Community unite to create huge Mercian Mosaic in Tamworth Castle Grounds
A large and ambitious community art project to create a massive Mercian mosaic design on the lower lawn of Tamworth Castle Grounds is underway, with hundreds of people across the town decorating 1,400 individual pieces that will make up the final image.
Once completed, the 1,400 individual square yard tiles will come together to make one large and intricate design which will be laid out on the lower lawn for all to see during a special one-day event in the summer of 2018. The completed mosaic will measure 70 yards by 20 yards (around 64 metres by 18 metres).
Mercian Mosaic is one of several initiatives taking place as part of Arts in Unusual Spaces – a two-year scheme made possible with funding from Arts Council England to bring art to new and interesting spaces across the town.
The striking overall design has been created by Tamworth artist Maggie Carney and features key elements of the town’s Anglo Saxon history, incorporating its landmark buildings, rivers and people, as well as details such as Tamworth pigs, dragons, fish, the Staffordshire knot and Mercian flag.
At the centre is Tamworth’s ‘Lady of the Mercians’ Queen Aethelflaed, who played a pivotal role in English history by building a chain of fortifications against Viking invaders throughout the Kingdom of Mercia. Her fortification of Tamworth in 913 AD became the forerunner to Tamworth Castle. Daughter of Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed’s accession as a female ruler has been described as one of the most unique events in early medieval history.
The Mercian Mosaic project will be unveiled during a series of events taking place next year to mark the 1100-year anniversary of Queen Aethelflaed’s death.
Hundreds of people from more than 40 different groups are involved in bringing the project to life, including schools, sheltered housing schemes, community and church groups, community arts groups and students.
There will also be opportunities for members of the public to take part at open workshops to be organised throughout the project.
More than 600 tiles have been distributed in the first phase of the project, with elements such as flower beds, fish and river scenes starting to take shape. Participants can follow templates or come up with their own designs. Pupils at 15 primary schools have been designing flowers in a range of media, while residents of sheltered housing schemes have been knitting flowers to attach to their tiles.
The second phase will include life size silhouettes of Anglo Saxon and modern figures taking part in daily activities, as well as life size Celtic pigs, coins and shields.
Recent participants include children at Flax Hill Junior School and art students at the Landau Forte Sixth Form Centre who were commissioned by Maggie to work on the project during a week of work experience. During that time the 13 students were tasked with completing 100 tiles.
Maggie, a retired school teacher and freelance artist, has worked with Tamworth Borough Council’s Arts & Events team before and previously created the stained glass window mosaic design that was transferred onto fabric and unfurled from the Castle Grounds Bandstand as part of the dramatic outdoor performance of Tigress in 2015.
The community production told the story of the Saxon warrior Queen and had hundreds of local participants. As a result, Maggie’s craft therapy group formed ‘Cuckoo Mosaics’ and became official members of the British Association for Modern Mosaic. They have played a key part in testing Maggie’s designs and ideas for the Mercian Mosaic project.
Although Maggie has enjoyed a long and successful career, Mercian Mosaic is the biggest project she has taken on to date.
Maggie said: “This is undoubtedly the biggest project I have ever done and I have spent many hours working on it. The challenge was figuring out how to make it manageable for lots of different groups, whether that’s school children or elderly residents.
We formed a lot of new relationships as a result of Tigress and we are able to build on that with Mercian Mosaic, as well as getting lots of new people involved.
“Some wonderful individual tiles have been completed so far, but we won’t really know what it’s going to look like until we actually lay it out for all to see on the day; so that is going to be very exciting.”
Cllr Joy Goodall, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Environment and Culture, said: “As community art goes this is certainly an ambitious and large-scale project. Tigress was amazing and we had people from all walks of life taking part, from knitters who helped knit squares to create the Mercian flag, to the therapy craft group at the Tamworth Wellbeing and Cancer Support Centre, as well as young dancers and performers.
“Mercian Mosaic is enabling us to build on those networks and provide more opportunities for people of all ages to contribute to one huge work of community art. No-one will really know what the overall design will look like until it is laid out at the foot of the Bandstand in the Castle Grounds. If the work that has been completed so far is anything to go by, then this really is going to be a breath-taking spectacle.
“We have a very rich Saxon history as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mercia and Queen Aethelflaed was a legendary figure at the heart of that. This will be a really fitting tribute to the Warrior Queen and to mark the anniversary of her death.”