As a part of the research I began through my Arts Council funded DYCP project (un)earthing, I was keen to put some of the methodologies for working with the landscape into practice by making regular visits to two local countryside sites within walking distance of my home. Both Doctor’s Field and Poplar Island, Frankwell are flood meadows lying adjacent to the River Severn, within a mile of each other. They are managed by Shrewsbury Town Council.
This self-initiated artist residency is planned to continue over at least 12 months from September 2023 so that I can see how the landscapes change over all of the seasons. I have known and walked in both locations for over 25 years since I first moved to Shrewsbury, and the project will enable me to make quite intensive and detailed investigation of two already familiar sites.
History of the Sites
Doctor’s Field was once part of the Darwin family estate at The Mount, and owned by Robert Darwin (a doctor). It makes sense to me that, as rumours suggest, the name predates Darwin ownership, originating in a time when medicinal plants were used regularly and the site, being on the edge of the growing town of Shrewsbury, was readily accessible for collecting such plants. Doctor’s Field is adjoined by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust owned Darwin’s Garden, which is where a young Charles Darwin was sent each morning to walk and is known as “The thinking path” Darwin’s Childhood Garden | Shropshire Wildlife Trust. It has always fascinated me that Charles Darwin must have spent time in the field and perhaps made his first explorations of the natural world there.
Poplar Island was formed as an island in the Frankwell river loop when a “barge gutter” was cut in the Middle Ages in order to allow barges to bypass the river shallows and a fish-weir, where fish could be netted. The river was navigable to here until around the mid-19th Century and Frankwell had a busy wharf for unloading and loading goods. Barges were pulled through the narrow channel by gangs of men, and it is thought that the remains of the brick building in the adjacent woodland was a pub.
The two sites are within a mile of each other, but have quite distinct characters with a diversity of habitats. Poplar Island is quite flat with a large area of grassland meadow, frequently grazed by cattle, which is separated from a large area of sports field by a narrow section of mixed deciduous woodland and thicket, including several black poplars which give the site its name.
Doctor’s Field is reached by descending a steep bank from the adjacent road The Mount to an area of grassland meadow, also grazed by cattle, with a number of oaks, other deciduous trees and several crab apples and more recently planted plum, apple and other fruit trees. There are patches of blackthorn/hawthorn scrub and across the bank there is an area of woodland of ash, holly, and elm. Apparently this area used to include an orchard bounded by an elm hedge.
Clearly, the adjacent river is also a dominant feature of both sites, and it was not long into my visits before river levels rose to flood the whole area for several days in October.
My plan is to walk to each site on a weekly basis to record observations in separate sketchbooks and to carry out a range of investigations and interventions in order to produce a body of research and artworks.
- mapping my walks as digital and analogue data
- interventions in the landscape
- drawings/paintings made in situ and back in the studio
- field recordings using digital recorder, hydrophone in the river and contact mics
- collecting plants and other foraged materials for making inks/dyes, handmade paper, prints and weavings
With repeated visits, I begin to notice the smaller details and subtle changes in response to changes in light, weather, human activity and seasons.
Some of my physical interventions in the landscape are transient, lasting only a few hours or days:
Some of the artworks will take shape over the twelve months as I gather and make with materials