Recent interest in Cornucopia, (a large sculptural piece made from reclaimed wood) and the opportunity to show it at Mission Gallery and the Ruthin Craft Centre prompted a radical renovation and overhaul. The question was, how to improve an artwork that had already been made once, but so rapidly and loosely that it had fallen apart at the end of its original installation?
The first showing of Cornucopia at Haus of Helfa in 2013 had proved that the design worked well. It was appealing, impressive and understandable. There, against the backdrop of a gutted building, its rough surface made sense. The piece did what it had to, for as long as it needed to. In this new exhibition, Cornucopia had to stand up to close scrutiny and also hold its own against a wealth of work by Welsh design talent. The distressed finish wasn’t doing it justice.
Solutions we needed to find:
- Improve the surface finish of each component.
- Decide how to treat the idiosyncratic knots, damage and patina left in the original material.
- Strengthen each spindle which was formed of two pieces.
- Work out how to fasten all the parts securely and invisibly.
- Work out how to assemble & disassemble the sculpture easily.
- Decide how to incorporate the three sections made from new wood.
1. Improve the surface finish of each component.
After scraping off the old glue from each piece, the sanding began. Each spindle had been previously roughly, dip-stripped of ancient paint and varnish, which left a considerable amount of ‘fluffiness’. The wood was old pitch pine, different to the soft pine one gets today in the DIY store. This was heavy with aromatic resin which gunged up blades and sandpaper, but smelt amazing and produced the distinctive dark stripes that the timber is known for. To re-finish each spindle, jigs were made to fit onto a lathe and turn slowly whilst strips of reinforced sandpaper of different grits brought back the natural shine.
A sanding disc did the same with the flat sides. The angled ends were problematic as they had deep saw marks to remove, and resinous end-grain which was prone to blackening, even at low speed.
2. Decide how to treat the idiosyncratic knots, damage and patina left in the original material.
To be honest, the material wasn’t looking its best from the very beginning. It had been pulled from the exhausted staircase of a large Victorian town house, and had the crowbar marks, nail holes, splits and old woodworm holes that you’d expect. There had to be a sensitive re-finishing, but with a light enough touch so that the history of the material was still evident. Very bad splits were discretely glued, missing corners and old scraps and gouges were smoothed and left.
3. Strengthen each spindle which was formed of two pieces.
Special screws were used to join two spindle halves into a whole. Each spindle was often made up from two different ones, leading to a variety of different turned profiles on the finished piece. Joining them together straight and true is harder than it looks!
4. Work out how to fasten all the parts securely and invisibly.
We didn’t want any fixings showing, to distract from the grain and the overall shape of the finished piece, so secret screws were positioned where the overlapping layers would hide them. (Shhh…)
5. Work out how to assemble & disassemble the piece easily.
The piece needed to be transported multiple times, as this was a touring show. First to Mission Gallery, Swansea until 4th January 2015, then to Ruthin Craft Centre, Denbighshire from 30th January to 12th April 2015. It needed to be easily assembled in situ, and then safely dismantled at the end of the show. It was a job in itself to work out and annotate instructions for safe building of this heavy, spiky object. (Thanks Chris, hope it went together without too much fuss!)
6. Decide how to incorporate the three sections made from new wood.
When initially built, the raw materials didn’t quite stretch to these little end sections (above). The left-over spindles were either too riddled with worm holes or the wrong diameter. As they would have been square section anyway, without any turned detail, we originally substituted new timber, and artworked it to match the old. This time around, we painted the new wood pink, in an opaque, satin finish similar to our low-res fruit that was displayed inside.
Thanks to Ceri Jones for curating this exciting exhibition. A brilliant selection of interesting work that shows “a view of design practices in Wales. Work by a selection of talented designers exploring bright ideas and the insightful understanding of materials needed to illuminate them.”