Lancashire artist Louise Wood has worked with coal miners from Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, flour mill workers from Ainscough Mill and long-serving women who worked at the wonder that was Woolies before the chain closed.
But her Wyre Council coastline commission in Fleetwood marks the first time she’s taken the plunge with her commemorative ceramic art. The artworks produced will be on show in situ ... and some of those will be trickier to navigate than others.
Take the Lune Deep, a deep sea pit, in effect a unique 13-mile long trench off the coast, likened by Louise, to Fleetwood’s “underwater Grand Canyon”. One artwork is destined to travel there, before returning to The Mount, Fleetwood, for an exhibition proper, later this year.
Louise has been in residence at The Mount for a series of workshops helping members of the public – particularly local children – create sculptures of Fleetwood memories. All Louise’s sculptures also open up, having removable sections or drawers, where further local memories can be unravelled and read.
And the twist is, when each is made, it makes its own special pilgrimage to the place that prompted its creation.
“Divers are taking one to the Lune Deep, another is going on the ferry to Belfast, HMS Tyne is bringing one up from Cardiff, and so on,” adds Louise.
An ex-Stena captain – Stena having pulled its roll-on roll-off ferry base out of Fleetwood – is investigating the Belfast connection for Louise.
“I met him and had a long chat about how we could make that link,” she adds.
Others have been more straightforward. “All of the art has links with the coast and Fleetwood. One in honour of those who have served in the Royal Navy Patrol Service has gone out to sea on HMS Tyne, from Cardiff. Another will go on a tram – that’s a piece featuring memories of The Mount itself, because I’ve met people who remembered egg rolling and all sorts there.”
Somerset-born Louise, who now lives near Ormskirk, says the workshops have gone well. “People can come along and make their own clay sculptures, and they soon get the hang of it and really enjoy turning memories into artistic creations.”
Locals have turned out in force to share their memories. “I hadn’t discovered Fleetwood until this project started, and I really wish I had because I’d have loved to know it sooner. It is everything that Blackpool isn’t. It has that quiet, beachy, beautiful old historical feel to it, with shipping vessels and yachts. Locals tell me they can see the Isle of Man at times. It also has a real community, people who have lived there for generations, and know their history, and the port’s past, and feel passionate about Fleetwood’s future. I’d worked on art and history projects, and when I saw this one advertised I thought it was right up my street. I went on the internet, and saw Knott End ferry, the location, the maritime influence, and was hooked.”
The aim is to immortalise Fleetwood’s maritime history through a series of sculptures.
Louise was selected by Wyre Council from artistic applicants from across the country, all inspired by the changing shape of the award-winning sea front.
Because she’s based at The Mount, Louise has been drawing inspiration from the 10-sided building, in order to tell 10 tales of Fleetwood, with children and adults helping produce 10 ceramic holdable objects for display within the building.
Those are in production right now, each featuring words from local people.
“I think it’s lovely that each will have been on a journey before it comes back to The Mount.”
Some of the 10 objects will also tell tales of the Larne ferry and the Knott End ferry. Recognising the significance of the Mount clock and its unmistakable striking, the search is on for a relative of Isaac Spencer, who originally donated it.
But Louise says she’s not coming up with all the 10 tales, instead relying on residents and visitors to suggest the stories. She has more workshops planned for the next three Saturdays (May 14, 21 and 28).
The free pottery workshops are held between 1pm and 3pm, no experience of working in clay is necessary, but people taking part can take along photos or drawings to transfer on to the clay, to make memory tokens to take home. Louise is particularly keen to find a theme for the 10th sculpture.
“The project gives me the versatility to slide between photography, video, historical art and then hope, when opening the kiln, that all is well!”