Blaenavon and its wider industrial landscape was rewarded in December 2000 when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) inscribed the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape as a World Heritage Site under the 1972 World Heritage Convention for the protection of the World’s cultural and nature heritage. In its recommendation the UK Government outlined the significance of the area.
“The Blaenavon Industrial Landscape presents a large number of individual monuments of outstanding value within the context of a rich and continuous relict landscape, powerfully evocative of the Industrial Revolution. It is one of the prime areas in the world where the full social, economic and technological process of industrialisation through iron and coal production can be studied and understood.”
In January 2008 Celfwaith was appointed by Torfaen Borough Council to manage a public art design competition which would specifically seek craftspeople to develop proposals for public art in Blaenavon and for the Iron Trails. Eight craftspeople were selected to develop site-specific proposals which they presented to a large group of Blaenavon residents.
This exercise was intended to generate new ideas and approaches to public art by involving artists with great design and making skills but who perhaps had not had the opportunity to work at a larger scale or in the public realm before. It was also intended as preparatory design work for future years of Heads of the Valleys funding and to avoid the end of year scramble to spend allocated funding.
Later in the year, Celfwaith was again appointed to help implement two public art projects in Blaenavon as part of the £1.7 million Blaenavon Town Centre Regeneration Scheme (2006-2009) which was funded by the Welsh Assembly Governments Physical Regeneration Fund and a Town Improvement Grant from the Department of Economy & Transportation.
Sue Hiley Harris was one of the eight craftspeople originally selected to develop public art proposals and it was one of her proposals for a location in Blaenavon known as the ‘gap site’, that had been particularly favoured by those who had attended the artists’ presentations. The site is a gap between two houses at the top of Broad Street, and was lacking any clear identity or purpose. It was unattractive and contributed very little to the character and vitality of the town centre.
Her proposal was to create a spiral shaped form in stone within the paved site, which would rise gradually out of the ground up to seat height. The top surface of the spiral is the same riven Blue Pennant Sandstone from Gwrhyd Quarry near Swansea that has been used as paving on the site and which is used throughout Blaenavon. However, these large blocks have a diamond-sawn finish on six sides and the top and sides were flamed to provide a precise, durable finish not subject to laminate.
Behind the spiral and following its curve, a number of corten steel posts are set into the ground, in the form of ‘pigs’- the bars of iron created during the steel-making process and transported throughout the world. Stamped onto the pigs are the names of countries that iron was sent to from Blaenavon. As the spiral emerges from the ground, and as the ‘pigs’ gradually increase in height, reference is made to how natural minerals were taken from the ground in this area of South Wales and formed into valuable assets to be traded.
Sue Hiley Harris designed this artwork with landscaping advice and support from Andrew Nevill. The stone is from Gwrhyd Quarry and the corten steel ‘pigs’ were fabricated by DAR Design.