Perhaps I’ve become obsessed by sheep and so see them everywhere; but they certainly keeping popping up, often in artistic contexts.
They were, for example, much in evidence at the Highgreen exhibition of the last post, in two very different ways. First, they were outside, not just in their thousands on the surrounding moors but two pairs stood on the verge of the drive to the farm: are they real or are they art?
Inside a large stone byre sheep appeared in a very different mode and were very definitely art:
Standing on a circular surface atop a sheep feeding rack, each of these small art-works is made from a sheep’s tooth: the artist, Joo-Hee Yang, finishing her time as Resident artist, sees each tooth as having changed from something functional to a ‘unique sculptural piece.’
A Northumbrian sheepscape is characterised by sheep-stells, usually circular stone-walled pens perhaps 20m+ in diameter into which sheep were driven for various ovine purposes. Such exist in the Highgreen surroundings. We looked at one in some detail. It happened to be smaller than usual, only some 10m in diameter, and in such remarkably good condition that we wondered whether it had been recently rebuilt or perhaps even become an art object itself, as with some of Andy Goldsworthy’s landscape sculptures in Cumbria a few years ago.
The photograph on the left shows the north side of the stell, with its entrance; that on the right shows a detail of the interior face, with sheep on the treeless moor beyond.
The idea of the stell as art in its own right has been taken up in the nearby village of Falstone, one of the ‘gateway’ villages on the main approach to Kielder Water from the east. The setting on the north bank of the richly dark waters of the North Tyne is idyllic.
Along the bank is a commemorative version of a sheep stell, a community-driven sculpture by Colin Wilbourn (2006) crafted as in effect two stone sofas facing each other with a gated passage between them. So its shape is a more or less a square with rounded corners. The ‘sofas’ inside are meant to be used, each being fitted with four carved, sandstone cushions backed by steel-plate ‘throws’ decorated with cut scenes from local life and wildlife.
Far away ‘doon sooth’, two little anecdotes complete this ovine miscellany. One is arty: this striking, naive image of Black-faced Suffolks painted with other local delights on the wall of the dining room in The Crown, the pub at the Snape end of the causeway carrying traffic across the Alde marshes and over the river itself on Snape Bridge (illustrated extreme top right above the ‘Specials’):
And not at all arty, at least in a conscious sense, we visited a-summering on Orford Ness the National Trust’s Rare Breed sheep with whom we shared last winter. There were our old friends – Jesus, Wendy, Mike, Ugly, Patrick, Lesley and all – in fine form, shorn, much supplemented by many lambs, and adapting to the heat in their long-grassed but treeless environment by eating during the night and lying up during the day. I’m not sure they remembered us but they certainly remembered our stock nuts: