Illustration of a Celestine crystal from British Geological Survey.
‘Phil Cuttance has been commissioned by Barratt Homes to design and make a new series of permanent site-specific public artworks exploring Yate's history of celestine mining. The site of the new development, Ladden Garden Village, was once a location for Celestine mining, a mineral that in the past was used in the production of flares, fireworks and even talcum powder and toothpaste. Yate developed significantly during the 20th century as a centre of manufacturing and by 1960 Yate was the biggest producer of celestine in the world
Phil’s project began with a series of free artist-led workshops held in October 2021 that enabled local residents to make objects inspired by Celestine. Phil has spent time in Yate and researched the history of the area and in particular the Celestine Industry. This research informed his designs for the artworks. It is hoped that the artworks will be installed in 2023.
The development Ladden Garden Village occupies 100 hectares of former farmland between the town’s outer suburbs and the more rural aspect at Yate Rocks to the east and Tanhouse Lane to the north. The development will result in up to 2,450 new homes, a new Community Centre and local centre with retail, a new primary school, care home and employment space. It will establish new pedestrian and cycling routes and bridleways across the site, significant new public realm and open spaces including new play areas. The development is due for completion by 2030.
I'm excited to share the following visuals of the planned furniture pieces for Ladden Garden! I've decided to create several seats where each is made up of concrete 'crystals', clustered together. These elements mimic the way that Celestine crystals are formed naturally: Octogonal shaped crystals with faceted ends, growing upwards and outwards ...
Please note the following images are computer renderings, so the exact forms, colours and arrangements of pieces are still to be confirmed.
Firstly there will be a bench seat made of groups of separate crystals...
The bench appears to be made up of dozens of separate and unique crystal forms, however all of these shapes are created from only five modular moulds. By altering the length, orientation and colour of each casting, compared to the last, you can create an assemblage where each individual 'crystal' is unique!
Also a couple of clusters of chairs, and stools with each one a unique shape...
They will be different shades of blush-pinks and natural tones, these colours taken directly from the Celestine pieces I have dug up on site.
I will embed pre-polished Celestine pieces I have dug up from the site at Ladden Garden and embed them into some of the 'crystals' in each furniture piece....a literal reference to the Celestine that has inspired the project from the start!
I am thinking of using cast concrete as a material in which to cast the furniture pieces, so Suzanne Heath and I went to visit concrete casting 'masters' MASS concrete in Bournemouth. We were given a guided tour of their facilities and I was impressed by what they can achieve in terms of detail, finish and colour concrete!
Their factory in Bournemouth is huge and is a hive of activity... seen above are architectural panels removed from their moulds and left to fully cure on tables.
Mass are experienced in producing a huge variety of surface finishes in concrete; seen above is a speckle-like effect. This is created by filling any surface air bubble holes, created during casting and exposed after de-moulding, with a different coloured concrete. Finally the surfaces are polished back to a flat surface to reveal the effect.
...seen above, a concrete panel being wet-polished to a shiny finish.
I was amazed at the range of colours that can be achieved too!
Above are some finished cast terrazzo pieces for an artist commission, all wrapped up and awaiting despatch.
This mould above is for a flat panel. They are cast vertically so both sides are smooth and only the top edge needs to be flattened off. It was cool to see new types of moulds!
There were some examples of a previous project where Mass had embedded pre-selected stones into a cast furniture piece, which was great to see as I was thinking I could do the same with pieces of Celestine from Ladden Garden.
I was impressed with Mass concrete and they would definitely be capable of creating the complex Celestine-inspired forms I am designing.
November - December 2021
A Basic history Of Celestine mining in and around Yate....
Extraction took place in small excavations, no more than 10m deep and often less than 5m deep. Early on it was extracted by pick and shovel, and later on the only real change was that front end loaders and diggers did the heavy work.
Teams of 3-6 men would sort it by hand. When 20 tonnes had been extracted a lorry would take it to the processing plant for washing and crushing.
In 1977 near the peak of production, the Bristol mining co employed 27 men, 18 were engaged in extraction and processing, 4 on transport, and the rest in admin.
The value for Yate was underground at this time, and it created wealth to build a community above ground. Even though the mining has gone, this boom in Yate fuelled the growth of the town, still felt today in the development of Ladden Garden. I want to find a way to again bring awareness of this fact, to try and visually make this connection. The above and below of where the value and pride in the community.
The Celestine itself...
Illustrations of Celestine crystals from a British Geological survey of the area, describe the form of the crystals.
There are seven types of naturally occuring Crystal forms. Celestine is an 'Orthorhombic' crystal.
After learning the 'rules' nature follows in creating these Crystals, I used Crystal building programs online, and eventually in sketch up I drew my own Crystals, and worked out how to also 'unfold' the forms.
I sent some of my Celestine crystals found on the Ladden Garden site to a lapidarist ( stone cutter and polisher) to be cut and polished... I hope the inside of one of the rocks may reveal a beautiful geode. When I began this project I didn't know that Celestine was still plentiful in Yate, so was excited to see if I could potential use the actual mineral in my final objects.
Unfortunately the sample were unremarkable and Iron-stained. It appears that to find Celestine containing nice geodes I would have to dig ALOT deeper, and also the mining was so successful in the past there's no guarantee there would be enough interesting larger pieces to justify digging to find them. I could however get a supply of smaller pieces so I collected some, cut and polished them myself and cast them into a small sample, making a terrazzo with Jesmonite.
I decided at this point to focus on designing Large cast furniture pieces, which would resemble large scale Celestine crystals. I would design their forms using the same Orthorhombic principles as nature! Also the colour scheme would be taken directly from Celestine samples and would compliment the widespread brick used in the development.
I also cast some material tests in Jesmonite to Demonstrate how the surface texture might look on these cast furniture pieces. I experimented with casting both 3D lines as relief into the cast faces. These would add an interesting oversized texture into the pieces and alter their appearance depending on what angle they were viewed.
I hosted four workshops with local residents in the Home From Home pavilion on the weekend of the 9th of October. Each participant cast their own unique candle-holder from Jesmonite, ( a gypsum-based casting material) the shape of which was inspired by the faceted shape of Celestine Crystals, and which was unique to these workshops. We were lucky to get a sunny day, and everyone went home with their own Unique candle holder. I chose candleholders as the object we made, as a reference to the use of Celestine in the production of Fireworks, and flares. I hung some posters about Yate’s Celestine history and found that participants and other locals who were curious, were mostly unaware of this part of Yate’s unique history. Upon learning that Yate once supplied 90% of the world’s supply of Celestine people were always surprised and proud!
I also hosted a drop-in kids workshop on Thursday 28th October in the Home for Home pavilion. The kids and parent came and decorated pre-made paper Crystals. It was a great success with a steady stream of kid’s and parents sitting in the pavilion and decorating their crystals with all sorts of craft materials and in some cases staying for hours! I explained to the kid’s the reason why we were making crystals and when they learnt that in the earth beneath their feet lies rocks that were used to process sugar and make fireworks especially, they got very interested. Impromptu Celestine finding wander around the pavilion yielded some lovely pieces of Celestine lying just beneath the grass. I had my nice sample piece of Celestine on display and on a custom poster explained that at one point this piece would have been worth the equivalent of 300 Jaffa cakes. They understood that comparison!
I spent the day in and around Yate with David Hardwick, Local Celestine Expert. David was very generous with his time and was kind enough to give me a full tour of former mine sites, the Heritage centre and through his own archive. Finally we went to visit the farm of John Winter, a local farmer who found a very rare piece of Blue Celestine which he has set into his fireplace! (David’s great grandfather lived in the same house some time ago) David’s passion for the history of Celestine mining in Yate was fueled by the discovery that his Great Great grandfather mined Celestine. David has shared all of his research with The Yate Heritage Centre and continues to research this important history in his own time. I was surprised to find that there were chunks of Celestine to be found all around Yate, in recently turned over fields and in the piles of earth on the Ladden Garden construction Site. This excited me as I hadn’t realise I could potentially use actual Celestine in my artworks!