In 2016 and 2017 nine museums and archaeological sites took part in Hadrian's Cavalry art project. Lead artist Karen MacDougall kept a diary of the process. These are her thoughts about the Mobile Cavalry project at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle.
Mobile Cavalry at Tullie House
"The museum was to house three fantastic helmets as part of Hadrian's Cavalry exhibition. It was clear the artwork had to relate to the amazing helmets. Catherine Moss-Luffram at Tullie House works with young people and communities. She thought a group of vulnerable adults would be the perfect artists for this project.
Ghosts of the past
I had the idea for a number of mobile lightweight metal foil helmets. If they were lit directionally they would create fantastic moving shadows - ghosts of the past on the gallery walls!
The focus had to be on the power of the mask - but how do you work with vulnerable adults and not frighten anyone? In order that the group had time to get to know me and build the necessary art skills we worked over a series of afternoons spread over a couple of months.
Masks, metalwork and poetry
We made paper masks, stood on the replica Hadrian’s Wall display and imagined how spooky it would be to see cavalry riding directly at you. We explored Roman patterns on artefacts. In the galleries we examined Roman emperor sculptures and found out about the Roman Cavalry from expert Tim Padley.
One participant, David, had learnt Latin so we explored poems such as ‘On the death of my lady’s pet sparrow’ by Catullus. Another, John, had enjoyed metalwork at school so was delighted when I introduced metal embossing to decorate circular discs (phalerae) and parts of the helmets.
Thin metal and mannequin heads
The helmets were made of thin metal foil in gold, silver and copper tones. We embellished them using brass and silver coloured split pins and wire. We drew Roman style patterns onto the metal, pressing with different styli from ball-ended to very thin and sharp. Each point left different kind of marks on the foil.
The next challenge was to work out how to make sure the helmets kept their shape. The answer? Eight polysterene mannequin heads, a source of much mirth in the sorting office according to my postman!
Catherine and I spent a day fastening the pieces together. We added acetate to make transparent fixing points to help the Tullie House installation team, headed by the amazing Jill Goodfellow. A morning's work resulted in the helmets and phalerae hanging at different levels casting fantastic shadows across the white walls.
The more air movement there was, the more everything moved, meaning the installation took on more life as the gallery grew busier."
- By artist Karen MacDougall
Karen's haiku reflecting on the project
glide, helmets and plumes turning
to face both ways.
More art projects
Take a look at other processes and installations in Diary of a Hadrian's Cavalry Artist.