The Heart of Oak Project
The Heart of Oak Project has commissioned a Specialist Timber Conservator and an Art Historian/Researcher.
Hugh Harrison - Specialist Timber Conservator has been commissioned to restore a magnificent renaissance carved oak screen donated to the museum in a damaged condition in 2008.
Throughout the project there will be opportunities for the public to hear Hugh speak about conservation in general, and the restoration of the screen in particular. For more information and regular updates go to:- www.heart-of-oak.info.
Hugh Harrison's Devon craftsmen are currently conserving one of the oldest doors in the country at Little Hormead, Herts, made in 1150. Other projects include the Great Gates made in 1520 at Trinity College, Cambridge, an ancient doorframe of a similar date at Rochester Cathedral, and the panelling at the Cafe Royal in London.
Nicholas Riall is a Researcher currently working as a consultant on a Renaissance projects at Cotehele in Cornwall and St Cross in Winchester.
Dr Riall has been to commissioned to research the origins of the design, choice of symbols and characters depicted on the carved panels of the Tudor screen, and possibly even the name of the maker.
The historic research of the screen will be of great importance to the whole project, as it will help to feed hitherto unknown facts to the artists running the arts related workshops, as well as helping to create new, informative exhibitions detailing the life of the screen.
On the Art Launch
I quite like making things, but not as much as the 130 happy people who joined 5 artists at the launch of the Heart of Oak Project.
On a wet Sunday, what better way to spend a day than being creative? I watched young people tune out the world and lose themselves in writing poetry. Over there fingers were pressing leaves in the surprisingly clean art of clay casting. In another space, parents and grandparents joined the young in the colourful art of making felt - holding up their afternoon’s work with glee. And over in the corners, all comers were totally absorbed in the patient work of making photographic collages and in a joint animation - making the slow motion of leaves and fruit rise and fall around an oak tree.
I don’t think anyone was disappointed with their day of being creative - and chatting with others about the fun they were having.
And the reason for all this activity was not lost on these folks. They were at Hannah’s to help launch the Heart of Oak Project - to restore and conserve the Sandford Orleigh screen. On this day, the simple themes of Hearts and Oaks prevailed, but as the project moves on, and the screen begins to reappear into the public gaze, the inspiration for future art sessions will be drawn from the screen itself - what a wonderful opportunity for the town.
On the Project launch
In the magnificent surroundings of Forde House, there was a quiet gathering. Here were the Mayor of Newton Abbot, the Chairman of Teignbridge District Council, and the Chairman of the Town Council, as well as other District Councillors and dignitaries. This was a serious event and tones were subdued. But the first presentation started to get the audience sitting up in their seats. Phrases like “Internationally important”, “exciting project” aren’t usually used about Newton Abbot. The speaker was Sam Hunt, representing Heritage Lottery Fund.
The next speakers, Hugh Harrison and Liz Cheadle, wood conservators, were equally enthusiastic and the terms “magnificent object” and “really significant” stirred up more smiles and wonderment.
Finally, Dr Nicholas Riall, historic researcher, got broad grins as he used “exciting find”, “important historic links” and finished with “who knows where this will lead?”.
Something really interesting was going on in Newton Abbot, and it all centred on the Sandford Orleigh Screen. The Heart of Oak project to conserve these carved panels had already impressed the Heritage Lottery Fund and others enough to promise substantial funding, and these eminent specialists had confirmed their faith in the aims of the project.
The driving force behind all this is Felicity Cole, Museum Curator and project leader. It is her vision that sees the screen as something worth preserving and could be the inspiration for local people to create their own pieces of art. It is Kate Green’s vision as Arts Co-ordinator for the project to bring together artists to offer free sessions and in so doing, offer new, young artists the opportunity to work alongside the more experienced artists. Together this formidable list of people will bring a new feeling of pride in Newton Abbot - we have a carved wooden screen that is making people talk and making people think about the history of Newton Abbot is new ways. Watch this space!
On the Unboxing
It seems like an odd place to go to see a bit of Newton Abbot, but some of the Heart of Oak project team travelled to the edge of Exmoor to witness the un-boxing of the Sandford Orleigh Screen.
In a lowly stable, an imposing box filled one end of the stall. The fastenings were loosened and the box - as big as a garage door was eased open.
Cushioned against the brash, new, flat wood of the box was the dark, old, intricately carved wooden screen.
This was the moment that the panels of the screen were to be ‘dismounted’ from the frame they had been held in since the 1830s. The screen’s magnificent carved front was turned to the wall as the carpenter dispensed with the ‘glue-blocks’. These wooden pegs had been glued into the space between the panels and the frame to hold them tight. They needed to go. The blocks piled up on the floor and were joined by bent panel pins and trims of glued linen as one by one the carved panels were released and lined up against the wall.
Actually, now they weren’t all clumped together, you could concentrate on each panel as an individual piece of art - a bit like a picture out of its frame.
The shapes and forms, the heads and fruits, the animals and leaves all jostled for attention - they will get it as the conservators, craftsmen and researchers start their work.
The remaining frame looked a little forlorn, but it has secrets of its own to reveal.