Artist in Residence Sarah Taylor Silverwood – Week 4

I have spent the last month researching the collections during my residency here. I have now finished at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) and moved back into my studio. I’ll be channelling these ideas into a new commission for BMAG for January. The residency has encouraged a new direction for my work, where my public facing studio encouraged conversations and interactions with staff and the public. These daily conversations have fed into my artistic process and encouraged me to rethink my relationship with ‘the gallery’, and the editing process that I go through while making work. It has also given me an insight into the direct art historical context of the materials I use, and how drawing and works on paper have been used.

The studio itself has been a significant influence on how I’ve been working.

The studio space at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The studio space at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The view looks out onto Victoria Square and Town Hall.

The view from studio looking onto Victoria Square and Town Hall

The space has been used for both workshops with the public and my daily studio practice.

The mirror within the studio with illustrations on it

Sarah's illustration

Maps and postcards of Birmingham

These sketches are the beginning of the exploration into my new work, which evoke familiar motifs of journeys, place, and landscape.

Sketch of people

Sketch of the clock tower at Birmingham Museum

Sketch of museum assistants from 1900s

A collection of Sarah's sketches

During my time here, I have looked at a huge range of landscapes and topographical views in the collection. I also spent some time with photographer David Rowan, who showed me the work he had done documenting the view from the roof of the building, and also how the roof and dome at BMAG have gradually been restored. This has pushed me to think more about the importance of viewpoints within a changing city.

I keep coming back to this painting within the collection, titled ‘Birmingham from the Dome of St. Philips Church’, painted by Samuel Lines in 1821 (the church is now a cathedral).

Birmingham from the Dome of St. Philips Church by Samuel Lines, 1821

It was made from the dome, which is inaccessible to the public now. The dome was then the highest point in the town, and still seems very high – it is said to be the same level as the cross on St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is a fascinating perspective on the city and I was captivated by the idea of recreating this view today.

The Dome of St. Philips Cathedral today

This week I met with Catherine Ogle (Dean of Birmingham) and Rob Hands (Head Verger at St Philip’s). Rob and I climbed the precarious tower to the top of the dome, then compared the views. Thanks to a compass and a selection of historical maps, I worked out the angle from which Samuel Lines created his painting. The original painting was made pointing southwest – I overlaid old and new maps to give a rough idea of the angle.

I will be spending the coming weeks exploring the idea of this view, or ‘prospect’, and its historical and cultural significance. The BMAG team will be documenting my new commission and its development. For now, here is a view of the clock from inside the tower and the gravestone of Samuel Lines himself, in the graveyard of the Cathedral.

Inside the clock in the dome of St. Philips Cathedral

Gravestone of Samuel Lines

I’d also like to add a huge thank you to all the staff at BMAG who have been generous with their time and resources to help me develop this residency and commission.

Sarah Taylor Silverwood,
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence

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