In 2012 I was commissioned as part of the Art Roots Grizedale programme to create a new landmark sculpture in the northern area of the forest, to be accessible to both cyclists and walkers. The proposal was as follows (at the time of writing we have planning guidance approval and are close to completing the engineering scheme):
"Grizedale was once an Estate owned by the grand family of the Cunard shipping company, the Brocklebanks. Over the generations the former owners built a series of country houses here, the last of which was levelled to the ground on this site and only these balustrades overlooking the landscaped grounds remain. Today Grizedale is a working forest and instead of generations of Brocklebanks maturing on the estate, swathes of timber producing trees are grown and unceremoniously harvested in a continuous cycle of cut and sow. Whereas the abandoned footings of the house have been macadamised into this car park the abandoned feet of the cropped trees form a starkly brutal, violently textured blanket across the landscape.
"I propose to bring together the emotive texture of these abandoned stumps and the idea of 'The Grand Country House' to create a new vision of a stately home that is part temple of the dead, part fairground catacomb, part moor-top mausoleum and part lovely place to visit. Just as the abundance of skulls after the Paris plagues enabled the intricate boney patterns of the catacombs and the abundance of stone-carvers brought about the fabulous façade of Wells Cathedral so the abundance of tree stumps within the Forestry Commission's sphere of operations can enable the creation of a grand façade along with elaborate stump features punctuating a semi-formed garden."
It is proposed that 'High-Fell House' would be created in a clear felled area at the northern end of the forest, in a hidden natural bowl within the forest landscape. Facing south the sculptural façade will overlook its landscaped grounds in the foreground and Carron Crag on the horizon in the distance. From Carron Crag, the only distant point from which 'High-Fell House' can be viewed, the House will offer all the promise and confidence of classic architecture in the English landscape properly nestled in an amphitheatre of its own woodland. 'High-Fell House' itself will be accessible only by bike or by foot and will be an experience in bold contrast to the vision that might have been formed by the view from Carron Crag. As Sabin himself suggests:
"The wispy branches of the roots will catch the rain and mist and the wind will blow through the open window frames; the fine statuary and ornamental vases will be seen to be chaotic and punctuated by voids. There will be grandeur but a grandeur of a different order."
The Panorama shows the natural bowl in the heart of the Forest which will become the semi-fictional Estate known as High-Fell House. The grounds have been recently cropped and the surround is of mature and maturing forest. To the left is the faç:ade, terrace and balustrade of High-Fell House constructed entirely out of abandoned forestry stumps. In the foreground is one of the paths that lead to the stump bridges, stump totem and the newly formed 'lake' at the extremity of the grounds. In the distance, on the near horizon is Carron Crag from which stately dreams can be dreamt.
The façade of the house is vertical and highly textured whilst the body of water is horizontal and smooth. The lake is fed by two small streams that cut through the grounds either side of the house. The level of the water is regulated by a rectangular 'glory hole' that echoes the proportions of the window openings in the façade. Above the glory hole is a grill; laser cut in a two dimensional replication of the façade and its texture. The grounds are navigated via two paths that cross the streams via two stump formed bridges. Beside the water a stump column rises.
The sculptor Brancusi made the early version of The Endless Column in Timber. One can be seen in Edward Steichen's garden at Voulgangis made from the trunk of a poplar tree. I imagine it to have been carved directly with the undisturbed roots displacing the need for foundations. He thought of the elements as threaded 'beads'. At High-Fell House the individual stump is the unit of construction threaded to form columns which share the same characteristic cycles of ebb and flow. Both High-Fell House and The Endless Column are sculptural memorials to lives and aspirations.
These kinds of architectures made from the bones of the dead can be seen all over the world. What fascinates and horrifies in equal measure is that we know that each unit of construction was once known and loved and, indeed, knew and loved just as we do. The harvesting of trees for timber, like the slaughter of livestock for the table, is necessarily left to the specialist because individual trees are things we have relationships with. The cumulative effect of an almost infinite cycle of animals, trees and people is what forms the texture of contemporary culture. Perhaps it is this knowledge that creates the impulse to build fabulous edifices from the remains of the dead.
It is the love of texture that elevates Wells Cathedral; the outrageous building up of layer upon layer of narrative and sculptural texture, all magnetised together by an architect's grid of columns, arches and windows. In economics it is the play of the macro and micro, in forestry it is the woods and the trees, on screens it is the image and the pixel; zoom in and reveal layer upon layer of total otherness. When Brancusi smoothed his 'beads' in the later versions of The Endless Column it was the opposite of life's texture that he was seeking. High-Fell House will be a monument to texture; zoomed in and zoomed out.
The Forestry Commission quite, rightly and properly, mechanically harvest plots of mature trees, a process known as clear-felling. A 16m, 50 year old, tree might take a minute to cut, brash and log into 4, 4 metre lengths ready for conversion into 2"x2". What remains is a landscape ribbed by heavy machinery, matted with brash and studded with truncated tree stumps. As with the woods at Ypres or Passchendaele in 1916 the ordinary person feels that something altogether too harsh has taken place. We know the effort it takes to grow and then to be cut down in our prime, without ceremony or even the courtesy of hiding the evidence, seems an insult to what we hold precious. And yet timber is so useful and the growing of trees so environmentally sustaining.
23 stumps from Grizedale Forest were delivered to me in London to assist in developing a prototype test section to see whether stump 'beads' could be strung together and supported to create an architectural façade. The test section was designed to sit in front of the brick and glass façade of my studio. It is the same test piece that now sits in front of the balustrade of the long departed Grizedale Hall and whose window, for his exhibition, presently looks down on the vestiges of the Hall's stately gardens. High-Fell House is a ghost house; the ghosts of houses, of people who make them and of the trees that they are made of.
It is polish and finish that give grand houses their impenetrable aura of wealth and confidence. With its grid of 9x3 windows, triangular pediment and heroic finials High-Fell House borrows some of the characteristics of the stately home but does so as the vehicle for a sculptural examination of the qualities and implications of material, land, labour and the passage of time. High-Fell House will be built of the minimum structure and finish to allow the view from Carron Crag to provoke the aura of the fine house in the English landscape. From close up High-Fell House will be revealed as a sculptor's exploration of the topography and rhythms as well as the drives and urges that give rise to the well mannered estate.
The Grizedale Forest Estate is itself a fabulous piece of texture framed by the deep Lakes of Coniston and Windermere. The grand houses that were once at the heart of the estate were built in the shelter of the valleys. High-Fell House, which celebrates the sculptural and forestry heritage of the estate, will be located atop the forested ridge that rises above Coniston in a natural bowl through which two streams have cut narrow grooves. Water from these streams will have a momentary hesitation as part of High-Fell 'Lake' before plunging through the 'glory hole' and co-mingling with water from other streams and playing smaller parts in larger bodies of water elsewhere in the Lake District.
Grizedale Hall, the last of the grand houses built on the estate, was demolished in 1957 having been utilised during the 2nd World War as a prisoner of war camp. Only the retaining wall at the head of the valley with its stone balustrade and part-broken finials remain. It is this feature with stark absence behind it that was the starting point of the proposal for 'High-Fell House'. Rather than speak in particular to Grizedale Hall, the new 'house' on the estate will contemplate the aspirations, background conditions and physicalities that give rise to grand houses and grand estates.
The satellite flattens the landscape of the Grizedale Estate but shows the network of forest paths and the packets of forestry land that have been planted at different times and are at different stages of maturity leading towards clear-fell cropping. It also shows the distances between the Grizedale visitor centre, High-Fell House and Carron Crag, the only viewing point from which the sculpture house can be seen.
The proposal to create High-Fell House grows out of what already exists on site. The forest roads that lead to form the rim of the bowl in which the 'house' and grounds would be located already exist, the streams that will feed the new body of water and the barrier that will retain the water already exist and the stumps that the different parts of the work will be made of already exist, embedded in recently clear-felled forestry plots. New paths will be formed, steel supports for the façades will be fabricated and a small amount of ornamental planting will be undertaken otherwise the project involves only the particular, sculptural, arrangement of existing entities.