Jayne Dwyer loses herself in a forest of artworks before finding new life at York Cemetery
When you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Our surprise was finally finding Jonathan Newdick’s wonderful benches. It took us all of two days.
From Jonathan’s email, I had read “Windy Gates entrance, just past Yearsley Village”. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, on our first attempt, it was blowing a balmy gale and we took the first set of ‘windy gates’ that we came across.
After walking several miles through woods and moorland, not coming across another soul, we found our one and only bench for that day, Jonathan’s 18th Century Chaise Longue.
It was only because the landscape had changed significantly, that we turned, considering walking right back the way we had come, when we caught our first glimpse of the bench through the trees. It was a very welcome site, and from its position, you get a real sense of grandeur as you look down from the woods to the tree-lined avenue, which was apparently landscaped by the Fairfax family, who owned Gilling Castle.
After our successful find, we walked in and out of the woods, up and down hills and around a lake, sipping from our water bottles like proper walkers.
As the light began to fall, we quickened our pace. We still hadn’t seen another sole and in true Hansel and Gretel style, I considered ways to mark our existence, and remembered that we hadn’t told anyone where we were going that day. I had only recently heard of Yearsley Woods and could be certain that nobody would come looking for us here.
Thank goodness for technology, as we weren’t prepared enough to bring breadcrumbs. After five hours of walking, we had only seen one of Jonathan’s benches and quite frankly, really needed to sit down.
It was on our final push and along a track that would take us back to the car that we saw the real Windy Gates, the windy gates we should have gone through, and a throng of happy people milling around having obviously had a bit of a walk but with plenty of pit-stops.
We remained philosophical. If we had found the real windy gates, we would have missed hearing the wind making music in the mast on our way in; we probably would have never found, by accident, the wood-cutter’s hut with its own art going on – a picture of a carp under a “poem”: ROYAL MAIL, NO SALE.
Reassured that we would now find the car before the wolves and other beasties tracked us down, we stopped to breathe and looked at the information board, which clearly shows the location of the benches and makes the whole thing look a doddle. Undefeated, we made a pact to return and find them all.
The next day, within 15 minutes of setting off from the gates, we found our first bench. We sat for a while, looking over towards the lake feeling a little more assured that we were in safer territory than yesterday.
The benches are sculptures really, beautifully carved from English oak and each represents a part of Yearsley Wood and Yearsley Moor’s history. The works are recognisably Jonathan’s .
The map at the entrance is helpfully pictorial but don’t let that fool you. The benches are not set out in a neat little cluster; you will still have to walk a far way between each one.
In reality, it is a gentle walk, but my legs were already feeling like tree stumps, wanting to take root amongst the mushrooms and Jurassic ferns.
The walk between each bench gives you the incentive to explore this wonderful landscape. And, every step really is worth it. Every time we found a bench and sat down, I proclaimed “this is my favourite”.
Each bench has its own personality and whilst the woods themselves are timeless, I feel an urge to go again and dress up in period costumes accordingly.
I had felt it the day I had sprawled out across the chaise; it had felt a little disrespectful, being in my Daisy Duke and my son’s walking boots. I needed a tight corset and a fan to feel worthy enough to lay there.
Each bench is evocative of another era: Bronze Age Bench and the Bell Pit Mining Bench, both indicating that this land has been worked for many centuries, the charred woods and metals making these industrial, masculine pieces.
Deer Park Palin bench, on the other hand, invites you to sit a little longer. It invites wildlife to dance around it and over it.
For now, Jonathan’s benches are a new entity but we will definitely be going back to see how the landscape ages them. They are simply beautiful.
Garden of death
Flora and fauna also feature in my next highlight of September. The 175th Anniversary Of York Cemetery was enticing enough with the promise of “35 of York’s leading artists” exhibiting “70 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and photographs”.
True to form, I hadn’t read every detail of the flyer, and was thrilled to find that the works were either inspired by the cemetery itself or represented the wildlife that can be found in the grounds.
When there are so many recognisable names exhibiting, it is fantastic to see some new and diverse work emerging from a project.
I particularly enjoyed Speckled Butterfly, by the figurative painter, Sue Dennis. It made me want to smile and cry, like cemeteries do with the beautiful landscape and the lonely figure in the background.
Malcolm Ludvigsen’s Belle Vue Street is also very loveable. His simplistic reminder that we sit back-to-back with the past and those that lived before.
David Patrick’s Cemetery 1 is spectacularly atmospheric and it was fascinating to compare his 2013 image with its abundance of foliage, with the historical references displayed: photographs and plans of the cemetery showing a barren landscape for the headstones.
This is one of the most professionally presented exhibitions I have seen in York and one of the most inspiring. I sincerely hope that the newly restored chapel is able to house regular exhibitions. Big congratulations must go to Johnny Hayes for his hard work and organisation.
We left the exhibition reluctantly, and not because the weather was turning against us once again ,with the rain bouncing off the headstones, but because I wanted to own nearly everything in the room.
This is dangerous territory, as this week we will be leaving the compact and bijou to a house with wall-space. That too has been an exciting and somewhat scary journey.
Art to go wild about in October
Make It Up North, Guildhall Friday, October 4, 4pm-5pm Cliff Wright Day The Harry Potter illustrator leads workshops for adults and a children’s school group. Cliff Wright talks about his life and work as an illustrator
Make It Up North Guildhall Saturday, October 5 and Sunday, October 6 10am-6pm Main Show selected artists and designer-makers selling their own artworks direct to the public, Blood + Chocolate photography exhibition and live music. Plus artists’ talks and life drawing workshops with Greg McGee on the Saturday and Brendan Hesmondhalgh’s Hand building with clay workshop on the Sunday. Entry is £4 on the door, or book for an artist’s talk and get free entry with that ticket for the day
Exhibition of paintings by Steve Williams, City Screen until October 19
Paintings by Elise Bikker from Rogues Atelier The Attic (above Harlequin’s) Gallery Bar, October 3 to November 15
Jake Attree, New School House Gallery, Peasholme Green, York It’s not too late to catch this. (I had a sneak preview and it looks fab and will be going back for me before the end of the month.) Showing until October 24
- More art stories here