Week 10 was our last week on this project. I lack photographs of what we did as a group because I didn’t feel up to the walking and standing that would be necessary for the group’s visit to The Malings housing development by the side of the Ouseburn. I stayed at Ouseburn Farm and looked after everyone’s bags instead. I did take photos of my ideas scrapbook that I made during the project and will add to during the next few weeks, and include those here.
They walked to The Malings’ site office, donned orange hi-vis jackets and white hard hats, and were shown round the building site by the site manager who explained about how they were constructing the housing and how he managed the process of building. When they got back to the Farm, Theresa showed me the photos she’d taken of the rest of the group at the building site – and they looked as if they’d had an interesting time.
Whilst they were out, I filled in my evaluation form and completed my learning plan.
In week 1 or 2, we had filled in a learning plan in which we had to list three things we hoped to learn. I had been a little vague because I had no idea what to expect. I had learned some printing techniques, which was one of my learning goals. I had learned about printing on bricks (it’s not easy). I can’t remember what my third one was.
What I did not write on the form was how much I learned about:
- other people’s capabilities in creating interesting images with some good tuition and a range of subject matter and materials;
- how people of widely different experience and skills could get something out of the same activities;
that it is incredibly rewarding to let other people print from a printing block I made (and take away the print);
- that making small books is very satisfying;
- how 2 hours once a week for 10 weeks is not long enough to do such a project.
I like working in series, and developing ideas to create a set of images that can work together or apart. Before participating in the project, I had been thinking of doing a series of linocuts of the Ouseburn Farm animals and birds, and possibly the wild animals and birds. I had done 3 or 4 before I had had to pause for a year or so. This project brought me back to thinking about those made me think also about expanding it to cover the many plants and insects.
The project caused me think about the people of past and present, what work they did, what things they might have used, what structures they have built and destroyed in the Lower Ouseburn Valley. The area’s built heritage is fragile and often too fragmentary even to be recognised as heritage officially but is part of the texture that gives the area its character, its patina of age that makes it so attractive. I worry that it will vanish very soon as developers, keen to make a profit now the economy no longer seems to be flat-lining and since the Government is encouraging new builds, see the old single-storey or low-level industrial buildings as sites that can be cleared and filled with big blocks that are six to ten storeys high.
I feel an anxiety to record what fine details make up the Valley’s special character before it becomes just another urban area that could be anywhere in the UK, maybe anywhere in Europe, full of rather ugly buildings that appear to have been put up with no thought except “how much profit can be made as quickly as possible?” In the 19th century, they built industrial buildings of architectural merit. The early 20th century buildings in Ouseburn have a human scale and modest, almost homely, aesthetic.
I don’t believe that things should always remain the same, least of all in the Lower Ouseburn Valley where, by the middle of the 20th century, industries were declining or had died (on Tyneside generally as well as Ouseburn) and those industries had left behind a difficult legacy of pollution that affected people’s health and the natural environment.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, many of the occupants of the valley struggled to find enough money for food every week. Their lives were likely to be cut short by industrial accidents or pollution caused by those industries that affected where they lived as well as worked. One of the old photographs of the area that I came across when working on a project for Newcastle Libraries’ Local Studies years ago shows a row of buildings on the side of the Valley, with nothing else around, so heavily propped up that I imagine it had been almost visibly sliding down the hill. I think there must have been other buildings around that short row whose owners had given up on the battle to keep them upright.
Living in large towns and cities in the 19th century was hazardous partly due to water supplies, sewage arrangements, and crowded living conditions so it is not surprising that died in infancy or childhood. The Tyneside flats design, introduced in the late 19th century, created relatively high density housing that was less dense than the old ‘courts’ and other multi-occupation buildings. They were designed to give people more privacy and to be healthier accommodation, with their water supply, backyard toilet, and mains sewage to each flat, not shared between many household as in the old courts.
We don’t want to go back to industries that poisoned the ground, the air, the flora and fauna, and the people. But I want some of the fragments of that past to remain, some of the human-scale buildings that connected with the world outside and were part of their community. I want traces of the Quayside railway and the few remaining narrow streets paved with granite setts. I want to see the rail on which the great travelling cranes went along the Quayside when Spillers and Malmo Quays provided mooring and loading and offloading to the ships.
Currently, we have lots of artists, designers and makers in Ouseburn. I still want to be one of those artists with a studio there one day. In the meantime, I can continue with getting inspiration from the Lower Ouseburn Valley, its present and past. I intend to do some lino cuts during the next 2 or 3 weeks that perhaps people could print with Theresa at the Ouseburn Festival. I will probably focus on animals and birds for those.
Other subjects that I aim to develop further include the freight locomotives that were used on the Quayside and going down through Ouseburn to the Quayside, and those that drew the passenger trains on the great railway viaduct that crosses the valley. Two of the locomotives were specifically designed for the Ouseburn route, to cope with the difficult topography and tunnels.
I intend to print some plants from the valley. I have been wondering if I could make very large drawings in charcoal en plein air there. Can I cope with the physical issues of large work outdoors? How could I support the paper? How would I cope with people looking and asking about it?
There is a possibility that we will have an opportunity to learn to make charcoal from Ouseburn wood so I could draw with the material grown in the valley if we make finer sticks of charcoal.
I’m so glad I was able to participate in this community project led so well by Theresa Easton. She was brilliant throughout the 10 weeks, and she was wonderful at adapting things according to the people participating and the circumstances on the day. I really hope we can do more community projects in the future – there is so much more we could do. If you get the chance, do a course with Theresa. As well as having a lot of skills and being generous with sharing them, she has a wonderfully calm manner, a confidence that her students will produce something interesting, and a way of seeing possibilities of making art from unlikely materials.
Now what do I do on Fridays without this project?