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Cynon Valley commission, backstory

I posted recently about the public sculpture commission I was lucky enough to be invited to make for the new Cynon Valley Hospital in South Wales - it's a 50 square metre frieze in the reception atrium. Well here's the back-story. 
The brief was to reference the life and history of this post-industrial (mining) valley and the towns of Mountain Ash and Aberdare. My research and meetings with hospital staff led me to some very interesting places and fascinating imagery.  

I'm starting with this as it's my favourite piece of imagery - and also the first thing I made.  If you know anything about Wales you know it has a very strong musical tradition including the famous male voice choirs but what I didn't know was that there were many jazz bands in the Cynon Valley (as in other valleys) stretching back to the 1920s and still going in the 80s (or even today)

But the best thing was to discover that the jazz bands always had a theme and everyone dressed up! Such crazy outfits you couldn't believe - like these- 'The French Peasants'!!  Don't ask why! Anyway they captured my imagination, hence my version of their pleated headdresses.

Various musical instruments made great shapes for the composition
(In making the frieze I cast entirely from real objects)

Must have been fun coming up with the outfits!

'Naval Officers'???

Previous visitors to my blog and website know I've got a thing about tassels so this outfit was perfect

This guy is very famous in the Cynon Valley, he was conductor of the famous 'Cor Mawr' choir of some 460 voices 

In my discussions with hospital staff about ideas for the imagery I should include in the frieze, everyone was adamant that I must make reference to mining which was the life blood of these communities  (until the 1980s when the pits were closed). But I didn't want to use cliched imagery like Davies lamps etc so I spent some time in the brilliant Aberdare museum looking at all the things they had to do with mining.

I decided that the shapes and textures of the breathing apparatus used down the pits would provide interesting forms and patterns and also help bring fluidity and movement to the overall design.

Of course I had to have a pit pony too!!

There is some stunning architecture in the Cynon Valley not least the wonderful and imposing chapels and churches - of which there are many!

These photos show just 4. I really love the neo-classical style, simple and beautifully proportioned. It's a great shame that many of them are now disused and stand empty but the saddest thing I heard was that someone bought one for £10,000 just to strip it out and sell all the materials and fittings for architectural salvage. 

I kept thinking how the chapels would make fantastic galleries and artists' studios - come on you Welsh artists - move to Aberdare and Mountain Ash and invent a new contemporary art scene using these wonderful spaces!

Climbing up the hillsides of the valley are rows and rows of the terraced  houses typical of these industrial landscapes. 

It was tricky snapping them from the train as I wended my way from Cardiff up the Cynon Valley! The landscape is something else - steep valley sides culminating in wonderful rugged hilltops.

I always find cenotaphs very moving and spend time reading the names of those commemorated - there are cenotaphs in Mountain Ash and Aberdare.

There are some fabulous, ornate 19th century buildings - like this pub - with amazing almost 'Baroque' sculptural details. This style of solid, imposing architecture speaks of a time when the valleys were confident of their place in the world thanks to the success of the mining industry.

I had to have a bridge to represent the river which winds its way up the valley for mile after mile and is the focus and centre of every village and town.

The new hospital replaces the two old hospitals of Mountain Ash and Aberdare and when I met staff they were keen for me to make some reference to the old buildings. This is one of the ornate balustrades.

And this is one of the Minute Books which recorded donations to the hospital from miners and benefactors - long before the days of the National Health Service.  I read some dreadful stories about how miners had to deal with injuries before the advent of the hospitals - you wouldn't have wanted to be there!!!

Of course I had to put in some surgical instruments!  They kindly sent me a box of de-commissioned instruments - don't look at these saws and giant pliers if you're going to have a plaster cast removed any time soon!

...........and bandages.........

.......and a stethoscope, naturally!!

Finally, I couldn't resist making my own Welsh doll!! I've always so loved the hats!

See more pictures of the whole installation

It was an extremely interesting experience undertaking this commission - the research, the designing, the casting, the visits to this historic area of South Wales and meeting wonderful, friendly and funny people . I was born and lived my first few years in Newport, South Wales so having the opportunity to create a sculpture for the area made the commission even more special for me.

Thanks to cool design blog PARGY for liking my plaster busts!


  1. Cor, ever so interesting, just love all those references. Remember visiting the Vina Cooke Doll Museum, that is going to relocate to Wales and a redundant chapel looking over the sea is one of two choices for the new site.

  2. I have been following your blog for over a year ago and really enjoy it. I also wanted you to know that I have nominated you for the Blogger Sunshine Awards, http://a-place-called-space.blogspot.co.uk/

  3. Looks like a great project to work on.


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