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Brickfield 2020 Update

In response to Covid 19, Brickfield is adopting a different approach to activities this summer. As we’re sadly unable to do face to face workshops at the current time we’d like instead to share the story behind Brickfield and explore its relationship to the history and heritage of brick making in clay country. We are planning some socially distanced field trips and brick making workshops in late August and September. Watch this space!

We are turning our attention to local brickmaking legend John Osborne who, as far as we are aware, is the last brickmaker in clay country who fired the last beehive kiln at Wheal Remfry, near Fraddon in 1971. We were truly delighted when John came along to a Brickfield pop up brickmaking workshop at Indian Queens early last year. John was similarly delighted to be able to show us how to do it properly!

John joined us on the Brickfield site at Imerys’ Blackpool Pit for the rest of the summer mixing the ‘muck’, doing demos and helping us build our kiln, Beatrice Bottle and firing it up with flames out the chimney.

“never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be brick making again”, John Osborne, July 2019

This year we want to find out as much as we can from him, about clay mixes, mould making, forming bricks, brick design, kiln design, building and firing and about his family history in brick making. During lockdown lead artist, Rosanna Martin has been talking to John on the phone, receiving brick moulds from him in the post, making sample bricks at her studio at home and has started the Brickfield blog. The first instalment, “Lost Clay and Chimney Stacks” tells us about her family connection to clay and brickmaking.

In August with permission from Imerys we will be collecting bricks from the site at Wheal Remfry and using them to them to design and construct a new kiln. We will be working together with John and new Brickfield team members, Zenna Tagney and Bobi McFazdean. As a small socially distanced team we will be brickmaking and kiln building leading up to a firing in mid September to co-incide with the Virtual Whitegold Festival. If we are able we will run some limited numbers and socially distanced workshops and demos around that time.

We will be recording, documenting and publishing our work online, here on the Whitegold website as well as on Whitegold Instagram and Facebook channels, and selecting the best material for a printed booklet. We have invited film maker, Rachael Jones, poet, Katrina Naomi,  photographer, Oliver Udy and illustrator/graphic designer Phyllyda Bloemel to bring their creative interpretation to John’s history and heritage in brick production in clay country. We’ll tell you more about them in the coming months.

One of the things we’ve found out about brickmaking through the workshops we delivered last year is that it can be accessible to all. It is a great leveller requiring basic skills that you can then practice to perfect your brick. You can customise your brick with lettering or decoration or you can remain anonymous, whichever you prefer, but essentially all the bricks can come together to make something bigger. We see the brick as a ubiquitous and common form that is easy to understand and can represent commonality.

This quote by poet Fiona Hamilton in her essay ‘Clay Bricks’ in ‘Cornerstones – Subterranean Writings’, edited by Mark Smalley, sums up our thinking quite nicely:

“…perhaps bricks, rather than representing walling off and protectionism, can be reminders of uniqueness, solidarity and collaboration.”

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