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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, June 21, 2009
    The Black Dome at Blackwell
    Incongruous? Black Dome, the David Nash sculpture erupting through the tidy lawn of Blackwell, The Arts and Craft House which sits bright and pretty above Lake Windermere (and which we visited yesterday). The house is a beautiful creation: generously-proportioned rooms lit brightly by the Lakeland sun, window seats offering some of the loveliest views in Britain, gorgeous snugs set around generous fireplaces, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott's creation is a conspicuously-designed place of refreshing light. Nash's work, by contrast, is dark and rugged. In character with his other creations (of which, regular readers of this blog know that I'm a fan) Nash has hewn this piece from over seventy columns of oak, carved them and then burnt them to produce the deep dark charcoal surface.

    Black Dome could be the title of an album by Sunn O))), and looks megalithic. Rugged. Primal: by contrast to the gleaming White Drawing Room from which visitors inside the house can view it. But maybe it's not so incongruous, the Black Dome at Blackwell. Both house and hewn oak sculpture depend on a very carefully-considered interplay between natural materials and the elements. The house's wood-lined rooms are designed to be filled with the light of Lakeland skies, to reflect the sun on the vast lake below. The primal force of fire is embraced to fill with warmth and intensity those gorgeous fireplace snugs. Nash's work uses the same sort of materials and the same natural elements of light - but inverts their relationship. Black Dome looks every bit at home on Blackwell's lawn as would a stalking cat or a nocturnal mole. But it oozes darkness; it's a jagged presence which tells us that even in this manufactured idyll not everything can possibly be clean, clear and bright.

    Just as Phil, today attempted to invoke 'the missing' of A La Ronde – the Lisbon working class whose tragic history underwrote the creation of that distinctively designed West Country home, so perhaps we might permit Black Dome to evoke what lies beneath the beauty of Blackwell. The house was built as a country retreat for Edward Holt: monied brewery-owner of Manchester. Now don't get me wrong, I like a pint of Holts myself now and again, but the Black Dome provokes me to consider who are 'the missing' of Blackwell whose presence should be recalled. They must be the drunks and alcohol-dependents of a grimy northern industrial city whose paltry but frequent bar-payments added up to a fortune for Holt and his family.