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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.