Sennen, Geevor, a tin miner and DH Lawrence

A week ago I drove with Mrs TD down to my favourite part of Cornwall, west Penwith, for one of our regular visits to these remote and beautiful moors and coasts. There’s a point on the A30 when the road crests a rise and a couple of miles below you see the magnificent sweep of Mount’s Bay, with the dark turrets of St Michael’s Mount in front, and the graceful crescent of the bay curving round to Penzance and beyond (I’ve posted about this, and St Mary of Egypt, here.)

Sennen Cove harbour

We headed further on this road, past Penzance, to Sennen Cove. We wanted to see again another lovely Cornish bay – not as spectacular as Mount’s Bay, but still lovely. It’s a popular destination for summer holidaymakers, and on a lovely August day the beach was busy with surfers, swimmers and watchful lifeguards (but not, sadly, the famous Newfoundland surf lifesaver dog, whose name I forget; there’s a book about him.)

The cliffs loom above the cream-coloured sand of the beach, giving the bay a sense of being protected by a tremendous elemental force: furrowed and fissured black granite.

We wandered through the village, heading for the art gallery: the Capstan and Round House. It’s a wonderful old building, with an ancient capstan wheel in the basement; there’s just room to walk around its perimeter and admire the artworks on the walls and surfaces.

Geevor entrance flags

Entrance to the Geevor Mine site

The owner was charming: Colin Caffell (his partner runs the gallery upstairs). He told us about his commission a few years ago to make a memorial statue to Cornish miners. He started with the clay model, then handed it on to the people who specialise in casting. He also told us about the garden in which the statue stands, at the entrance to Geevor Mine, a few miles along the coast road just outside Pendeen, which of course we had to drive on and visit (it’s only been there since 2015, and we’ve somehow never been in before).

This north Cornish coastline is spectacularly beautiful: more rugged and forbidding than the south, just a few miles across the moors of this narrowest part of the peninsula. I’ve posted before about Cape Cornwall, nearby, with its dangerous offshore rocks and iconic community of red-legged, red-billed choughs. Also nearby is the surprisingly large town of St Just, home of the gallery of one of my favourite artists: Kurt Jackson.

 On his website the sculptor Colin explains his intentions: he wanted to position the seven-foot bronze resin statue in a garden containing grasses and plants from all of the continents to which the intrepid Cornish hard rock miners took their skills: the Americas, Australasia, Africa and Asia. The colour scheme he was aiming for, the blues, oranges and reds, were intended to evoke the sunset over the Atlantic. He wanted this garden to become a ‘place for quiet reflection.’ It is.

Of course the plants had to be hardy enough to survive the salty winds blowing off the ocean. He goes on to say that the plants do better than one might expect; the artist Patrick Heron managed to create his own exotic garden where he lived not far along the coast.

The plaque beneath the statue reads:

Hard rock breeds hard men

Who slip between earth’s cracks for a living,

The dark chasm which closes around you,

Tight like a fist, draws you down

Into the mine’s gullet, the belly of the beast

Hewn out of granite, the ledger of tin,

The ingot of tradition, a labyrinth of strong voices

That still chisel the dark, the rich seam,

A stream that runs through each generation,

A lode that anchors a man’s life

From ‘The Wheal of Hope’ by James Crowden.

The memorial was ‘raised and funded by the community of the St Just Mining District in honour of the courageous men who worked the narrow lodes in hazardous conditions far below the land and sea in the mines of this district; and the women and children who toiled on the surface crushing and dressing ore. As pioneers, many of these Cornish families took this skill and expertise to the far corners of the world as new mining opportunities emerged.’ [from the same plaque]

That last point is perhaps a little romanticised. The diaspora of Cornish miners – the hard rock specialists who’d learned to extract every kind of valuable mineral from the granite under the moors of west Penwith and the rest of the county (or duchy) – had to emigrate when the mines became less competitive than their counterparts in other ‘far corners of the world.’ They had little choice, in other words.

In 2016 I wrote some posts on the Man Engine (here, and here) the massive mechanical puppet that toured the county and beyond, commemorating these hardy miners – many of whom died or suffered terrible injuries, working in dangerous, unpleasant conditions. The Levant disaster was just one such terrible event.

View from the moors above Zennor

View from the moors above Zennor

We drove on for lunch at the Tinners Arms, Zennor. I usually aim to have a pint of Tinners Ale here, the inn where DH Lawrence stayed briefly while searching for a place to rent in what he optimistically considered his ‘promised land’. He eventually found the small, basic cottage complex at Higher Tregerthen just outside the village. I’ve posted several times before about his stay in west Cornwall, trying to create a utopian community, Rananim, starting with John Middleton Murry and his wife Katherine Mansfield – but they disappointed him by moving to the ‘softer’ part of the county, to less basic accommodation.

A comment on a related post last August, about the sale of this remote cottage by a local estate agent, elicited a comment today from Julie Warries (thanks, Julie), who said she’s particularly interested in Lawrence’s time in Cornwall and the letters he wrote there. She added a charming aside: when she visited the Tinners Arms she asked a barman for directions to Higher Tregerthen. He didn’t know, but added that she wasn’t the first person to ask that!

Mrs TD thinks I should start a ‘DH Lawrence tours in Cornwall’ agency…Who knows.

Profound personal engagement with place: Kurt Jackson, artist

Yesterday’s post about my trip with my wife to Penwith, in the far west of Cornwall, ended with a mention of an art gallery in St Just: the Jackson Foundation. Kurt Jackson is one of our favourite artists, and probably one of the finest living British painters of natural phenomena – from flora and fauna to land, sea and riverscapes.

Cape Cornwall

Cape Cornwall, looking west towards Land’s End

Looking at his currently exhibited work at St Just inspired us to deviate from our road home to take a look at a place that is one of his greatest inspirations and which features in much of his artwork, and in a video installation that can be seen in the gallery upstairs: Cape Cornwall. I included some pictures of it in yesterday’s post. Here’s another.

 

You might have seen some lovely reproductions of his work at Paddington Station in London some ten years ago, decorating the wooden boards screening building work that was going on there at the time.

The new Jackson gallery

The new gallery that will open shortly at the Jackson Foundation

In recent years his ‘projects’ have been inspired by a particular route – a river, a prehistoric track way, or a workplace and its inhabitants – quarry, mine, fishermen, farmers; a group of fauna or flora – crows, bees, a tree – or just his personal response to a particular place.

His paintings often include written notes on the sounds, wildlife and other sensual influences that pervade his warm, almost spiritual depictions of the scenes in which he immerses himself in order to capture their living essence and biodiversity – their past and present ‘clamour and silence’, as the catalogue describes his ‘This Place’ exhibition.

Born in Dorset in 1961, he graduated from Oxford in 1983 with a degree in zoology; his love for and deep empathy with living things animates all of his work. A year later he moved to Cornwall with his wife, and settled in St Just, on the marginal edge of mainland Britain, a ‘transitional space’, as he calls it, between the the wild and rugged moorland, granite outcrops and craggy cliffs of west Cornwall, and the Atlantic Ocean.

This is how his gallery website sums up his approach:

A dedication to and celebration of the environment is intrinsic to both his politics and his art and a holistic involvement with his subjects provides the springboard for his formal innovations. Jackson’s practice involves both plein air and studio work and embraces an extensive range of materials and techniques including mixed media, large canvases, print making and sculpture…

Three illustrated monographs on Jackson have been published by Lund Humphries depicting his career so far; A New Genre of Landscape Painting (2010), Sketchbooks (2012) and A Kurt Jackson Bestiary (2015). A Sansom & Company book based on his touring exhibition Place was published in 2014.

His passionate interest in psychogeography – the culture, lived history and precarious ecology of our world – is reflected in his numinous work, but also in his involvement with charities and campaigning organisations, from his role as artist in residence on a Greenpeace ship and at Cornwall’s Eden Project (and at Glastonbury Festival!), to acting as ambassador for Survival International. He has also worked closely with Friends of the Earth, WaterAid, Oxfam and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

We managed to catch his latest exhibition – ‘Place’ – just before it closed – today. It arose from a collaboration with 32 writers from a varied range of backgrounds, and reveals the physical diversity of the British landscape, whilst providing an insight into the concept of ‘place’ – that ‘collective sense of identity, meaning, longing and nostalgia present within the British psyche’, as his website puts it.

Words are provided by writers Robert Macfarlane and Richard Mabey, as well as by scientists, poets, and others, each providing a personal transcript or evocation of a place they felt connected with. Jackson’s pictures are complemented by these portraits and images in words.

Inside the gallery at the Jackson Foundation

Inside the gallery at the Jackson Foundation

The Foundation will close for a couple of weeks now, reopening to house his next exhibition, from Sept. 14: ‘Obsession – Following the Surfer’. Here’s his website again:

Obsession sees Jackson follow his studio assistant on surfing trips around the Cornish coast.

He adds:

“Often it’s argued that the surfer’s path is a spiritual one – this connection between the individual and the wave, the ocean hosting its rider, but what is certain is that it opens the eyes of that person to the natural world, to an extraordinarily beautiful and powerful side of nature that needs respect and admiration and in the long run our protection and conservation.”

This body of work was produced in partnership with Cornwall-based eco-campaigners Surfers Against Sewage to highlight the charity’s work to protect the UK’s oceans, waves and beaches for everyone to enjoy safely and sustainably.

*****

For reasons of copyright I have been unable to reproduce any images of his artwork here, but the links I’ve included will take you to a number of websites where you can enjoy some beautiful representations. If you’ve never seen his work before, I’d urge you to take a look.

Even better, take a trip down to the land of Lyonesse and man engines, where DH and Frieda Lawrence strode the cliff paths, haunt of the ghosts of countless hard rock Cornish miners who lost their lives or limbs extracting the minerals that transformed this world of Celtic fantasy into an industrial, working, living landscape.

Choughs

Painting of Cornish (red-billed) and yellow-billed Alpine choughs, by J.F. Naumann (via Wikipedia)

PS to yesterday’s notes on Cornish choughs:

legend has it that King Arthur didn’t really die: he was transformed into a chough. For this reason it’s still considered unlucky to kill or harm one of these handsome corvids – one of which I was lucky enough to spot at Cape Cornwall yesterday.

Thanks to Fynn, at the Jackson Foundation, for the photos of the gallery interior.