WORKING IN THE COTTAGE | Wednesday 9th May 2018
To share our residencies as they develop the artists from the project will be spending time in the cottage. These will be open days where we will work and give people the opportunity to come and find out more. Wednesday 9th of May for the first of these for me, and I was looking forward to having a closer look at the artefacts on display in the cottage, exploring the plants in the garden and sharing my research so far with people.
I chose to work at a table in the second room, it looked like it had room for all the books, sketches, art materials, extra clothing layers and snacks I’d brought with me (I always, always overpack). Lack of lighting can be a problem in the cottage as it has small, low windows that are set into the thick walls. It was also quite a cloudy day, and had been raining, but I found a patch of light and the desk which I quite liked so I unpacked and settled in to my studio for the day.
At this stage my hopes for the residency are that I will:
Explore the life living in the Beck and the other waterways it connects to, from the microscopic to small mammals and birds.
Share this research in the form of a book that will be printed both in softback and limited edition hardback.
Research Lady Anna Maria Barrow and share her story, referencing her work as a botanical illustrator in the book, and producing an activity sheet so families can learn about her work and create their own drawings in response.
Learn more about Sir John Barrow as a botanical artist, surveyor, map maker and Arctic explorer. I hope to summarise these findings in illustrated activity sheets that can be used as a resource by families and schools in the area.
My plan was to spend the day making small steps forward on all of these elements of my residency, in the hope that this would give me a clearer idea of what I wanted to achieve and help me to plan how I was going to get everything done!
LIFE IN THE BECK | Meeting Jayne from the South Cumbria Rivers Trust
The day began really well as we were visited by Jayne Wilkinson from the South Cumbria Rivers Trust. This gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the organisation and the work they do, as well as a chance to ask some questions of my own. I’ve been struggling a bit about where to begin with my research – I have no training in environmental science or biology whatsoever, and am still at the early stages of understanding how different species influence one another and operate within the food chain. Jayne pointed me towards the Field Study Council guides, and the website Buglife, which is an amazing resource full of information. Through our conversation I learnt that the Environment Agency monitor the health of the rivers and becks with something called the Water Framework Directive classification system. This identifies the health of the becks and rivers, in part by looking at the populations of freshwater aquatic invertebrates who are a pollutant sensitive indicator of water quality. If there are drops in numbers of riverfly species this indicates that there has been an increase in pollution in the river. I’m really interested in these tiny riverflies and their sensitivity to changes in their environment as indicators of aquatic pollution, especially the cased caddis which make tiny ‘sleeping bags’ case out of small stones, plant materials, sand and shell. And of course these riverflies are an important part of the food chain so their decline with impact fish and other animals in the area.
SPECIES AT RISK|The Freshwater Pearl Mussel and the White Clawed Crayfish
Jayne also told me about two freshwater species in the UK which are under threat.
The freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) is an endangered species of freshwater mussel, which is capable of living up to 130 years and has an amazing life cycle I plan on writing more about in a separate post. The Freshwater Biological Association is leading two projects focusing on conservation of the freshwater pearl mussel, which you can learn more about here.
The white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) is Britian’s only native freshwater crayfish. They look like little lobsters, and aren’t often seen during the day as they hide under rocks, coming out after dark to feed. However the white-clawed crayfish is endangered due to the crayfish plague, a disease carried by the invasive North American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) which the white-clawed crayfish has no resistance to. It is also sensitive to pollution like insecticides which are washed into the water. You can learn more about them on this page.
I am hugley grateful to Jayne for giving me this time and advice, and want to say a big thank you to the South Cumbria Rivers Trust for their help with the project.
EXPLORING THE GARDEN | Botanical sketching
After my conversation with Jayne I decided to spend some time in the garden of the cottage. I want to create an activity sheet for schools and families to use about Lady Barrow and Sir John Barrow’s shared passion for botanical drawing, and so have decided to make some studies of my own of the plants that grow in the little patch behind the cottage. It had rained recently and everything was covered in dew drops, so I used my camera to take some close ups of the different plants growing at the moment, with the plan to do this again in a month when I spend another day there.
I didn’t want to pick plants from the garden, but I found a bluebell that was broken which I took to draw. I also picked some stickyweed (Galium aparine) from the edge of the cottage wall, as I didn’t think anyone would miss this too much.
I took my ‘specimens’ in to the cottage to get drawing, but mainly spent the time talking to the visitors who popped in to see what I was working on. These conversations were really helpful. People seemed interested in learning more about the unknown story of Lady Barrow, and they were intrigued to find out about Sir John Barrow’s involvement in the whaling expeditions. When I explained my ideas with the book to make it into a ‘tiny adventure’ of the rivers and becks of Ulverston everyone was supportive, which was encouraging to me.
ARTEFACTS | Books, maps and more
In a quiet moment I also took the chance to photograph some of the artefacts in the cottage that have captured my interest. As I’m making a book, I would like the design of this to reference the books published by Sir John Barrow, and so have been studying the examples in the cottage displays.
There is also a map of the arctic circle which I love and would like to look at more carefully.
On the window sill of the room I’m working in there is an old book press, which I would like to use to make some pressings of plants from the garden and beck if I can get permission. I also hope to use this to make some limited edition lino prints which I can include in the hardback books, or possibly make into dust sheets.
Finally I spent some time crawling around in the attic rooms photographing a large map I had noticed on my last visit. I’m planning to write more about this in a separate post, but it belongs to the Ulverston Civic Society and is thought to be a map that was created for all the Lakes train stations. I’d like to use this in the activity sheet I’m making about Sir John Barrow’s experiences as a surveyor and map maker.
I was also lucky enough to have some photos taken by Lindsay Ward, who takes the credit for all the photos above of me working in the space. I think for the next visit I’ll brush my hair beforehand.
That’s all for now, but I’ll be back in the cottage in June to do more drawing and to share the work I’ve made to that point. If you have any ideas, information or questions please feel free to leave a comment below!