The temporary ‘cladding’ of this building is an art work by artist Steve Messam. It has been commissioned by Oriel Davies Gallery as part of a larger project titled Beyond Pattern showing at the gallery until 27 January 2010. Here, Steve highlights pattern through an investigation and celebration of the cultural and industrial heritage of Newtown and the surrounding area.
Newtown as it is today was built largely upon its textile industry. The ability of the town to produce such quantities of flannel in the 19th century was a combination of its proximity to the River Severn and the abundance of good quality wool from the surrounding area. The local Kerry Hill sheep were bred specifically for their wool, which was ideal for the textiles produced in the town and among the softest fleeces from British breeds. With distinctive black and white markings, they are often regarded as a very attractive breed, and there has been a renewed interest in them in recent years (and subsequent departure from the rare-breed list).
The local vernacular architecture of this part of Powys features striking black and white timber-framed houses. While these are not unique to the area, the subsequent ornamentation of the style and adoption of the timber-framed pattern is much more local. Dating from around the 13th century, these buildings used an abundance of quality oak and so reflect the produce of the surrounding landscape and the wealth of the people who owned them.
With kind permission of the owner, this timber-framed building has been wrapped in 300 Kerry Hill sheep fleeces with detail in Black Welsh Mountain sheep fleece to reference the distinctive black and white markings of these breeds and the colour and design of local vernacular architecture. By drawing together these two aspects of the locality, the artist encourages us to consider the role of local agriculture, architecture and aesthetics within this familiar environment.
Steve Messam is an artist and curator based in the North of England. He has worked primarily outside the gallery environment for the past 15 years. He has developed a particular interest in exploring the cultural reference points within rural communities and using the landscape, agriculture and community to challenge preconceptions of contemporary rural arts practice. www.stevemessam.co.uk
This project has been made possible through an Arts Council of Wales Beacon Company Award 2008-10. Supported by The Laura Ashley Foundation.