Fenland: Kathryn Hearn

Ceramics by Kathryn Hearn,

June 23rd – September 16, 2018

Kathryn Hearn’s handbuilt porcelain work is inspired by the atmospheric skies above the Cambridgeshire Fens, the farming practices in this industrial agricultural landscape also reinforced by the fenlander’s tenacious and protective attitudes. It refers to the farmer’s intrinsic use of craft and the uncompromising and functional environment.

This vessel group reflects the tenacious and private attitudes of fenlanders who sometimes live in remote windswept homes behind barriers of Leylandii trees which have been grown as an embattled fort. Usually pollarded to extremity with the tree trunk revealed, chopped at its peak and leaves removed from the outside whilst remaining verdant and private from prying eyes within its inner safe world.

Kathryn Hearn is interested in the reality of how the fenland landscape and its peoples have emerged following the draining of the fens in the 1700’s and the establishment of the agricultural industry which is the forerunner of where she lives today in Chatteris, one of four fenland towns which ones were islands. This area of Cambridgeshire lies between Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire. It isn’t the heady centre of academia which is Cambridge nor the undulating fields of Huntingdonshire but a flat and functional environment. It has a history of struggle and survival with commercial interests seemingly being outweighed by the needs of its inhabitants. 

This narrative is so different from where she grew up in the Lake District. There the landscape has been farmed with much more autonomy and it’s relationship to artistic culture and early tourism has resulted in a cherished land. Fenland by contrast is often seen by others to be a curious and ‘other’ a backwater where those who live there are undernourished by culture and an acceptable beautiful environment.

Hearn’s works seek to express this uncomfortable beauty with the contrast of industrial agriculture, craft and the natural. Using handbuilding of porcelain in an immediate and visceral way which tries not to use conventional solutions to the finishing and refinement in the shapes but to deconstruct the making and the forms. The colours used reflect the light and atmosphere of the fenland terrain and the liminal spaces between ground and sky. 

This sculpture acknowledges the traditional eel catching of the Cambridgeshire Fens and the use of willow and weave being bound to the landscape and the working lives of fenlanders.

 Kathryn's work on display on the balcony at GroundWork Gallery.
Kathryn’s work on display on the balcony at GroundWork Gallery.