BUTTON POND AND WALK
An installation at Maidstone Museum.
18th December 2019 to 1st February 2020.
In 1806 Springfield Mill in Maidstone, was the largest paper mill in the country and the town was the ‘Paper making city of Britain’.
The site of Springfield Mill is located on a fresh water spring, essential for the production of paper, the waters high concentrate of calcium carbonate added a lustre to the finished paper.
In the Rag House at Springfield Mill, the work of rag preparation for paper making was done solely by women, who were paid a good wage, which was unusual for the times. Pieces of corset, ties, fastenings and buttons of gunmetal, bone and clear were torn from the rags and sorted in readiness for paper making. One button in the the paper making process would ruin the paper.
The papermakers symbol, hand in hand, illustrates human hands determining the character of each piece of paper, one sheet at a time.
Too ensure that the Mill workers didn’t sell the buttons on to supplement their income the buttons were collected and taken to a large pond in the southwest corner on the mill site, here they were deposited around the waters edge and approaching path, this became known as Button Pond and Button Walk.
Springfield Mill closed in 2015 and the site is now being developed for housing. Button Pond and walk is recognised as a heritage site and will be kept as part of the new residential development.
A few years ago I attended a talk on ‘Paper making in Kent’ at Maidstone Museum, it was here that I first heard about Button Pond and the walk, they were mentioned very briefly but immediately captured my imagination, as an artist it seemed to offer me endless creative possibilities.
This is my imagery story about the walk and pond.
William Blake said, “some scarce see nature at all, but to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”.
The Button Pond girl walks along the tow path beside the river Medway she becomes aware of a mysterious dark pond fed by underground springs from deep in the earth. The springs are constantly creating, springs under springs, rivers under rivers.
With the wind high in the branches and tiny pastel coloured flowers dancing on a path, there under a canopy of creaking trees comes into view a large circular pond.
In the moonlight she paces barefoot, endlessly circling the black pool, she is immersed in the dripping leaves, acid green lichen and soft moss.
She scuffs the edge of the pond where the stones become dust and sediment, the moons reflection in the bottomless vessel reveals a million pearl buttons, sparkling in the abyss.
This is Button pond and Button walk, our world at its strangest and most magical.
This secret place has no time, in her thoughts she joins the human with the pond and she sees the ghosts of women that worked in the Rag house standing in their starched hats and dresses amongst the endless rag piles. The women worked in view of each other, chattering and chanting, by touch alone they separated and ripped buttons from rags, accompanied by the constant sound of fingers running through buttons.
As the night fades Button Pond girl watches as crawling insects and hovering fireflies with their captured light from reflected buttons, emerge from the black sticky pool. Mysterious spirits mingle with trees, plants, animals and water. Around the edge of the pond a ground frost melts and buttons rise mysteriously to the earths surface, she walks on a thousand frosty buttons, crunching underfoot.
From my imaginary story about Button Pond and a girl mesmerised by this extraordinary place I have made this installation and brought the work to Maidstone Museum.
The pond and walk are beautiful and rare, it belongs to nature and the people of Maidstone, it is an important and unique part of our heritage. Our lives are interwoven with the natural world we need to instinctively respect and care for nature. Preserving the pond is the art.
I hope to convey the enormous pleasure making, installing and talking about the work gives me, the viewer can only imagine the wealth of that pleasure, passing materials through my hands and transforming them into something new. For me when a drawing medium touches the paper or my threaded needle punctures the fabric surface, everything feels better.
I work with narrative and storytelling, a community such as Maidstone was dominated by manufacturing and then experienced decline, production can make close knit communities defining values, self worth and culture and people are respected for their skills. As an artist responding creatively to history can be transformative and reviving, my installation is acknowledging history but not attempting to re-create it.
I like giving value to worthless objects, exploring their shape, sound, how they feel, the story they tell, our relationship with them and each other, this can suggest to me how I might use them in my work. I build an installation using objects, drawings and textiles and actively choose to instal my work in different spaces and know new worlds.
I will be artist resident as Button Pond girl working on my installation on Wednesday 8,15, 22, 29 January, I am interested in hearing from visitors about their memories of Springfield Paper Mill.
Maidstone Schools 6th forms artist talk – Wednesday 22nd January 2020 at 2pm.
Museum Cafe culture – meet the artist Friday 10.30 31 January 2020.