With the Chartism ‘In their footsteps’ launch event planned for this Friday morning, I took the train to Newport yesterday to meet up with Dylan, one of the project’s organisers, to figure out the placement of my sandals for the installation.
Following the march of the Chartists down Stow Hill, a series of footprints have been etched into the pavement at intervals, with the hope that members of the public will interact with them, literally following ‘in their footsteps’. The ones here face Bethel Community Church and when standing on them, the pair of ceramic African sandals below will be visible. The Sanctuary project at the church works with international communities and offers support to asylum seekers and refugees in Newport. I spent time with an English class there earlier this year where we welcomed the men to make clay shoes for the installation at St Woolos cathedral at the top of the hill. Interestingly many of them ended up making sandals, so this pair will sit outside the sanctuary project to represent them.
The glaze turned out much patchier than expected, probably because I had to wipe the previous layer of reduction glaze off when I realised my mistake (these are oxidation fired). However, when seen from high up on the street the white stands out pretty well.
Yesterday we visited the Sanctuary project at Bethel Community church in Newport which offers English classes, social events and other activities for asylum seekers and refugees in the city. The men’s class we dropped in on appeared to really engage with the story of the Newport Rising, possibly recognising that the injustices the Chartists fought against still exist in some of the countries they’ve come from. They were more than happy to contribute to the clay shoes project.
We also had the opportunity to speak to some of the residents along Stow hill. A conversation at the clock and watch repair shop which we visited to see the photo of the old Chartists wall mural, sparked an idea for a chalk outline figure (similar to those seen in crime movies) to be etched into the pavement outside, representing where the Chartists were shot and fell as they fled from the soldiers at the Westgate.
Another suggestion was from the old olive branch day centre for the homeless (which I learnt was situated where Newport public baths used to be) but has sadly just closed down – Stow hill could do with some sort of bench along its steep incline.
Today we were joined by ceramic artist Ned Haywood, the maker for the famous blue commemorative wall plaques that adorn buildings around the UK where significant people have lived. The plaques are high fired white stoneware which has the benefits of being highly durable, rust-proof and harder than steel. Ned demonstrated to the visiting school children a way of making shoes from three paper templates – a sole, front and back, similar to how a shoemaker would assemble sections of cut leather but using sheets of rolled clay instead. Details like stitches and laces were added afterwards with a variety of tools.
I also had an opportunity to visit the Newport museum which has an in-depth section on the history of the Chartists, including a variety of weapons on display, similar to those which would have been used in the Newport conflict. It’s been exciting to learn about a significant historical event I knew nothing of before the start of the week.
The graph below shows how democracy grew in countries around the world between 1800- and 2000. What’s significant about this data is the way the graph line begins to climb after the 1840s- the decade in which the Chartists pushed for political reform. They appear to have sowed the seed for the roots of democracy across the globe.