hometown Tree neared completion.
I really enjoyed working on this project, and meeting everyone at the school. I'd like to say a big thank you to St. Mary & St. Giles South for making me feel so welcome, and The Culture Challenge for connecting the school and me so we were able to work together. I hope everyone at the school will enjoy the work we have created together for years to come.
Happy 50th birthday Milton Keynes!