Sunday, 13 February 2011

Nail your colours to the mast!

This medal commemorates the life of Jack Crawford, Sunderland-born hero of the Battle of Camperdown (1797), who risked his life to nail Admiral Duncan’s colours to the mast of the flagship Venerable after the Dutch shot them away no less than 6 times. My current research explores how an artist might use the Sunderland Museum’s 19th Century Sunderland Ware pottery collection as a tool to engage the local community for mutual benefit. The pottery is famous for its pink lustre glazes and transfer-printed imagery often depicting maritime scenes, with Jack Crawford’s exploits being a common topic. During research at the Museum, I discovered that it had, at one point, accessioned into its collection, ‘the heart of Jack Crawford’. This artefact has since been lost and it is impossible to tell whether or not it really was Jack Crawford’s heart. However, the story captured my imagination and inspired me to make a modern day bravery medal which featured an effigy of Jack Crawford’s heart together with the idiom, “Nail your colours to the mast”. It is hoped that this tribute to Jack Crawford will have contemporary resonances, particularly in these uncertain times when many men and women from the North East are serving their country in conflicts abroad.

The medal was initially carved in wood and a plaster cast was then taken for porcelain slip casting. When fired, porcelain shrinks by up to twenty per cent and it was necessary to make the original slightly bigger to take account of this. The size of the medal reflects the size of the original silver medal awarded to Jack Crawford which is on display in the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. The medal format offered an unparalleled opportunity to explore scale, three dimensional form and surface decoration through ceramic transfer printing. Carving the original in wood also confers to the finished piece a casual ‘folk art’ feel which simultaneously pays homage to and mildly challenges the traditional medal format.

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