Art, writing and place. Schools at Halsway Manor and the Somerset Earth Science Centre.

The first half of week two of arts weeks has seen The Travelling Open Studio project visit two exciting venues for site-specific schools workshops.

On Monday I was at the beautiful setting of Halsway Manor, a national centre for folk arts in the heart of the Quantocks. Local primary schools Crowcombe and Stogumber brought two classes – younger children in the morning and older in the afternoon – and we set about creating our own imaginary Halsways inspired by the setting.

Starting with creative writing and how we can use something as ordinary as a wooden floor or a fireplace or grass outside to inspire an imaginary world where things can be however you want them to be, each child created their own Halsway. We explored both inside and the grounds, collecting descriptions and ideas, before coming back in to draw and design them. We then created an amazing collaborative story world map, a few metres long, with all the different imaginary Halsways linking together! In the afternoon the older children also had time to create imaginary Halsway terranium worlds in little domes. Found materials were collected and sculptures made of things in their worlds. The domes could also have explanations, decorations and poetry written straight onto them.

I was so impressed, as I always am, with the imaginations and ideas of the children. Rainbow realms, secret worlds under bushes, beautiful strange similes, sinister and friendly trees, portals, magical creatures…

It was a brilliant day and I can’t thank the lovely Crispian and Rachel at Halsway enough for hosting this workshop.


Yesterday saw the only secondary school workshop at the Somerset Earth Science Centre. A small group of GCSE art and English students from Ansford Academy came and spent the whole day exploring the landscapes of quarry, woodland and pond and the different layers of meaning within site-specific work. The morning was spent in deep discussion and developing of writing and ideas, then in the afternoon we moved on to making with everything from site-specific woodland sculptures, to more traditional painting and drawing, to experimental collage. All the students spent time thinking about how text could be incorporated into their work and how they could begin to think about writing and art differently and have the confidence to experiment. It was also fascinating exploring the creative space between geological facts and imaginary interpretation – whether in terms of hidden history and imagining the past, or seeing the strange beauty in how glue on a concrete post could look like a beautiful bracket fungus, or a water stain the shadow of an upside down imaginary city… I loved exploring the woods (we also found a toad which if you are very creaturey like me is quite exciting…), and the reflections in the pond brought up some really amazing visual and conceptual ideas.

Yet again a really enjoyable day with impressive students and I would like to thank the brilliant Gill and Juliet at the Earth Science Centre for all their help and scientific explanations when it was slightly beyond my knowledge!