Local ceramic artist Judy Caplin was commissioned to produce this sculpture as part of The Witham's redevelopment. It was inspired by Henry Witham, who used a revolutionary technique to study fossils. He ground them into wafer-thin translucent sheets so that they could be studied under a microscope.
In November 1830, Witham published a ground-breaking book entitled The Internal Structure of Fossil Vegetables, which included several plates depicting the cellular structure of plants from across Northern Britain. Judy, struck by the delicacy and detail of these illustrations, was inspired to create this sculpture with its suspended tiles.
Each tile has part of a plant impressed into it. All the plant material was collected from local trees, meadows and hedgerows. This organic matter was burnt out during first firing, and coloured slip (stained liquid clay) was brushed into the impression left by the plant. When fired again, a solid impression remained within the tile - an instant fossil.
The tiles are made from porcelain paper clay and fired to 1180°C. They are suspended in vertical rows: reminiscent of the original plates in Witham’s book.
The name ‘Hesperides’ comes from Greek mythology. The Hesperides are nymphs who tended a beautiful garden at the far edge of the world. Traditionally there were three of them, echoed by the three circles of tiles and the three main components of the piece: porcelain, stainless steel and copper.
Judy has many years of experience working on participatory projects in schools and the community in and around the Teesdale area. As well as being a member of the Teesdale Artists Network; she co-manages ARTworks in Teesdale, an arts charity delivering high quality arts activities for the community and also runs the Teesdale Pottery Group, teaching an adult class and supporting and promoting ceramics in the area.