Connecting & Belonging
Sculpture project 2020
It has been a great privilege and joy this year to immerse in the process of dreaming in, designing and creating a series of four ceramic 'Beings, Devas, Entities', for Jeremy and Zarine of Hill Cottage Retreat Centre, Knighton, Wales.
How the Project Began
I first visited Hill Cottage in 2017 to study with shamanic teacher, author and visionary Manda Scott. The gentle beauty of the land was perfect for our process of deepening connections to the Sacred Elements and More than Human world. An experience floating in the natural swmming pool, entranced by hovering dragonflies as the light danced upon the water, particularly stayed with me.
Zarine and Jeremy became interested in my work as an artist and teacher of mandala, inspired by the sacred geometry of nature.
In 2019 I returned to teach a Mandala painting workshop at Hill Cottage.
Later that year, Jeremy encountered some of my ceramic Goddess sculptures at an exhibition in Bristol and felt inspired to invite me to design and make something similar for the land at Hill Cottage, to complement the Buddha Rupas who sit in quiet contemplation in and around the grounds.
It would be a way of expressing gratitude for the way the retreat centre has continued to grow into its vision of supporting people to find a place of joyful tranquility within themselves while connecting with others on a similar journey.
And so the seeds for the project 'Connecting and Belonging' were sown...
At the start of 2020, on a wet january day, we wandered the land together and talked about the places that could embrace and shelter each piece, and over time discussed iconography, the natural elements that inhabited each spot and the importance of a balancing and celebration of female energy.
Dreaming into Being
I came home and began to dream, produce drawings and offer ideas, that evolved into a plan to create four Goddess Beings for the different locations we had agreed upon. Each Being would in some way embody the qualities of her location, celebrate the wildlife and elemental energy, and hold an offering place for people to pause, give thanks, be inspired. The four Beings would together link up the different locations.
I chose to work in a robust 'crank' clay, with good thermal shock properties, so that the sculptures may stand a good chance of surviving different weather conditions.
The First Being: 'Fleeting Brilliance'
Work began on 'Fleeting Brilliance' in February.
She is designed to preside over a water feature, set into a hillside, in an area full of light.
The intent was to create a piece that could be viewed 'in the round' approached from all directions.
The Being embodies a quiet sense of holding, with awareness extending out into the web of life via a sixteen petalled mandala carved into the clay that forms her 'cloak'.
Kingfisher and dragonfly are visitors to the ponds over which the finished sculpture now resides.
So I included them in the pattern, to represent the flashes of inspiration and everyday miracles that light up our lives.
Perhaps the fleeting brilliance of life itself. An inner bowl, fired with green glass, forms a place to recieve illumination from a lantern during the evening.
Covid19 and the Creative Process
'Fleeting brilliance had just received her first firing, when Covid19 steered the country into a state of lockdown.
My husband and I became unable to see clients or teach classes. Fortunately I work from a studio in my garden, so I could continue my creative practice, once the initial sense of reeling and adaptation had settled. We had been poised to put our house on the market, but suddenly that was off the menu, with planting seeds and readying the veggie patch the new priority, along with fielding shopping for and shielding my elderly parents (who live adjacent to us).
Lockdown enabled me to give every task a much deeper-than-usual attention, free from much of the usual distractions of external commitments. A profound sense of stillness, as traffic noises and human activity diminished, fell upon the land; while simultaneously the spring activity of nesting birds, beautiful flowers and new growth continued. Our house is in quite a wild location, by the sea, at the mouth of a river estuary near Machynlleth in Wales. Not the busiest of places out of holiday season, but even here we felt everything slowing down and the wild edges creeping in.
The Second Being: 'Haven'
Something of the instinct to 'go to ground' that I felt during the first month of lockdown translates into the energy of this Goddess. When Life feels threatening or overwhelming, a return to the nurturing presence of the Earth, to consciously become rooted feels sensible. Tawny owl, wood mouse and oak form an egg shaped protective outer shell, symbolising the incubation quality of introspective time, and carved with pentagonal geometry to represent the regenerative impulse of Life.
The inner space contains a raised bowl, designed to hold a light, or incense, or recieve an offering. I imagined small mammals, snails, beetles, woodlice and spiders taking refuge inside the 'Haven' space in her leafy setting.
The paring away of ordinary preoccupations during lockdown opened awareness to the inner essence of things; simple realities of where we live and with whom; our relationships with land, people and our more than human relations.
This precious gift of Life, that we can so easily rush through, too busy to smell the flowers and notice the astonishing precision surrounding us.
The Third Being: 'A Cloak of Listening'.
This figure stands, face uplifted to receive the light and air. She is at one with Life, wide open to the Beauty; hands open in a gesture of both offering and receiving.
Dressed in a cloak of leaves, a seven petalled mandala at her back, Roe Deer and Blackbird to her right, Wren and Crow to her left. And sheltering beneath her gown, Hare.
The cloak is reminiscent of depictions of the Divine Mother in renaissance art. Also of St Melangell, patron saint of Hares, who is said to have sheltered a hunted hare beneath her gown. And something of Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers in Welsh mythology, who may be the Spring Goddess bringing fertility to the Land.
I began work on this sculpture at Beltane, in a heatwave of sunshine, when the bluebells were still flowering beneath the willow tree outside my studio, with May blossom and newly unfurled leaves greening up the hedgerows.
Tuning in, day by day, cultivating a deep quality of attention, through quiet practice.
Noticing a sense of both tuning in and listening to Life, while also being witnessed and listened to by the more than human world.
All aspects of our 'inter-being' woven within the material; Earth, Water, Fire and Air.
The Fourth Being: 'Dreaming with Water'.
The intention behind this piece began as an exploration of how it feels to be a vessel for the energies of Life to move through. The 'Hollow Reed' or 'Hollow Bone' feeling experienced when we open to the web of life, softening the sense of self and welcoming interconnection.
Presiding over the waters of a natural swimming pond, she channels rain water via tube-like Arum Lily forms at her back, which collect in the blue-glazed bowl. Water also enters her bowl via pipe, as part of the renewal process in the pond.
Greeting the element and spirit of water is part of my daily practice. Water within us, around us, in the air, the earth and sky. Water moves through us quite literally, carrying the essence of experience, minerals, ancestral memory and landscape.
Likewise, we each add our signature to the water as it flows through. An alchemy of everything ingested, received, processed and released. In this way, the water may be a powerful vehicle for prayers, intentions, blessings.
Finishing and Installing
A generous friend agreed to fire the sculptures for me in his tall kiln, so I ventured out several times on the empty roads to drive over and leave things to be fired while collecting bisque fired pieces to bring home for finishing.
I chose to finish the Beings mainly with coloured oxides (manganese and iron). This helps to bring out the patterning, giving depth to the forms and clarity to the outlines of creatures.
By the time the first three sculptures were completely ready, lockdown restrictions had eased, so that I was able to take them over to install in their true home at Hill Cottage. It was a very joyful day, presenting the work to Jeremy and Zarine and the spirits of the land there! The Fourth Being arrived several weeks later.
Zarine beautifully expresses her hope, along with Jeremy and myself, "that these 'Beings, Devas, Entities' will inspire reflection and joy. Their identity is as fluid as the elements and our intention is that the positive, loving energy imbued within them, along with the nurturing place that is Hill Cottage, will be supportive of any who wish to share the symbolic company of each 'Being'."
Anne Thomas, July 2020