Art in the Park

Natural England have foster relationships with artist in Yarner Wood while it has been a / part of a National Nature Reserve. Here are some examples of more recent temporary uses of the site.

Karen Pearson 2012- 2014 Three years of contemporary art collaboration at Yarner Wood and its surrounding

Karen Pearson, a local Devon based artist worked closely with the Natural England team based at Yarner Wood and other artists across solo projects and group events between 2012-14. Most of this was done while she was a fine art student at Plymouth University, beginning with a project that involved some sticks borrowed from Yarner, ’A journey with 40 sticks,’ and ending with the organisation of an art trail ‘Assemblage: Narratives of a managed landscape’ where invited artists created work in response to the site and the ‘managed landscape’ in her final year. In between, she squeezed in a solo project ‘Walking the edge’ with a focus on Trendlebeare Down and a second group event ‘Art at Yarner’ for Devon Open Studios.

Yarner Wood and its surroundings (all part of the wider East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve) were used following her daughter’s engagement with the site. The site itself is safe, easy to use and a wonderful backdrop to the work.  and contained a covered space known as the Woodland Centre. She was helped by the openness of the Natural England reserve staff to involve others in explorative ways of engaging people from a different view, with nature and attracting a new type of visitor to the countryside.

Karen will carry out an artist in residence based around birch trees.

A journey with 40 sticks

Using 40 sticks borrowed from Yarner Wood and the white circle motif used in the woods to measure and record tree growth, Karen used performance, play, film, painting and installation to explore control and chaos, the balance between nature and us over a period of 4 months.

Assemblage: Narratives in a managed landscape

Karen organised an art event in Yarner Wood, a walk of interventions, installations and responses to the ‘managed landscape’ there by a group of ten artists whose work investigates the landscape and environment, and the relationship humans have with them.

Walking the edge

A focus on Trendlebeare Down and the heathland’s management by fire.  Karen collected ashes and charred sticks from the site and developed work using these and the colours and textures from the Down to create paintings and installations that were shown in the shelter in Yarner woods alongside an interactive drawing activity using the charred sticks.

Art at Yarner

Karen organised a trail for Devon Open Studios, where a group of artists were invited to install work in Yarner Wood and run workshops in the Woodland Centre for the duration of the event.

Granite Elements 2015 onwards

Developing a sense of place at Yarner Wood and East Dartmoor

A walk on Dartmoor isn’t just a walk for artists in the Granite Elements group.  Lichens, fungus, the flora and fauna of the landscape can all spark inspiration for a sketch, a drawing or a complete work of art.  Underpinning the landscape is glorious granite.  Humans have shaped this hardest of rocks for their own purposes.  Finding ingenious ways to cut it, shape it and move it, people have used granite for their homes, walls, boundary markers, churches, bridges, tombstones, trackways and civic buildings.  We are surrounded by the story of granite.

Granite Elements was a two-year Parishscapes project supported by Moor Than Meets the Eye, the landscape partnership scheme which aimed to explore Dartmoor’s past, conserve its wildlife and improve understanding of our rich and diverse environment, facilitated by Natural England.  Lead artist Bridget Arnold and Chair of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust, Viv Styles, got together back in 2015 to discuss ways of raising awareness of our landscape heritage through art and creativity.  Once funding was approved, there followed a two-year programme of events and activities designed to encourage a variety of creative responses, culminating in an exhibition of art at the Devon Guild in Bovey Tracey.  The exhibition was also hosted by the Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre in Princetown in 2017.  

Natural England facilitated a series of guided walks led by experts in their field, introduced people to the various natural, cultural and built elements of heritage within their parish. Creative days provided opportunities for artists to be inspired by their granite surroundings and history. Creative writing workshops brought writers together to experience the unique landscape and craft their poetry and prose.  Workshops helped members of the community learn new skills and explore the heritage of the area in a unique and meaningful way.  Ongoing research and displays at the Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre provided insights into how the granite was split and transported.  A walking trail was produced using local knowledge to identify granite features in Bovey Tracey.

Dartmoor granite was used for a number of building projects in the early 19th century and as the demand for granite increased people began to look for more efficient ways of moving it.  George Templer began working quarries on Dartmoor and in 1820 he opened the granite tramway which linked the quarries on Haytor Down with the Stover Canal, which had been constructed by his father James.  The tramway was engineered to follow a downward gradient, a fall of some 1,300 feet (400m) from Haytor to Ventiford.  Although much of the track was removed and reused as it came through Bovey Tracey, the granite rails or ‘setts’ can be clearly seen around Haytor and on through Yarner Wood in the East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve.   This unique feat of engineering was in use for a relatively short period from 1820 until the 1840s.  Today it is enjoyed by walkers, historians and artists who can follow in the footsteps of those who shaped our granite heritage. The full story of Haytor granite can be found in the book ‘Haytor Granite, A Celebration’ by Stuart Drabble, published by the Stover Historic Landscape Trust in 2018.  Stuart has pulled together an immense amount of research, identifying many of the buildings around Britain which have been built with Haytor granite and charting the history of the Templer family’s involvement with quarrying and transport.

Project manager Bridget Arnold steered the Parishscapes scheme through a marvellous range of events, using the Granite Tramway as the focus of activities and the project was very well supported by Emma Stockley, who encouraged and enabled the development of ideas.

The Woodland Centre in Yarner Wood became a base for artistic explorations, with the tramway within easy reach.  Workshops held at the Woodland Centre included printmaking, making artists books, using inks made from oak galls and acorns, learning about natural dyes and their uses, a talk on the geology of the area as well as sketching and drawing outside.  There were guided Dartmoor walks, looking at the archaeology of the landscape, the soil beneath our feet, the vegetation and lichens.  Enthused by their surroundings, each artist responded to the project in their own way.  Bridget Arnold found the vegetation along the tramway was ideal for the technique of cyanotype, a photographic process which uses sunlight to create a distinctive blue print, revealing minute details of ferns, feathers or lichens.  Thirteen artists’ responses to the project can be seen in the book ‘Inspired by Granite’ by Mei Lim (Tin Shed Studio Press 2017).

The colour of granite depends on the mineral composition and the amounts of quartz, feldspar or mica present in the rock. These subtle changes in colour can also be altered by light and atmosphere, providing endless inspiration.    Sculpture, ceramics and textiles as well as painting and printmaking are all methods used by Granite Elements artists, all working in different ways but brought together by their love of the Dartmoor landscape. 

When the Moor Than Meets the Eye project funding ceased, Granite Elements became an officially constituted group which has continued to liaise with local groups and has organised craft skills training, artists days and guided walks, extending the legacy of the Dartmoor project and reaching an ever-wider audience with their artwork inspired by granite. Some of the original artists involved have moved on whilst others have joined, bringing new skills and ideas which are shared on artists days and their work is exhibited in the local area. Members of the Granite Elements group regularly take part in the annual event Devon Open Studios, which takes place in September.

They have created a collaborative venture to produce a book of original prints inspired by lichens.  Studies of lichens on artists days, supported by the resources of Natural England and the wild plant conservation charity, Plantlife, have shown the astonishing variety of lichens to be found in Dartmoor woodlands.  Yarner Wood is an example of an Atlantic woodland, a type of broad-leaved woodland found in western Britain and Ireland where the climate is mild and wet due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. Atlantic woodlands have a long link to the past as they are less susceptible to woodland clearance, usually due to the difficult terrain in which they grow.  Many of the lichens to be found in the special habitat of places like Yarner Wood are not found elsewhere in Britain and some are globally rare.  Granite Elements aims to celebrate this unique diversity and draw attention to the need for conservation with a special edition handmade book of original prints. 

The Group ran a lichen event in Yarner Wood, based round the above book A Focus on Lichens and What They Need | East Dartmoor Woods blog and then displayed some copies of this material  in the shelter. For forthcoming exhibitions online at: The group also has Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts @GraniteElements

South Devon Collage

In February and March 2022 South Devon Collage students came to visit Yarner Wood as part of the Connection, belonging and art: an encounter with Ingrid Pollard at Yarner Wood 

Art is a powerful way to explore our connection and relationship with the natural world. Art can provide a way to see nature in new ways, by showing us history, hidden in plain sight.

Here are some of the works displayed at the South Devon Collage gallery Paignton this was open to other students and public on 9th and 10th June as their degree work.

Natural England worked with South Devon College art department new partners, talking on corners, Plymouth University art department and the Thelma Hubbert Galley as part of a Connecting People and Nature programme sponsored project, linking to the work of Turner nominated artist, Ingrid Pollard.  To find out more about the Natural England led project, please visit: natural england | Talking on Corners As part of this project, Ingrid Pollard gave a free talk at the Jill Craigie Cinema, University of Plymouth on 26th Sept. The talk accompanies Pollard’s solo exhibition of new work, Ingrid Pollard: Three Drops of Blood, showing at Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton.  Pollard’s exhibition sees her creating a new series of work in response to the histories of Devon and the Southwest.

On the 27th amd 28th the students would benefit from this project until I met them and heard their stories and had the incredible fortune to listen to their reflections of Ingrid Pollard’s workshops. Many from low-income backgrounds, without financial needs to facilitate travel costs. On Tuesday, we had 45 students on site at Yarner Woods for Ingrid’s camera obscura workshop and a claud lens workshop in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, we had 26students return for a second day to the residential to reflect on the 1st day and discuss their own experiences of nature and creative practice. This involved using natural colours using black (site produced charcoal) and orange (rusting iron from mining adits).

The students will follow up with their lecturers at South Devon College and Plymouth Uni and start to develop their own art to be exhibited at the Thelma Hubbert Gallery early in 2023.

Also, in 2023 Dartmoor artist Karen Pearson will be back working in Yarner Woods and Trendlebeare Down for the next few months. She will be creating work based on the Birch tree, its roles and character, its pioneering spirit, and its connection with us. More on this in the New year as the project develops.

Granite Elements will be producing a book based on ferns where each artist will produce their own art interpreation

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