Margaret Wyllie’s saltmarsh sketchbook January 2021 to April 2022
We are delighted to publish in its entirety this contemplative study by the artist Margaret Wyllie of a defined area of our estuarine landscape. This work was conducted in response to an open invitation to explore change at a specific location on the River Deben Estuary over a calendar year.
The occasion was the year of the Covid 19 lockdown 2021 – 2022, when Helene Burningham, coastal scientist, and artist, Simon Read, were awarded a research grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to explore an interdisciplinary approach to engage community stakeholder groups in landscape decision-making. Working under the banner of ‘Deben Soundings’ this was originally intended to be a two – year public interactive project, based upon a rolling programme of workshops to explore the current and future challenges to safeguarding the integrity of the Deben Estuary. But, due to the pandemic, this was not to be: we were obliged to completely reconsider our strategy, move to an online presence, and consider ways to develop a format that could be set up and managed in a distanced manner, whilst retaining the dynamic of the original concept.
From this we evolved a free-standing initiative, ‘Sounding Change’ whereby we invited our expanding community of online followers and participants to identify a location or aspect of the Deben Estuary that particularly resonates for them, to reflect upon change over the course of a calendar year and to make a record in whatever form they felt most comfortable. Our rationale was that although we were not permitted to join public meetings, we were encouraged to spend an amount of time out of doors every day: through this project we offered a clear task, the specific format of which to be determined by the participant. In return we offered regular feedback sessions online and upon completion, and return to normality, we undertook to set up a public exhibition of work produced within the project. This exhibition, ‘Deben Soundings’, took place at ArtSpace Gallery in Woodbridge between 21st-26th April 2022, with the aim to profile the contribution of all participants and report back to the funder upon the conduct of the project.
The participants in this exhibition were:
Liam Frankland, photographer, Jennifer Hall, artist, Graham Kellaway, artist and poet, Malcolm Hardy, marine biologist, Ruth Richmond, artist, Janine Hall, artist, Margaret Wyllie, artist, and the organisers: Helene Burningham and Simon Read.
In the company of Jennifer Hall, Margaret Wyllie elected to reflect upon just one location within the estuary, the liminal intertidal zone between the flood defence walls and the tidal estuary from the entrance at Bawdsey to the small settlement at Ramsholt on the north bank. From such a simple premise has arisen a rich and complex meditation upon the natural cycle of intertidal change, from the abundant saltmarsh vegetation to the continual accretion and erosion driven by the give and take of tidal forces, wave and storm.
Every tide brings its own surprises, a never-ending supply of cast up detritus cast off, cast overboard or just lost and bereft. With touching compassion, Margaret has collected single shoes, speculating upon the circumstances of their loss: each a ‘lost sole’, with its own undisclosed narrative; and within this shocking landscape of debris, there persists the beauty and abundance of its vegetation, the probings and proddings of curlew, redshank, godwit and oystercatcher, and tell-tale traces left by such other denizens of the marsh as the elusive otter.
All of this and more is celebrated in a profound meditation upon change in just one fragment of our estuary. Vital to this work is that it is all watercolour painting, it is not the click-and-move-on record of transience of the camera, each image is a conversation with circumstance, it is literally a parcel of time spent reflecting upon the subjectivity of the object. It is an investment in, and communion with, the value, fragility, and continuity of this liminal and often disregarded world.