Button Pond Girl

 INSTALLATION AND EXHIBITION.

Maidstone Museum.

December 2019 to February 2020.

A few years ago I attended a talk on ‘Paper making in Kent’ at Maidstone Museum, it was here that I first heard about Button Pond and the walk, they were mentioned very briefly but immediately captured my imagination, as an artist it seemed to offer me endless creative possibilities.

In 1806 Springfield Mill in Maidstone was the largest paper mill in the country and the town was the ‘Paper making city of Britain’.

The site of Springfield Mill is located on a fresh water spring, essential for the production of paper, the waters high concentrate of calcium carbonate added a lustre to the finished paper.

In the Rag House at Springfield Mill, the work of rag preparation for paper making was done solely by women, who were paid a good wage, which was unusual for the times. Pieces of corset, ties, fastenings and buttons of gunmetal, bone and clear were torn from the rags and sorted in readiness for paper making. One button in the the paper making process would ruin the paper.

The papermakers symbol, hand in hand, illustrates human hands determining the character of each piece of paper, one sheet at a time.

To ensure that the Mill workers didn’t sell the buttons on to supplement their income the buttons were collected and taken to a large pond in the southwest corner on the mill site, here they were deposited around the waters edge and approaching path, this became known as Button Pond and Button Walk.

Springfield Mill closed in 2015 and the site is now being developed for housing. Button Pond and walk is recognised as a heritage site and will be kept as part of the new residential development.

THIS IS MY IMAGINARY STORY ABOUT THE POND AND WALK.

William Blake said, “some scarce see nature at all, but to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”.

The Button Pond girl walks along the tow path beside the river Medway, she becomes aware of a mysterious dark pond fed by underground springs from deep in the earth. The springs are constantly creating, springs under springs, rivers under rivers.

With the wind high in the branches and tiny pastel coloured flowers dancing on a path, from under a canopy of creaking trees comes into view a large circular pond.

In the moonlight she paces barefoot, endlessly circling the black pool, she is immersed in the dripping leaves, acid green lichen and soft moss. 

She scuffs the edge of the pond where the stones become dust and sediment, the moons reflection in the bottomless vessel reveals a million pearl buttons, sparkling in the abyss.

This is Button pond and Button walk, our world at its strangest and most magical.

This secret place has no time, in her thoughts she joins the human with the pond and she sees the ghosts of women that worked in the Rag house standing in their starched hats and dresses amongst the endless rag piles. The women worked in view of each other, chattering and chanting, by touch alone they separated and ripped buttons from rags, accompanied by the constant sound of fingers running through buttons.

As the night fades Button Pond girl watches as crawling insects and hovering fireflies with their captured light from reflected buttons, emerge from the black sticky pool. Mysterious spirits mingle with trees, plants, animals and water. Around the edge of the pond a ground frost melts and buttons rise mysteriously to the earths surface, she walks on a thousand frosty buttons, crunching underfoot.

THE INSTALLATION.

From my imaginary story about Button Pond and a girl mesmerised by this extraordinary place I made an installation and brought the work to Maidstone Museum. 

The pond and walk are beautiful and rare, belonging to nature and the people of Maidstone, it is an important and unique part of our heritage. Our lives are interwoven with the natural world we need to instinctively respect and care for nature. Preserving the pond is the art.

From the exhibition I hoped to convey to the visitor the enormous pleasure I get from making, installing and talking about the work, that moment when materials pass through my hands and transform into something new. Everything feels better when a drawing medium touches the paper or my threaded needle punctures the fabric surface.

A community such as Maidstone was dominated by manufacturing, this can define a communities values, self worth and culture, a place where people were respected for their skills, but closure and decline in mass production can erode at this identity.  As an artist who works with narrative and storytelling, responding creatively to history can be transformative and reviving, my exhibition acknowledges history but does not attempt to re-create it.

The installation gave value to worthless objects, exploring shape, sound, stories, and our relationship to objects.  The objects suggest how they might be used in the work alongside drawings and textiles. I choose to instal my work at Maidstone Museum not far from the site of Button Pond.

Artist in Residence as Button Pond girl working in the installation during the exhibition.

Meet the artists and talk: 6th forms and Museum Cafe culture.