THE DRUMMER, 2009-2011
Lemon Quay, Cornwall
A Symbolic Work that Celebrates the Spirit of a Land and its People
The beat has been in existence from the beginning of time. It is life itself, present within us all. Perhaps the Universe has its own eternal pulse. That most primitive of instruments, the drum, is used to summon and communicate, it entertains and evokes feeling. My own relationship with the drum began during my early childhood in Belfast. On every twelfth of July, and throughout the marching season of the preceding months, the ground and air would thunder and pound with the collective beat of drums as Orangemen paraded in mass through streets across the province.
It was no surprise that when I first set foot in Cornwall, twenty five years ago, I described it as a place whose drum beats differently to anywhere else, referring to the primordial, magical and timeless aspect that the land possesses. This came to mind, when in 2007, I was invited for the second time to submit a proposal for a sculpture for Truro’s Lemon Quay. I viewed the opportunity as a chance to celebrate something that would reflect an aspect of Cornwall and its people, and not just the city.
What does it mean when we refer to Cornwall as timeless or magical and what makes this County different from any other? The search for answers led to walks across moor, coast, and underground into the tin mines, to conversations with different people, from all walks of life. “You could feel the black,” an ex-miner described the thick, stifling, dimly lit atmosphere of his subterranean working environment. It’s a description that had profound resonance.
After some thought, I concluded that Cornwall in modern times is better known as a tourist destination and a place where many people have chosen to settle. There is, however, something more fundamental that defines the peninsula. Manymiles from the country’s administrative centre, poised on the edge, jutting out into the great Atlantic Ocean; Cornwall is geographically and to some extent, economically remote. The shared sense of magic and timelessness that one feels not only comes from the barren landscape and rugged coastline and from the quality of light the peninsula possesses, but also from the dereliction and desolation left over from a by-gone industrial age. Living in a remote place often brings some kind of hardship. Perhaps it is this that has instilled within the nature of its people, a quiet and proud sense of independence paralleled with an instinct to survive whatever the prevailing circumstances may be.
In the archives of Truro Museum there is an extensive collection of photographs of tin miners working underground around the turn of the 1900s, taken by the photographer J.C.Burrows. One photograph in particular, portrays seven men standing in front of a mineshaft. The image is both haunting and austere; the subjects look sternly into the camera lens, they are united by life’s hardships, which are etched into the faces of each and every man, a look that is more difficult to find in Cornwall today.
It is perhaps then, the men and boys that mined tin for generations in the heat and darkness below ground level, and the fishermen that battle against the sea that best describe the spirit of ‘steely resilience.’ It is exactly this that The Drummer celebrates as it forces a mighty blow upon the drum.
The ball on which the figure balances relates to the sea, earth and the bright moon that shines across expansive night skies. The composition originates from an installation entitled La Corrida ~ Dreams in Red. The decision to use the ball was inspired by the quay’s circular paving design, which refers to the tidal water beneath it. The ball suggests both a sea buoy and the globe across which a great many Cornish people migrated to find work.
The Drummer sculpture is cast in bronze, an alloy composed of copper and tin. The cast contains both an ingot of Cornish tin and Cornish copper which has been symbolically thrown into the crucible during the smelting process. The emblem of the lamb and flag embossed upon the drum represents purity and refers to Truro’s past as a stannary town where tin was weighed, stamped and sold. Situated midway between Land’s End and Saltash, Truro has traditionally served its rural community as a commercial centre. In turn, the Drummer brings to the heart of it a sense of the rural community through which it celebrates the rhythm and beat that drives many festivities throughout the county: the Helston Floral, Penzance’s Mazey day, St Just’s Lafrowda and that most primal and magical of rites, The Padstow Obby Oss and more recently, Truro’s winter city lights.
Twenty-five years on from my first arrival in Cornwall, it is an honour to have been commissioned to create this work. It is uncanny, yet fitting, that the sculpture, which endeavours to define something about Cornwall and its people, should have been created in a disused quarry building in a remote location that was once the centre of the granite industry where rock was blasted and shaped by masons. It is that same rock which paves the many streets of our capital, three hundred miles away.