Cavalry scouting party art installation at the Great North Museum

Art Project: Cavalry Scouting Party at The Great North Museum: Hancock

In 2016 and 2017 nine museums and archaeological sites took part in Hadrian's Cavalry art project. Here are lead artist Karen MacDougall's memories of creating a ghostly cavalry unit at The Great North Museum: Hancock.

Project: Cavalry scouting party - Great North Museum

Adam Goldwater, the learning officer for the museum, explained that their Roman Gallery was being loaned the world-class Ribchester Helmet as part of Hadrian's Cavalry exhibition. Initially I suggested creating a life-size willow depiction of a Cavalry scouting party hiding in the trees by the gallery's entrance, as if sneaking up on the helmet.

With 24 hours before I was to present my plan, I was told any installation had to be wood-free. After some quick thinking, I came up with a Plan B: how about hanging six helmets between the trees, with netting to give an indication of ghostly bodies?

The power of the mask

We worked with Milecastle School Year 3s on the project. Katherine Wharton, the assistant learning officer, introduced the Romans to them. I had them filling their sketchbooks with drawings of patterns and Roman art. I introduced Katherine to art exercises to encourage the children to produce some really good drawings for their portfolios. We made masks, worked out how we felt wearing them to understand the power of the cavalry mask and generally had fun!

Back in the classroom we made the helmets and created individual Arts Award portfolios. Colanders gave us a basic structure for the helmet. We then added EVA foam, pipe cleaners, PVA and artmaché powder with duct tape, metallic acrylic paint topped with decorative motifs in embossed metal foil. The class proudly presented their amazing creations to the rest of the school at a sharing assembly.

Cherry picker to the rescue

The Great North Museum's exhibition team helped me install this ghostly Cavalry in April 2017. A fantastic cherry picker platform meant this was done in a couple of hours. Thank you GNM!

Milecastle School liked my work on the other Cavalry projects, especially the Vindolanda mosaics. They commissioned me to work with Year 6 on a two panel Mosaic project to celebrate 50 years of the school."

- By artist Karen MacDougall

Karen's haiku reflecting on the project

Silent scouts slip by

Unseen by the natives

Helmets gleaming bright.

More art projects

Take a look at the full list at Diary of a Hadrian's Cavalry Artist.

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