Artist and Arteologist Julie Smith was inspired by the Aldbourne bells collected for Pewsey Heritage Centre as part of our Creative Wiltshire National Lottery Heritage Fund project. She tells us about her forthcoming exhibition at the Wells and Mendip Museum:
Rough sketch: Inspiration: Zinc ore (smithsonite) 2%
Why draw the horse bells? Curiosity was my first thought. What an exciting find, the bells have made a long journey from an auction house in the USA, an interesting story in itself. They were made originally in a foundry in Aldbourne, Robert Wells in the 18th century. (1)
What is fascinating about these bells they were worn by the horses in the wagon teams to warn of their approach on roads where passing was difficult. ‘It was said that craftsmen like Robert Wells could produce sets of team bells, the sounds which were unique to each set.’ (2)
For my part becoming an Arteologist, simply drawing, has been a lovely way of making discoveries and considering how we can tell stories whether based on reality or imagination through the magic of creativity. This has led me also to researching further the origins of my chosen object including the origin of the materials that create bell metal/alloy at this time. 78% copper, 20% tin, and 2% zinc. This led me to a visit to the Wells and Mendip museum to study first hand zinc ore in the Geology room. The copper and tin ore I was able to source from St Agnes museum in Cornwall. A subsequent series of paintings was produced to capture the origin of the source materials.
1. Wells, Robert, creativewiltshire.com/2015/08/07/Aldbourne-bells, Creative Wiltshire Acquisitions
2. Horse bells by Terry Keegan, Douglas Hughes, Claude A. Brock and Ran Hawthorne, A National Horse Brass Society Publication, second edition, revised and enlarged 1988
I came to see David Walker, curator, Wells and Mendips museum about the possibility of exhibiting my artwork with a focus on the zinc ore that I had used for inspiration for my painting. I also wanted to further consider the uses of bells, historically as well as in current times. I particularly want to tell part of the story of bell-making and its ingredients within the physicality of the sounds of the cathedral bells outside. The day to day use, as well as the significance with its multitude of uses, some which have been lost to our modern world. It is interesting to consider that the horse bells were used as a means of transporting goods in the lanes of Somerset as well as Wiltshire. I was pleased to discover that in the museum collection there is also a set of horse bells, open mouth bells made by Robert Wells, alongside some rumbler bells. It connects nicely with the cabinet within the Geology room that has an array of examples of zinc ore from the Mendips as well as well documented history, connecting to the significance of this metal to today’s society.
Further consideration was the discovery in conversation with David of the swans ringing the bell in connection with Bishop’s house. The overall premise is to create visual stories that also include pieces of information to further evoke connections to the objects shown. The work includes the drawing of the horse bells, oil paintings, etchings, prints and further small drawings displayed within the cabinet.
My artwork dwells on qualities of quietness and intimacy, cherishing the extraordinary within the ordinary.
As an Arteologist enjoying discoveries from the natural world, archives and imagination, pondering, noticing and wondering is delightful. The pieces I tend to create reflect my observations and tell their own story.
The act of collecting, both physical gathering and accumulation of thoughts, inspires me. This is reflected in the materials I choose. I seek to provoke a balance between a contemplative experience and a sense of fun. Key threads explored within my practice include fragility, protection and preservation.
The motivation behind work is often based on an emotional response to a situation or place. Action and reaction are central to my practice although I have certain ideas how I want my work to look; the final image cannot be preconceived, as the unfolding process some structural and some spontaneous lead to the finished artwork. My starting point can often be in response to an environment, a gathering of information to work with visually and mentally. The concepts of fragility, protection and preservation integral.
I like to broaden the concept of what is potentially invisible or appears so and making it visible within a given space. The inspiration often being an object/viewpoint that could go unnoticed. I want to question, make discoveries on the way while looking for subtleties and finer detail and hope for the viewer to consider their response.
I would like to say thank you:
Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre – As artist in residence/arteologist whilst drawing ‘the bells’ – I enjoyed not only the regular contact with staff at the history centre but also the visitors that showed their curiosity to what I was doing. Lovely encounters, sharing of knowledge and stories.
Joy Bloomfield and Mervyn Grist, Joy from the WSHC, Creative Wiltshire project managing plus and Mervyn co facilitator of Arteology project and subsequent originator of the Arteologists.
Colin Scull – colleague from Swindon College (engineering department) for finding the tin ore for me and sending the link.
St. Agnes Museum – Mike Furness for supplier of the copper and tin ore and sending me a book on Cornwall’s mining. Also, the volunteer who took my initial inquiry for passing it on.
Stu Rowe – for production of the ‘sounds’ that I recorded from the horse bells into a meditative sound piece.
Terry Gilligan – Aldbourne Heritage Centre, for being a mine of information, a lovely afternoon spent, tour, introduction to Ethel, (98), who shared her knowledge of the Village.
David Walker, Curator, Wells and Mendips museum for allowing me to look and record the zinc ore in their geology collection and the subsequent exhibition.
Horsebells, Keegan Terry, Hughes Douglas, Brock Claude A. and Hawthorne Ran, A National Horse Brass Society Publications, Second Edition, 1988.
The Aldbourne Chronicle – Maurice A Crane, Second Edition, reprinted 1980
A History of Wiltshire, Volume 4
Bells in England, Tom Ingram, Illustrated Barbara Jones, 1954
The Aldbourne Bell Foundry, handwritten notes Allan G Keen, 1981
Marlborough Journal advertisement, 6th June 1772 https://creativewiltshire.com/2015/08/07/aldbourne-bells/
Wildlife in a Southern County, 1887, Jefferies Richard
Postcard, Frith’s series, Published by T.W. Phillips, City Studio, Wells, no. 55160
Article – bbc.co.uk Swans at Bishop’s house, Wells, Somerset