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SOFT DRIVE is the 2019-20 Artspace project, and I am delighted to have been invited to be one of the artists working on this project. John Hall had written a summary of what the 'Soft Drive' project will incorporate.

'Four artists will explore the roots and mediators of communal memory and identity in Ulverston and South Cumbria.From our base at the Sir John Barrow cottage in Ulverston, our artists will curate introductory micro-exhibitions drawing on the domestic and civic artefacts and ephemera stored there. These will act as the locus for public engagement with appearance and function, provenance, materiality and curatorship. In response, our artists will produce sculpture and assemblage, audio, text and visual work for exhibition and publication. Through walks, conversation, workshops, schools projects and associative analysis of archive material we will explore the shifting significance of key sites and routes in the life of the community.'

I will be working alongside artists Alex Blackmore, and John Hall, and we will be joined by Dr Jamie McPhie who lectures in Cultural Landscapes and Aesthetics in the Outdoors at the University of Cumbria. Later, Soft Drive will involve young people in collaborative work with Oral Tradition storyteller Dominic Kelly and textile artist Lex Blakeway. You can learn more about this at the Soft Drive blog.

The Cottage will be used as our artist’s shared workshop and presentation space and will be open to the public at agreed points in the project in order to introduce our artists and present work in progress. We are once again lucky enough to have been offered the help and knowledge of local historians and archaeologists.



Last year I was commissioned by the group ARTSPACE to make work inspired by Sir John Barrow Cottage on the project 'Manners and Amusements'. For this I explored the cottage building and it's history, objects within the cottage and the story of Sir John Barrow's life. This led me to focus on Barrow's wife, Lady Anna Barrow and her work as a botanical illustrator. Below is the introduction from the book:

‘This book documents my journey exploring the course of Dragley Beck, starting from Sir John Barrow Cottage and ending at the Irish Sea. It is inspired by Sir John Barrow’s life as an explorer and member of the Admiralty, but also highlights the story of his wife Anna Maria Barrow who was a botanical illustrator. In reference to her work I have created an illustrated book of the wildlife that can be found in this environment.

I am not a trained a biologist or ecologist, I am an artist who is passionate about the natural world. This book isn’t an extensive overview of freshwater and marine life in Cumbria, but focuses on animals that caught my interest - whose migration, breeding methods or ways of creating shelter fascinated me. I have been lucky enough to have been advised by some very knowledgeable naturalists, but most of the research has been my own and may not be perfect. I hope I have illustrated creatures that should, or could, live in our area. Some of the pages feature specific species that are in decline or at risk in our rivers and oceans, and I have added a brief description for each to highlight the many ways human life can have an impact on the natural world on our doorstep.

This has been a personal journey for me as an artist, and I have included a short essay about the women that have influenced my work throughout this project.

I hope this book will spark your curiosity, and inspire you to visit the Cottage, the Beck, the beach or spend some time looking at a wildlife field guide.’

Around this I also led botanical illustration and bookplate printing workshops, and we held a book launch at Ulverston Library.


I received a lovely review from Ulverston Now which I think really sums up the meaning of the book:

‘‘Unique’ is an overused word, yet this individual work is like no other recently published local book. Although it is described as ‘An exploration of the stories and wildlife from Sir John Barrow cottage to the Irish Sea’, it is far from being a dry guide book. Talented artist Ellie Chaney has over time closely observed wildlife in Dragley Beck, and produced striking illustrations of some its fauna, from microscopic protozoa to the grey heron. However, this is more than a collection of artwork, since Ellie brings together different historical and current strands to create a satisfying whole. While Sir John Barrow sent expeditions to the far ends of the earth, she demonstrates that there is still so much to explore and discover on a smaller scale closer to home. Similarly, just as the vast frozen polar expanses probed by Sir John Barrow’s explorers are threatened now by climate change, she warns how much of the wildlife in our own little ecosystem is put at risk by our activities, from dredging to using insecticides. She was also inspired by the often overlooked life of Sir John Barrow’s wife, Anna Maria nee Truter, born in South Africa and a painter of landscapes and flowers, and by the botanic illustrator Anna Atkins, born in 1799. Anna Atkins, regarded as the earliest woman photographer, used cyanotype images to illustrate a monumental ‘Manual of British Algae’. Cyanotype images are always blue, and this has informed the beautiful artwork of a book which deserves a nationwide audience.’ Ulverston Now, Feb 2019

I'm really looking forward to working in more depth with the stories, concepts and objects that Sir John Barrow Cottage encompasses, to consulting with and talking to more people in Ulverston about the cottage, and to creating new work.

So for now I'm going to begin by looking through the Civic Society collection in the attic as my starting point, as I'm sure some interesting stories and objects are going to find me for this project.

Eleanor Chaney