There are some who – quite justifiably – see my work as just a bunch of old sticks… a description I’m happy to embrace because that’s, after all, exactly what it is.
But there’s an alternative viewpoint and this piece of wood I picked up by the river Aire* in Castleford recently demonstrates why I think what I do can have value beyond it being an old stick I rescued from gently turning to mush.
Castleford is a unique, lovely but justifiably scarred place where my grandparents lived and my dad was born in a tiny terrace house near the rugby league ground and Wheldale mine where his father – my grandad – worked. Me, my brother and sister still go to watch the rugby league team (notwithstanding covid of course), even though we’re not and never have been local.
In my childhood the Aire was among the most polluted and dead of rivers due to the various heavy industries and plethora of coal mines lining its banks throughout West Yorkshire. One of my earliest memories is the river stacked way above our heads with foam and soap suds and these being blown all over what was then an essentially black town.
Since that time the death of these industries and the tragic way this country brutally destroyed its former lifeblood, the coal mining industry, the river has made a remarkable recovery but there are still, quite rightly, many reminders of its tough past and it is not always the most picturesque of waterways.
But it’s possible this piece of wood could have been a tree by the river when my grandparents, my dad and his family lived here. Small as the possibility is, my dad might even have looked at it and maybe even climbed it.
Isn’t the fact that I’m now looking at it in my home amazing and my dad is almost 90?
I’m planning to use this extraordinarily graceful piece of wood – rescued from the mud and undergrowth in a forgotten, unkempt part of a river – in a special sculpture, but for now it leans against the wall by another of my pieces incorporating several miners checks (brass coins used to indicate when a man was down the pit) from throughout Yorkshire, one of which is from Wheldale.
*please note the coast and the sea is not the only place you can find driftwood.
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