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Digging a big trench for ourselves!

In 2011 my friends Geraldine and Mary were helping to clear a trench at the Time Travellers Dig at Whirlow Hall Farm. A male colleague commented the soil wasn’t moving fast enough, they promptly replied that “Queen Cartimandua wouldn’t have put up with that remark”

A queen in northern Britain? Surely there was only Boudicca and she was based farther south?.

That autumn, Geraldine, Mary, Dorothy and myself set out to research more about this Queen and her Brigante tribe.  We’d been advised that they hardly existed, what a challenge!; even the Romans knew the Brigantes were the largest Iron Age tribe or confederation in northern Britain? We quickly found out just how biased some of the Roman reporting could be. Naturally as the conquerors, and with a sound latin language in place they certainly had a distinct advantage in terms of being believed, although sometimes they were writing 10 years after the event, and from Rome.

Then there is the problem of the money available for archaeology and the magnetic attraction of “Treasure Trove”, with funding being allocated for sites containing spectacular hoards. These have a bigger draw for visitors to museums. Dare I say it, a north south divide?

The history of 2000 years ago can seem a very difficult challenge today, especially as we understand the Romans  to be so organised, technically skilled and so brilliant at networking. Where is the evidence of the native population of Britain? The last 30 years has seen some rethinking. Much more archaeology is being identified.The Portable Antiquities Scheme which records small finds made by the public across Britain, not just “ treasure trove” has opened our eyes to more domestic artefacts. Far more questions are being asked, we have some wonderful technology to detect sites, and of course the internet connects these things together. Even if you have little interest in history these advances  will have affected you.

Our northern Queen Cartimandua, has suddenly come centre stage in the archaeology world.

Her place of residence was most likely at Stanwick, near Scotch Corner. A site of some size and comparable with others in the south of Britain. How do we know? Well a heavy book of archaeological reports, comparing all the digs done on this site has just been published this spring, and this is informing new research.

How did I come to be involved? Well Whirlow is part of my childhood territory. From being a very small child I crossed the fields from Bents Green to visit many relatives in Dore and Totley. I explored the roads to Ringinglow visiting Sheephill farm and Burbage by bike. I was always hoping to unearth something from this ancient landscape especially across Whirlow fields and what we knew as “the Roman Road” at Ringinglow. By a strange “twist of time”,  and many adventures elsewhere, I now live back in Dore, picking up threads from the past and those of my life experiences. My fine art degree has linked with family metalwork and design occupations in Sheffield with which I was involved when working in the city.

So where better to begin a new and fascinating trail from Whirlow across Europe to Italy and back. I could empathise with all those ancient traders, carrying materials and metals to and from the Mediterranean.

In 2012 I found a small enamelled Dragonesque brooch, made in the late Iron Age in Brigantia, it was tucked into a modest display in the Doncaster Museum.The creature had a very lively shape, still retained some colour and seemed carefully made.This was when I started to become really interested, and began my new art work and research.

Collage and a Celtic twist

13Collage has always been one of my favourite methods of working. It gives me plenty of scope to develop both fine detail and large scaled subjects. My intention since focusing on this field has always been to study design through the eyes of archaeology, but to rethink and interpret through the eyes of an artist. The collages are created on fine cotton canvas, and I work with Japanese Washi, natural Asian and modern papers, and some I prepare myself. Other materials such as pastels, acrylics, inks and watercolour may be used in a variety of techniques. They are carefully sealed.

I think of them without frames. They are light and are easy to hang, but metal plates can be added to the wood for extra security. Each has my personal stamp and comes with some information about the contents. These follow themes which focus on aspects of found artefacts from particular sites. My main interests are in Iron Age metals, but if the subject appeals then the work may be about other materials.6

The metamorphosis of metal ores using fire, water and air is very complex. The processes required to see a design through to finished object, always fascinate me.

The colours of metal ores, their chemical structure, location and ultimate form are all considered, and appear in my sketchbooks, but this is only the beginning and a great deal of study, museum visits, and travel take place. The combination of metals to make alloys, the chemical changes which take place when the object is found in the soil affect colours, shapes, textures, and conservation techniques can alter the picture yet again.

In this sense a collage is an ideal medium, but it is a subtle minefield to search for focal point, to select relevant subject matter and to put it into an appropriate context. This is when it really gets interesting!

Romano-British dig at Whirlow Hall Farm, Sheffield  


The dig will begin on June 20th 2016 for 3 weeks followed by various events.

My metalwork study began as a direct result of joining Time Travellers archaeology group based in Dore in 2011.

The Romano British site at Whirlow was being excavated for the first time in 2011, and some significant finds were made. New lottery funding has made another dig possible, from June 20th 2016 with activities relating to Whirlow and the dig continuing for 18 months or longer. To complement the archaeology, four members of Time Travellers began an ongoing study of  the Brigantes, the largest British Iron Age tribe which covered an area from South Yorkshire to the Scottish Borders, each of us exploring a different aspect of life from this time.

New methods of analysis are revealing so much more about this early history and finds are still being made, but piecing together the evidence requires time, training and funding. The North of Britain has never had quite the same attention as the South, which has possibly skewed some of the evidence. Methods of interpretation have also changed over the years, with much discussion and disagreement in the academic world about Celts.  Also Rome, however great its achievements, was always going to put its own spin on events! Our study is revealing how climate change and migration can affect society, themes that are still very relevant today.


Ice Age – mammoth bone pendants  40,000 to 20,000 years BC


Flight – collage on fine cotton canvas with Japanese, mixed papers, materials and lino prints. 2015

Detail of Flight collage

Lake Baikal in Siberia is frozen for six or seven months over winter. In spring millions of waterbirds and waders arrive from Europe, South Asia and Australia to breed. Migrants herald the change of seasons and bring a sudden glut of easily obtained meat and eggs that may give rise to feasts and ceremonies.

Thirteen Ice Age mammoth ivory bird pendants have been found at the open archaeology site at Mal’ta in Siberia. They are waterfowl, possibly geese and swan depicted in flight with wings and necks outstretched. Another two appear to be ducks on water and a third is wading. Some pendants are perforated at the end of the body for suspension. They have been found with beads, and carved plaques, perhaps to fasten clothing. Sizes vary, but are usually between 8.3cms and 11.9cms.

This is detail of a collage of Stadel Cave (not featured)

Another bird pendant, is possibly a cormorant with narrow beak, wings and legs; curving lines on the back may indicate feathers. This was excavated in Stadel Cave, South West Germany.

Birds may be regarded as spirit helpers, inbred with supernatural qualities being able to fly to the Upper World, down through water to the Lower World, and exist on land in the Middle World. At the Mal’ta site in Siberia, a number of small mammoth sculptures The excavated sculptures may have been talisman or made purely for pleasure, we can only guess.


Conversations at Valhalla, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

Within the exotic gardens at Tresco is Valhalla. This is an area covered from the elements but open at the front, and is used to display ships figureheads mainly found wrecked nearby.

I first met the figures when there were no visitors. It was a grey day, which emphasised both the scale and bright heritage paints. It must be an eerie place at night, with moonlight catching on varnished lips or blue eye.

On my second visit the conservators were stretching from ladders to rub, caress and check painted cheek, curve, and gilded scroll. Talk was of paint numbers and lunch.

The workmen were warmly clad in practical paint daubed clothing, in stark contrast to the brightly painted and carefully crafted figures and fish. Although made of wood these figureheads embodied the religious beliefs, family loyalties and maritime[ heritage over centuries.The hopes and fortunes of captains and investors, dashed on hidden rocky ledges.

Ships spirits, – or what happened next!

Rosa Tacchini

Rosa Tacchini

Ships figureheads were used as religious symbols for protection. Sailors believed that the ship was a living thing, and if it needed to find it’s own way it would need eyes.

This figurehead has been deliberately left unrestored, giving her a ghostly appearance. She was returned to Tresco from the Royal Maritime Museum, she is from an Italian Barque sailing from Buenos Aires to Antwerp in November 1872 with a cargo of hides horns, hooves, tallow and wool. She ran aground off the island and was was wrecked on Tresco Flats

Rosa Tacchini

Rosa Tacchini

Roman Soldier, 19C no provenance, but possibly from a small merchant vessel from the Mediterranean


Roman soldier


Sally Simpkin’s Lament 

Oh! what is that comes gliding in,

And quite in middling haste?
It is the picture of my Jones,
And painted to the waist.

It is not painted to the life,
For where’s the trousers blue?
Oh Jones, my dear! – Oh dear! my Jones,
What is become of you?
– Thomas Hood 19C

Lesser octopus, Anglesey Sea Zoo

Water is a magic medium and re-reading these fun sea shanties by Thomas hood gave me the idea to make small spirit models.  I was studying and drawing fish moving at Anglesey Sea Aquarium from 1996-8

It is more likely that ships would be anchored and sheltering together during a storm. The shock of twisting cables and hulls being pounded on ledges of rocks would be an additional soundscape. A possible rescue? No one knows yet.

Splintered painted woods, floating fragments or hidden events unfolding.

I will leave that to your imagination!

Roman Soldier, 19C no provenance, but possibly from a small merchant vessel from the Mediterranean.Paper and mixed materials collage, Crab environment at Anglesey Sea Zoo


Travels and inspiration in 2014


Gateway Calver ancient edges

After another very enjoyable Open Studio at the beginning of May, the weather continued to work in my favour for travelling. July saw sunny skies for nine days out of ten on North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Eday in Orkney. We stayed on the first two islands. This was mainly a working holiday with plenty of walking, crawling into some smaller chambered tombs, drawing and photographing. We flew over the archipelago this year rather than using the ferries. Islands we visited in 2012 were very different, due in part to the geography, economy and connections with Kirkwall on Main Island.


Barbrook- entrance to the stone landscape

Three years ago I joined Time Travellers Archaeology group in Dore. With friends I began to investigate the history of Brigantia, the largest of the Iron Age tribes in Britain which stretched northwards from what is now South Yorkshire. This started my personal study of early Metalworking, and now goes hand in hand with coastal exploration and landscape painting, and will be included in my Open studio this year.

Westray Orkney July 2013

This year we travelled via mainland Kirkwall to Westray and Papa Westray. Although we did not experience the exceptional heatwave, there were very blue skies, some drizzle, moderate winds and mist. All very comfortable for walking and sketching.
These islands were lush with fairly natural meadows,cattle, spectacular cliffs and sea life. It is a landscape which exposes its previous history in abundance; slipping and sliding into the sea, and in dramatic stone splendour.
The shape, texture and colour of rock and it mineral contents define the islands. Its bones are laid bare on the archaeological sites.
From the sketch books of this trip, I have started some new work

Exploring aspects of Iceland

September 2012 and MAY 2013

Like many people I am fascinated by ice and fire. The fact that birds could accommodate and nest in such extreme conditions was a real surprise. I joined two small Naturetrek groups, because I was interested in habitat and the environment. I have no experience of regular bird watching or photographing them. I took small sketchbooks on both occasions. The company was good, and with a sympathetic leader I was able to achieve the first part of my exploration. We travelled by small mini bus, stopping at significant bird, geological, and historical sites. My sketchbooks had to be small and usable in all weather conditions and capable of inspiring further work and investigation.

The highlights of the September visit to Southern Iceland were the excellent weather, viewing the northern lights on four different nights and seeing a new country as it unfolded in autumn colour. Birds were an integral part of this experience as they have been for thousands of years. They were migrating.

The following May I booked again – with the same experienced leader but a different group, and flew to Northern Iceland where the geology is even more significant. This time the weather was very cold and spring was late as in the UK but this did not deter the birds or animals. The sounds of bird calls was overwhelming. Nest sites were very imaginative, utilising the edges of shallow lakes to gain warmth from sun and thermal activity. The larval landscape  provided shelter in the form of natural and artificial walls, the latter made with holes to break the force of the wind for young lambs. Rivers, fast flowing and still, provided food and sport for a large variety of ducks and small birds.

Godafoss North Iceland

rescanned iceland May_0001

Laka River North Iceland

rescanned iceland May_0002-1

Dimmuborgir North Icelandrescanned iceland May_0004


This time the weather varied from strong sparkling sunlight to horizontal rain, strong winds and snow showers. Some bird flocks, just balls of feathers landed and sat in pools of sunshine in the most sheltered places they could find.

This time the highlights were of a geological landscape seen in stunning contrasting colours and  varied weather conditions  as  our trip progressed west, then south to some areas we had seen in September, this was in contrast to the autumnal plant colour.

Tourism had barely started and the birds seemed oblivious of humans and got on with courting and nesting; waterfalls with their spectacular energy, the underlying thermal activity erupting, and huge power stations sited in the lava fields. Strange and dream like, this landscape seemed on the one hand very primeval and strong, and on the other like eggshell, very fragile. Myths, legends and the twenty first  century all collide.

My two visits showed an island full of contrasts.  I hope this is captured in my sketchbooks and subsequent acrylics.

Since the Open Studios 2012

Since the Open Studios at the beginning of May, I have visited the Scilly Isles.

Each of the islands has its own special character. It is the wilder side of the landscapes and the early archeology which is of real interest to me. My friend and I have both sailed and anchored here, and felt the frisson of anticipation at navigating in these waters.

Green sea Tresco Scilly Isles

tresco scilly isles

The pool South Bryher Scilly Islesthe pool south bryher scilly isles

The weather conditions, warm and with good visibility this time, proved ideal for visiting the small  islands by the small  ferries. Plants were at least one month ahead and hay making had already started. It was even good enough to do the odd tiny sketch leaving on the Scillonian for Lands End and the Cornish Coast at the end of the holiday.

These rather idylic conditions disguise the fact that over 700 ships have been wrecked on the rocks round the Islands even since the lighthouses have been built!

This of course can be viewed two ways; as a grim reminder of the challengers of going to sea with cargo and passengers, or as a legacy of the threads of skills, and human spirit rescued for new generations to emulate.

There is a collection of thoughtfully carved ship’s figureheads recovered from wrecks  around the Scilly Isles.which is proving a fascinating study, and I am planning some new paintings or collage from studies of these, and the landscape.

As I watched the Jubilee Pagaent with its diversity of ships  progress down the River Thames I started to notice not just the loving care which had gone into the preparation of the vessels for the event, but also themes of gilding , carving and the use of diverse materials, old and very new. All of which should be cherished in the 21st century. More of my thoughts will be posted as art work progresses.