On a recent visit to Kent we met up with Rob Turner, who gave us a tour of his most recent installation in his home town of Herne Bay; a series of commemorative mosaics. These were chosen to celebrate the renovation of the clocktower which is a central feature, with five other mosaics commemorating significant landmarks in and around Herne Bay. (Some of the BAMM West Midlands Group will remember Rob from the time he was repairing the mosaic in Stourport on Severn and he talked to the group about laying pavement mosaics)
Rob talks about the clock tower project:
“These are a series of six floor mosaics: Five have a 1.2m dia with the central one slightly larger at 1.4m. I used unglazed vitrified ceramic mosaic for the whole project.
The mosaics were commissioned by the ‘Friends of Herne Bay Clock Tower’ as a legacy to the town funded by wider HLF funds. ‘The legacy’ was originally thought of as a series of interpretation panels along the promenade with text and old photographs of the towns heritage. But the committee knew they wanted something different really.
The committee asked me what I thought and we agreed on an interactive floor feature that visitors to the town can walk through as an experience of pictorial and textual information about the history and heritage of Herne Bay, highlighting key buildings and historic events. By standing at the base of each mosaic, they direct or point you towards historical buildings or elements of the town’s rich history.
Being asked to celebrate your home towns history and heritage is a special commission and a fantastic thing to become involved with. But there were one or two sticky moments when I thought things might unfold badly or the project even fall through!
People often don’t think about the behind-the-scenes logistical challenges that go towards making a successful public commission and you need to be to able to engage with and reassure several different partners. For example you need to address council departments requirements; approvals, agreements, the specifications, the appointment of a groundworks contractor, the allocation of funding to this aspect or that aspect, and the sensitive timing of the installation. There were so many important behind the scenes negotiations needed. I have to say I have seen other public art projects (with fewer logistical partnership challenges than this one) stall and become non-starters. But, the Friends of the Clock Tower had Coleen who negotiated these requests and requirements with so much patience and skill and made this happen where some of my other mosaic proposals have been kicked into the long grass and still remain there. I was very impressed and could see why the Clock Tower Restoration had been so well funded and organised.
The other obstacle was the weather! This installation had to be rather later in the year as summer and autumn events were scheduled in the plaza and digging it up when established town events were happening was a definite NO. November is late and I was concerned about early frosts or heavy rains. None of which came. What did come was wind. I have installed mosaics in low temperatures, very high temperatures and sometimes very wet conditions, all of these are tricky for different reasons. But wind – and wind on TV news scale!
The site was cordoned off in a large square with wire fencing and I worked inside. It felt like an arena, or a large cage. I took dozens of bricks to weight things down while working (which worked on the whole). There were one or two days towards the end where the wind was so strong. I had no intention of trying to work in it, but I did visit the site to make sure all was well.
I saw there were various pieces of plywood and boards in there used by me and the ground work contractor which had escaped from storage were flat against the wire fence. This was acting as a sail and dragging the fencing square into a diamond and the whole arena was moving across the plaza towards the road. So, I thought it best remove these boards and the contractors advertising panels which had been cable tied to the fence. Reducing surface area and allowing the wind to pass through the fence. I also thought the sand bags and fence bases could be placed more effectively. So I started to unclip the fence to get in and remove these boards. I didn’t get that far. As soon as the fence panel was unclipped the wind whipped it 5-6 feet and bashed into my car which was parked just outside the working area. This I was actually grateful for as it arrested the travel of the fence. I had a vision of the fence twisting and dragging down the fencing, with the square collapsing on one side with panels becoming detached blowing across the town into shops, cars and people. It was a very bad situation. but I was able to hold end of the fence and drag it towards the other end which was stopped at my car. I held these together for minutes and minutes while it was VERY windy. When I felt brave enough I let go of both fence panels dart over to my mullgrips and the fence clip on the floor, pick them up dart back to the car before the wind picked up the panels again. I clipped the fence together again and was then able to start removing the advertising boards and realigning the bases and sand bags to make the fence stronger. So it was BAD at the time, but I was then able to go home and let the storm blow itself out and all was well in the end.”
Commissioned by the Friends of Herne Bay Clock Tower and financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
More of Rob’s work can be seen at https://re-turner.blogspot.com
Rob is also Director of the Beach Creative: www.beachcreative.org
For the tiles Rob has used in this project go to: http://www.mosaicsupplies.co.uk/product-category/winckelmans-unglazed-ceramic-tiles/