Is it art or is it nature? Northumberlandia
At first glance the land formations of this small country park look quite natural, if a little manicured – some small hillocks with ponds at their base. They are anything but, however! This is not nature, but art – art on a very large scale.
The launch of Marsha and Cee’s Photographing Public Art Challenge seemed to me a great opportunity to share a few images.
Northumberlandia, also known as the ‘Lady of the North’, is in fact a sculpture in earth, created from the waste produced by open cast mining in this area. It depicts a woman, lying on her back, about a quarter of a mile from head to toe. You can only really appreciate that this is the case by looking at aerial photos; but you do get some sense of it as you walk the many footpaths that wind between and across her features.
The genesis of Northumberlandia
She is the work of American artist Charles Jencks who specialises in these landform sculptures; there are several more in Scotland, for instance. She was ‘born’ when the Banks Group mining company applied in 2004 to dig for coal on land belonging to Blagdon Estates. They and the estate owners recognised that, while the mining would scar the local landscape, there was also an opportunity to enhance it. Part of the land next to the planned mine was donated by Blagdon Estates; and the project was jointly funded by them and the mining company. This has resulted in the art form being developed alongside the mining operation; although it is intended to remain here long after the mine will have been exhausted and work ceased.
Work began in 2010, with 1.5 million tonnes of surplus soil and clay being transported from the mine to the site and carefully shaped according to Jencks’ design. Once the major landscape works were complete the sculpture was planted, transforming it into a living landscape. Her face, paths and viewing platforms were constructed with a hard stone surface. Every feature was surveyed and checked against the carefully designed plans.
The finished piece
The result is a sculpture that is 100 feet high and a quarter of a mile long. Four miles of footpaths wind across the site, some around the base of the features and others allowing you to climb to the high points of her face, knees – and yes, points between these! These vary in steepness – a map at the site helpfully categorises them as level, moderate or steep.
From the top of the features you get good views of the mining work still in progress nearby (best seen from the face) and of the surrounding area, including distant views of Newcastle city centre and the local shrine to football, St James’ Park!
The park is now administered jointly by the Land Trust, who look after the open spaces and the art work itself, and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, who are responsible for the visitor centre and café. The intention is not to keep it ‘groomed’ but to let nature takes its course, so the forms will evolve over time.
I visited Northumberlandia in 2016, on one of our regular visits to Newcastle
Sarah, I think it’s an excellent use of a disused mine and the patterns of the paths are quite arty. The concept is used here in New Zealand, with gardens.
Thank you Suzanne 🙂 Do you mean they plant gardens where mines once were? I’ve seen that here I think, but the most usual recovery plan is to create a reservoir for wildlife and/or water-sports. I guess if you’ve got a big hole in the ground it saves filling it up!
Yes, that’s what I meant. A good use of a large hole 🙂
How nice to see something beautiful come out of the damage that mining does to a landscape. Thanks for sharing this one, Sarah!
Yes, it’s good to see this project repairing the scars of mining Ruth 🙂 Elsewhere in the north east there are some lovely lakes in former mining areas which are attracting a lot of waterfowl!
That is so interesting. I can see the nose…
Thanks Julie – yes, the longer you look, the more you see that it’s a person, not just a random collection of hillocks!
This is so cool! What an undertaking and upkeep. 🙂
Thanks Lisa – it’s a pretty amazing project for sure!
Definitely art in nature!
Thanks Teresa – I find it interesting that over time the nature side of this piece will take more prominence 🙂
Love big art projects like this one. I have some big ones, but they are all flat (paintings) – this is more involved! We started commenting each other a month ago, but then I deleted my blog. So my new url is http://livingbetweentworealms.wordpress.com, so I was jazzed to see your profile here! My username is similar. Jeshie2
Thanks for reconnecting Jeshie – I’ll check out your new blog for sure!
Life...One Big Adventure
What a great idea. I love that someone has the vision and creativity to think that up! Thanks for sharing, Mel
Thank you Mel 🙂 I agree, you need real vision to come up with something on this scale!
Wow, Sarah, what an amazing work of public art. This is probably the biggest piece of public art we’ve seen so far! 🙂 Thanks for sharing it. I probably would never have seen it without you! 🙂
Glad you like it Marsha 🙂 If ever you run a competition for biggest piece of art featured in the challenge I’ll be sure to enter!!
LOL That one? You surely don’t have something bigger than that!!!
Yes, would have to be this one. The next biggest I know is probably the Angel of the North (https://www.toonsarah-travels.blog/the-angel-of-the-north/) but that’s tiny compared to this!!
It’s also a perfect example of Photographing Public Art. Oops, that’s today isn’t it? You’re early!
No, not early – late 😂 If you look above you should see that I linked this to Cee’s post last week! There are too many challenges on a Friday so I have to spread my responses through the week 😆
I’ve been twice. The first time was with a blogging friend who’s no longer with us, and it was a day of sleet and bitter cold, but we still loved being there. 🙂 🙂
I guess it would look different in such poor weather but like the landscapes it emulates, not necessarily less good!
There was no standing still, that’s for sure 🙄💕
I have never been to Northumberland but it is on my list of places to visit
It’s such a beautiful county and perhaps not properly appreciated – but that’s part of its charm, as it’s quieter as a result 😀
There is lots of art in nature. I’m so glad you pointed that out to us. Wonderful post 😀 😀
Thank you Cee 🙂
Great idea! It turned out beautifully.
And the great thing is, it will get more beautiful with time as it beds down into the landscape 🙂
That is incredible, Sarah. Thank you for introducing this special place to us.
And thank you for visiting, Amy 😃
I’ve never even heard of it let alone seen it. It has now been added to the every-growing list of ‘things to do when Covid allows free travel’. I know it’s possible to do so in the UK now but I’m still hesitant. Lovely pictures, as always.
Thanks Mari – it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, but I don’t think I’d make a special journey!
Manja Mexi Mexcessive
What a combination of art and mining, of all things! 😮 A while ago I discovered Charles Jencks by chance as the mastermind behind the Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Scotland, and has since heard of his passing in 2019. I think the Garden is closed now. It was only open one day a year anyhow and I never got even near.
Here is my post about it but none of the photo in it is mine:
Thanks for the link, that certainly looks like a very strange place!
What a great idea. I haven’t seen it, but would love to. Nice one Sarah.
Thanks Malcolm – certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area