Laura Ellen Bacon working on 'Natural Course' at Chatsworth

Chatsworth’s Arcadia takes Natural Course for a sculptural centrepiece

The artist Laura Ellen Bacon has been chosen to design and build a new, monumental sculptural installation as the centrepiece of the Arcadia area in Chatsworth’s world-famous 105-acre garden as it undergoes its biggest transformation for 200 years.

Designed to appear as if seeping from the ground, Natural Course will flow down a woodland slope in the previously undeveloped, 15-acre area called Arcadia, which is being created by celebrated garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith. Assembled by coordination of hand and eye to give the great mass of stone a sense of slow, gradual movement over the land, Natural Course aims to suggest an innate life force to the hard and seemingly motionless stone.

Natural Course will push the boundaries of dry stone walling technique. Very different from a typical boundary wall, the technical challenge comes from both the sheer volume of material used and particularly its 40 metres of contours and curves. At more than 10m in length and 2m in height with a base width varying from 50cm to 3m, visitors will be able to enter up to 5m into the sculpture, giving a feeling of being swallowed by stone.

Sculptural garden at Chatsworth
‘Natural Course’ under construction at Chatsworth

Built from more than 100 tonnes of local stone taken from the Bretton Moor Quarry near Foolow, less than five miles away, Natural Course will be made from tens of thousands of individual, hand placed pieces using a traditional dry-stone walling method. Working with a small team of local dry stone wallers, Laura Ellen Bacon aims to complete the build by April 2020.

Usually working in wood, often willow, Laura Ellen Bacon is known for creating large-scale organic forms but this is her first major commission in stone. Natural Course will join more than 20 sculptural works at Chatsworth by post war masters including Antony Gormley, Angela Conner, Elisabeth Frink, Allen Jones, Michael Craig-Martin and Barry Flanagan.

Laura Ellen Bacon: “This sculpture is a development of my study of form and particularly site-specific works. Inspirations for the work have come from the vast network of dry stone walls across Derbyshire as well as the volume and handling of the immense stones in the Rockery at Chatsworth itself, which is one of the earliest and largest rock gardens in the world.”

“The form, with a quiet nod to a consumption wall in its method, appears to slowly flow over the land and confront the visitor with its sense of mass and quiet movement – referencing the absorbing process of working with one’s hands and the epic work involved in creating the dry stone walls found across Derbyshire.”

The Peak District home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth has begun work on the biggest transformation of its garden since Joseph Paxton’s work finished more than 200 years ago. Having completed the £32m Masterplan project to conserve the house a few years ago, the Duke and Duchess have since been planning to have a similar revitalising effect on the garden.

The Duke of Devonshire: “Laura created a temporary sculptural installation in the garden called Woven Space about seven years ago. Sculpture has always been integral to the garden so, as we were developing early plans for the garden’s transformation at that time, we began talking about ideas for something more permanent. We were keen on something that strongly referenced both Chatsworth itself and the Derbyshire landscape from which it was born.”

“We gave Laura freedom to explore the garden and develop her vision for the location, the materials used, and the sculptural form. I’ve visited her studio in Cromford on various occasions in the past and have been very excited to see how her plans and models have evolved into what will become Natural Course. Its use of local stone and the dry stone walling method will root it in its environment and surroundings but at the same time the ‘hand and eye’ construction and shape make it surprising and thought-provoking in keeping with Chatsworth’s best traditions.”

The Arcadia area is part of a huge garden transformation project that also includes a remodelled Rockery, the Maze borders, the Ravine, and Dan Pearson’s redevelopment of the Trout Stream and the Jack Pond. It includes the clearance of previously inaccessible areas, large-scale structure installations, new sculpture commissions, the movement and addition of hundreds of tonnes of rock, hundreds of thousands of new plants and hundreds of new trees, as well as new pathways taking visitors into underexplored areas of the garden.

The 105-acre garden is the product of nearly 500 years of careful cultivation. Although some points of interest have been replaced to make way for new fashions, the garden retains many early features, including the Canal Pond, Cascade and Duke’s Greenhouse. The famous waterworks include the 300-year-old Cascade, the Willow Tree Fountain and the impressive, gravity-fed Emperor Fountain, which reaches heights up to 90m.

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