Doremi residency, Coniston, Cumbria. Hosts The Coniston Institute & Grizedale arts
During this week long residency in Coniston I set-up a clay workshop in the community hall where I cast a number of household objects collected from people living locally. The collecting of objects was an opportunity to start a conversation around roots and belonging. From these conversations I became familiar with the Herdwick sheep and the term ‘Hefted’, used to describe how the Herdwicks are rooted to a particular patch of land. One lady I spoke with described her sense of belonging to Coniston as being ‘Heafed like sheep to the fell’. The opposite of being ‘Hefted’ to the land is ‘Incomer’ used by many locals to describe someone that has come to live in a place but did not grow up there.
Many sheep have marks or shapes cut directly into the ear that leaves an empty space. The mark signifies ownership but also that the sheep belongs to a particular patch of land that it moves within for the entirety of its life. Hence the strong reference to ‘Hefted’ as being rooted and holding a sense of belonging within a landscape. ‘This mark in the ear was called in Norse law, the Lög i.e., the lawful mark or brand. The same hereditary mark was peculiar to, and used by each family for their sheep, and passed down from father to son.’
The origin of the sheep is uncertain but they may have been introduced by Norse-Irish settlers in the 10th & 11th century or derived from animals introduced by Neolithic or Bronze age herdsmen. In this respect the Herdwick sheep speak of a long history of migration that is carried into local dialect and customs while also reflecting something of the transition from migrant to settler, from incomer to hefted.
The conversations throughout the week made me think a lot about inclusion and exclusion and the state of being an imposter. I began to roll sheets of thin clay and press this around the contours of the objects as a form of mapping, tracing and imitating their shape. As the clay dried it shrunk and began to crack, as it was pealed off the object it cracked further and once it was fired further cracks and gaps formed in the object. Some collapsed entirely and only the fragments were left. The casts made throughout the week were then installed amongst the existing collection at the Ruskin Museum as an attempt to blend in or to puncture the space in order to ask the question, what belongs and doesn’t belong to this space?