An extraordinary arts project which started with enough funding to run for 15 days is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a major three week exhibition at Durlston Country Park in Swanage.
Twenty large sculptures with seed or flower heads, standing on rock, tree or meadow bases will create an installation inspired by the coastline and environment at Durlston.
Some of the exhibits lined up for the 20th anniversary show at Durlston
The seed of an idea has grown huge
Janna Edwards, who set up 15 Days of Clay in 2003 at Holton Heath, near Sandford, to help adults with learning needs express their creativity, has seen her seed of an idea grow into something huge over the years.
Fittingly, the 20th anniversary exhibition will be called Seed and show a wider public what strong roots the clay workshops now have in the Purbeck community.
Pupils from The Swanage School are filming aspects of the project which inspire them and some of the films will be on display at the show, running at Durlston from Friday 31st March until Thursday 20th April 2023.
There will also be four free clay workshops running during the exhibition, a collection of some of the group’s best work from the past 20 years, and photographs and poems inspired by the artists.
Free clay seed balls which are designed to be planted will be given away, so that the inspiration of the show continues to grow across Purbeck.
John Daniels and Janna Edwards, with Julie Spencer, one of the first artists at 15 Days
“Wonderful for mental well being”
“We were set up in 2003 with funding from Awards For All and actually only had enough money to run for one session a week for 15 weeks, which is why we are called 15 Days in Clay.
“At the end of the 15 weeks we had an exhibition at the gallery in Faith House here, which was brilliant, but I basically harassed the head of the learning disability team, phoning him every day until he agreed to see the show and when he did I asked him for money to continue.
“He said he wanted us to be sustainable, and we have certainly done that – of the original group of 10 people, I still have six, and over the years our group has grown to run four days a week.
“While it was originally for adults with learning difficulties, it is now open to anyone – I have done a lot of work with people who have dementia, spinal injuries and mental health problems, and clay is such a good medium to help them.
“It has exceptional physical benefits, helping to get movement back into joints, and is also wonderful for mental well being and confidence building.
“We have an amazing group of volunteers and have seen them set up their own ceramic business, go into teaching, become art technicians – it’s grown so much over the years.”
Julie Spencer begins the painting work on her sculpture
Inspiration is taken from botanical books for a pot with leaves around it
A lot of painstaking work goes into all the sculptures
Giving everyone the chance to be an artist
Janna Edwards set up her first business working with clay after graduating with a Princes Trust Loan in 1996 and went on to exhibit and sell across the country and abroad.
But when she went to teach adults with additional needs at a charity in Cambridge, her passion for enabling individuals to become artists in their own right started.
She says she wanted to give everyone the same opportunities to express themselves, to be treated as equals and to become artists in their own right, coming up with the inspiration for 15 Days In Clay exactly for that reason.
The group was set up to give small groups of adults with learning or additional needs in Purbeck and across Dorset, the opportunity to enjoy working with the accessible medium of clay.
Flower head sculptures are hollow in places to become homes for insects
Figures will become living sculptures
“The 20th anniversary show is called Seed and is all about the seed of the idea that I planted 20 years ago and all the amazing things that have grown from it.
“The inspiration comes from Durlston and from here, we have taken a tree base, a rock base or a meadow base, and done impressions of flowers and plants, and figures with seed pod heads and flower heads.
“We have asked the guys to put a message to the world in their work, to tell everyone what is important to them, sowing seeds of thought to the audience.
“All the work can be a habitat for wildlife, so insects and birds can live in them or feed from them and they will become living sculptures.
“These are really ambitious ceramic builds and we want people to see how incredible our guys are and what they are capable of.
“Pupils at The Swanage School have volunteered their free time to make films of the process and our favourite will be shown at the exhibition.”
The Gathering now live on permanent display at a stately home in Yorkshire
A close-up look at one of the award-winning sculptures
Earlier display took an international award
“We also have our own photographer, Simon Peter Green, who has pictured the guys at work, and John Daniels has taken the words of the sculptors and made them into poems.
“The whole thing is about how we are all connected, how we have grown, survived and evolved over the last 20 years with these extraordinary artists.”
Previous exhibitions have included The Tribe, a collection of totem poles featuring all manner of friendly and sinister faces, which originally went on show at the Lighthouse arts centre in Poole, but which is now displayed at Holton Lee around an old oak tree.
An earlier display, to celebrate 15 years of 15 Days, comprised of 15 lifesize sculptures and was entered for the first Artworks Together worldwide learning disability and autism art competition.
Against artists and groups from four continents, 15 Days in Clay’s The Gathering took second place and is now on permanent display at Wentworth Woodhouse stately home in Yorkshire where it has become a national attraction.
Artist Matthew Hawes, painting a message to the world on his sculpture
Anna Hinsull is taking inspiration from the patterns in leaves
Benefit from the magic of clay
“Today, 15 Days is open to anyone, whatever their ability or experience, who shows an interest in working with clay.
“From the beginning, it has given people the opportunity to talk and to share – some people never get asked how they feel, but the beautiful thing about working with clay is that we give people the chance to connect and to grow in a group with a real sense of family and well being.
“Our guys are taught in a non-threatening and supportive environment and learners quickly become confident to explore all methods of ceramic construction and decorating.
“Each learner makes their own decisions about what they want to make. The teaching develops their practical knowledge of ceramics and creative skills, and many are now on their way to becoming artists in their own right!
“We will be offering free taster sessions here at Holton Lee and as part of our exhibition at Durlston so that we can get more people engaged with clay – we want as many people as possible to benefit from the magic of clay!”
Some of the totems making up The Tribe around an oak tree at Holton Lee
Surprising sculptures are found around every corner
Seeds – a poem to celebrate the anniversary
Like the seeds of the fields
of the woodlands and gardens
we have grown
these twenty years our harvest
is honoured by your presence
take the seeds of our collective endeavours
in your hearts with our blessing.
By John Daniels