Wigan & Leigh research trip – part 1
SEARCHING FOR MELILOT
Years ago, I explored printmaking with leaf skeletons I had found on an autumnal walk. I happened to mention this to my Aunt Rose, who remembered she had a box of leaf skeletons collected and preserved by my Gran, from the 60’s, recalling her coating a selection of leaves with some kind of concoction, then cooking them in the oven to render them into the most exquisite, delicate skeletal forms. Rose posted them to me but I decided not to use them for printing, as I wanted to continue to preserve them. It wasn’t until mid 2020, when I began creating photograms on 16mm film, that I remembered the leaves and realised they would be perfect for this process. I was experimenting with ‘eco processing’ as a way to find a more sustainable way to work with darkroom processes. I made a short film with the leaves developed with “Caffenol” – a recipe of instant coffee, vitamin C and washing soda. I also began experimenting with substituting the coffee with other plants and made developer stews from wild garlic, ribwort plantain and buddleja.
I shared the short film with Rose and my father, Chris, which triggered further conversations about my gran, Bea. Rose mentioned Melilot, a wild sweet clover, that Bea had collected on demolition sites in Wigan, the town she lived in for most of her adult life.
Melilot rattled around in my mind for a few years. I didn’t know the plant, and not many other people who I mentioned it to knew it either. I looked it up and kept an eye out for it, but hadn’t managed to find it anywhere, although I hadn’t yet actively taken on the task of specifically searching for it.
In 2021, I was delighted to be contacted by Gemma and Jude from ‘Light Night Wigan & Leigh’ who invited me to submit a proposal for for a new light trail. It wasn’t long before I found myself on a canal boat residency along the banks of the north west canals for 2 weeks in August 2022, with the aim to create a new artwork by ‘Searching for Melilot’, and converting an area of the boat into a darkroom to process plant-based films.
Before setting off, I visited Rose to have a look through a box of flower-related things left by my gran. I was thrilled to find a whole article she had written on Melilot including a map of where she had found it in Wigan, some pressed flowers, and more detailed studies of wild flowers such as Groundsel and Parsley. Another highlight was a newspaper article in the Wigan Observer from 1982, about ‘Betty’ (Bea) surveying wild flowers on a demolition site to discover over 70 species. The pressed flowers from her study were shown as a touring exhibition around local libraries, to then end up at the Powell museum, with hopes it would be permanently kept at Haigh Hall. (I’m still finding out if this exhibition still exists in an archive somewhere, thanks to some help from staff at the Wigan Life Museum).
This post is 1 of 4… the next episode is here…
These blog posts document a two week research trip in August 2022, working towards a new work for Light Night Wigan & Leigh 2022, with thanks to Gemma and Jude at Things That Go On Things, Wigan Council, Canal & River Trust, The Turnpike Gallery.