Chichester Ship Canal 200 year celebration

Poyntz Bridge/What Lies Beneath

As a member of Artel Contemporary Art, I and other members of the group, am researching and preparing work, which celebrates the canal’s 200 years, for our exhibition in June 2022 at the Oxmarket Chichester.

Finding the right ‘angle’ for any themed exhibition takes me quite a while and often several false starts before I find something that I can work with. Two things have emerged from my research, which has included a boat trip on the canal, walks on the towpath, drawing sessions alongside the canal and special access to the Canal Heritage archives (for which we are very grateful).

Circus elephants passing through Chichester in 1903, taking a bath in the canal basin

I was fascinated by finding in the archives, a photo from 1903, of circus elephants (and a cow!) bathing in the canal as they passed through Chichester. I couldn’t resist creating my own versions in tapestry weaving, of what these (poor) elephants might have looked like in the ring. The canal must have been a welcome reminder for them of what life should be for an elephant.

Nellie the Elephant
Balancing Elephant

A second elephant performing a trick is being ‘finished’ to go alongside Nelly.

I thought about what the bottom of the canal might look like and how it ultimately meets the sea beyond Saltern’s Lock. I made some studies of how water behaves on paper, using black and yellow inks. Using these as a guide, I made tapestry weaving samples

Canal studies – samplers

The final tapestry in this series shows red diagonals to reference the structure of Poyntz Bridge

In addition to tapestries, I have made three hand embroideries in which I make a stitched response to the walks, the photographs and the drawings which have made up my research into the canal as it is today., including yellow diggers lined up alongside the canal. Two of the three embroideries in this series are now complete. The embroideries are 10cm deep and 70cm wide, reflecting the feel of travelling along the canal on the towpath or by boat where it is navigable. I have taken imagery and shapes within the canal environment without being too literal. In the embroidery (not yet shown) which represents the canal basin, I have included a small pink elephant (well you wouldn’t expect to see an elephant in the canal would you? I must be drunk! Hence a pink elephant*) I have shrouded the elephant and my representation of the watching boys behind a thin gauze to represent looking through the mists of time rather than what can be seen today.

The work on this topic continues.

Canal Journey (2) work in progress
Canal Journey (2) detail
Hidden Gem Dusk
Hidden Gem Dusk

*This is also a timely reference as the first recorded mention of pink (and green) elephants was in 1896 in Fables of our time by Henry Wallace Phillips.

 Phillips, Henry Wallace (April 30, 1896). “The Man and the Serpent”. Life27 (696): 343.