glorious colours…lethal earth…

In early September I spent a week on the Penwith peninsula of Cornwall. This area is well-known for its stunning coastline, artists and the many standing stones and stone circles.

Cape Cornwall from Pendeen Lighthouse © Mari French 2011

Cape Cornwall from Pendeen Lighthouse © Mari French 2011

Sketch of Cape Cornwall, from Pendeen Watch © Mari French 2011

Sketch of Cape Cornwall, from Pendeen Watch © Mari French 2011

At St Ives I visited the 150 year old art studios at Porthmeor, with their large boarded sail-loft type spaces and huge seaward windows overlooking the Atlantic rollers on Porthmeor beach. Really difficult not to be envious of such light and space for painting. One of the artists, John Emanuel, originally from Cumbria, has been resident at the studios for 30 years. He had a fascinating book of photos of the studio interior recently published so I bought a copy.

Sketching at Mousehole, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

Sketching at Mousehole, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

I also spent a glorious couple of days tracking down some of the industrial archaeology of the area’s past – tin mines, near Land’s End, which I wanted to sketch. Levant mine, on the coast between St Just and Pendeen is now a National Trust site but this didn’t intrude on the potent atmosphere of the ruined engine houses, chimneys and arsenic works.

Ruins, Levant mine, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

Ruins, Levant mine, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

mine chimney, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

mine chimney, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

The spectacular setting, on the coastal path high above the sea, added to the sense of drama… a gift to the artist and photographer, although I didn’t see much evidence of the industrial side of Cornwall in the galleries at St Ives.

ruined arsenic works, Levant mine, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

ruined arsenic works, Levant mine, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

Levant mine originally worked copper till the 1850s, then tin. Arsenic produced as a by-product of the tin mining was, horrifyingly, scraped off the inside of the chimney by men and young boys, by hand, with little more than a cloth to protect their breathing. The arsenic was produced for dyes, pesticides and medicine!

Sketch of Levant Mine, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

Sketch of Levant Mine, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

I was excited by the vivid red and ochres, both in the buildings and bleeding through the ground of this eerie landscape. Beautiful and potentially lethal…

…an interesting possibility for a body of work I thought, also appreciating the contrast of the industrial subject within the landscape.

Traces of jewel-like minerals can easily be found in the scattered rocks and the earth around the site.

Even the bracken and other vegetation on the moorland above the mine seemed to mirror the colours of the earth and ores.

interior of ruined mine - Levant mine, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

interior of ruined mine - Levant mine, Cornwall © Mari French 2011

rocks at Levant mine, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

rocks at Levant mine, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

Levant Mine, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

Levant Mine, Cape Cornwall © Mari French 2011

4 thoughts on “glorious colours…lethal earth…

  1. Oh this takes me back … we used to go Kernow as often as we could at one time. I think the Eden Project and tourism has prolly cleaned things up mightily now – but you could also look at china clay in St Austell, slate at Delabole and serpentine which they used to sell on the Lizard. We had a stay at the watermill going into Boscastle and you could walk through to the headland, passing by bronze age carvings – an absolutely magical landscape

    • I remember your cornwall trips… you said the china clay area was like a moonscape.
      It is a stunning place isnt it? we were staying further down (with friends near Hayle) so explored Penwith area.
      I could enjoy living there on that wild coast as an artist, but the bottleneck of traffic getting out of cornwall on the A30 (2 hours to do 45 miles) would drive me nuts. I thought it was slow getting out of Norfolk!
      Interestingly, St Just area reminded me of the north of skye in parts, but the sea is more impressive!

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