Willow Sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon
PUBLISHED: 12:17 23 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:39 20 February 2013
Mike Glover travels to the Lake District to talk to Derbyshire artist Laura Ellen Bacon as she works on her latest commission
If ever an artist and a site for an artistic creation were made for each other, it is Laura Ellen Bacon and Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House. Laura is the Derby-born, bred and based sculptor who works primarily with willow and other coppiced materials to create nest-like structures designed and structured to fit their setting.
Blackwell, built for a Manchester brewer, above Windermere, is one of Britains finest houses from the turn of the last century and was restored by Lakeland Arts Trust eleven years ago to a remarkable state of preservation, retaining almost all of its original decorative features.
This spring Laura spent two weeks creating her dual structure, called Exposed, on the outside of the Hugh Baillie Scott-designed house. She broke off to explain to Derbyshire Life what brought her together with Blackwell, but not for long enough to remove the insulation tape that protects her fingers from the willow with which she works.
Laura recalled coming to Blackwell years ago, before she was even an artist, after her parents recommended it. She then came back in 2008 as a fan to see a David Nash exhibition. Nash, like Laura, is inspired by wood and had an outdoor exhibition in the impressive tiered garden that takes the eye-line from Blackwell down to Englands largest lake.
Lauras love of wood stretches back to her childhood, running free in woodland on her parents fruit farm near Matlock. Building tree houses and dens was in a sense the most creative time of my life, says Laura, who later took Foundation Studies in Art and Design at Chesterfield College in 1995 before gaining a masters degree in applied arts from the University of Derby in 2001.
I worked in all sorts of materials, including ceramics and metal during my three years, but couldnt understand why nothing really clicked as excitingly as when I built things of wood on my own. My tutor Tim Willey really listened and encouraged me to work on a larger scale.
Laura clearly doesnt like labels or to follow any path already trodden by other artists or crafts people, so when she picked up on willow didnt want to go down the basket-weaving or hurdles route.
Instead she developed her own style of nest-like forms, which cling to trees, or walls or buildings. Nests and cocoon-like forms intrigue me because they are often built directly into existing structures, such as trees or architectural features.
My work is often found to be gripping tree trunks, slumping over walls, entwined with foliage or drooping over frameworks.
My use of materials is low-tech but intuitive. Processes of accumulation interest me, for example, the creation of a birds nest or the build up of drift timber on a riverbank.
The artists she most admires are line drawers, especially architectural ones and says her work is comparably linear like a hatched drawing.
At Blackwell she admires the feeling of space and atmosphere in any room, the quietness and the evidence of craftsmanship down to the hand-turned window latches. Exposed is designed to look as if it grows on the building, nestling into a corner. The two pieces look as if they are reaching for each other. I have a fascination with weight and organic growth and intend my forms to appear as if gravity has intervened. I hope viewers have a sense that the forms are perhaps swelling and havent finished growing.
But they also look exposed to the elements as if they are splitting and cracking, so the viewer thinks they may be nearing the end of their lives, as if they have completed their mysterious purpose.
That is a link with the house, which inside has been preserved, while the outside is exposed.
Lauras works are site-specific and ecologically sound, but unlike paintings and traditional sculptures, Lauras are not timeless. Eventually they will rot or disintegrate, although she says most last a lot longer than the billed length of an exhibition.
And she certainly has plenty of works around the country to keep her in the public eye. This year she has already completed a high-profile installation at the New Art Centre at Roche Court, Wiltshire. She has works at Chatsworth House, with the archway to the kitchen garden being particularly popular. After Blackwell she moves on to work on a project exploring the essence of place for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on West Canvey marshes in Essex.
As well as these institutional works, she is starting to get private commissions. Laura also designs and creates structures for interior spaces, an aspect of her work she is particularly keen to develop. These could indeed last forever. One, Into the Weave, took pride of place at Derby museum, while another, Surface Form, created for Jerwood Contemporary Makers in 2010, and made of stripped Somerset willow, has been borrowed by Blackwell for the length of the Exposed exhibition.
Of Exposed, which is on display until 30th September, Kathy Haslam, Blackwells curator said: Lauras installation creates an artwork out of Blackwell itself; it is very exciting to be using the house in a totally new way. So, if youre visiting the Lake District this summer dont miss the chance to see the work of one of Derbyshires young artists.