Keith A Pettit on creating artwork for the the 1066 Country Walk
- Credit: Jim Holden
Lewes artist Keith A Pettit’s latest landmark project draws on the history and landscape of East Sussex
“If I was to sit down over a pint and create the perfect scenario for me as an artist this wouldn’t be far away from what my imagination could come up with.”
To say Lewes artist Keith A Pettit is pleased with his latest job would be an understatement. He has been commissioned by Rother District Council to create ten sculptures which will line the 1066 Country Walk from Pevensey to Rye. The project was signed off on 12 March, just as the coronavirus lockdown began to take effect. The redevelopment of the 31-mile path, which was first established in the 1990s, has been funded by almost £165,000 of funding by the EU’s European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, with the money also covering better signs, new seating, information boards and guide maps.
Keith is currently working on the first five sculptures for the trail at his studios in East Hoathly. The sculptures combine the 49-year-old’s love of working with wood with his interest in history and the natural world. “I grew up in Hailsham and my mum would take us to the beach across the Pevensey marshes to Normans Bay,” he remembers. “I would read in my Ladybird book about William the Conqueror landing his ships there and his march to Battle.” For his designs he has drawn inspiration from the Bayeaux Tapestry, as well as the folklore of the location for each sculpture, to create a site-specific work. “It’s not a storybook telling of 1066,” he says, pointing out that one end of the trail, Rye, doesn’t play a part in the story. “Each sculpture has a different approach to the different environments.”
The Pevensey Castle sculpture will reference William’s landfall in England, while one at Herstmonceux will draw on the supposed omen cast by Halley’s Comet – drawing on Herstmonceux’s history as former home of the Royal Observatory. Other sculptures will refer to where William camped near Ashburnham Place, while a sentinel will be watching the sea at Winchelsea to mark the moment where Harold was forced to go north to fight Harald Hardrada despite knowing William was approaching.
Keith is particularly excited about two pieces which will be placed close to Battle. One is a circular wall of oak leaning towards the viewer, representing Edward the Confessor’s crown, which will have scenes from the Bayeaux Tapestry visible by peering into the interior, while another woodland sculpture will be of a large standing figure, split down the middle by an arrow and topped by a gilded metal crown to represent William and Harold’s battle for the throne.
He is currently working on a wooden ‘henge’ which will be placed near Hare Farm near Westfield. “I am creating the panels which will fit together to create a box around a hewn block or altar,” he says. “We will be planting hawthorn around it. It’s something which will look beautiful in the landscape, high up on a hill, near a spring, where in pre-history humans would build groves. It’s an idea I’ve had for years.” He is planning to preview the finished henge in September at Hamsey Church as part of the rescheduled Lewes Artwave.
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Keith uses chainsaws and cutters to create his sculptures. He admits recently he has been changing his approach to carving. “Instead of imposing designs onto the wood I’m trying to find interesting shaped pieces and trying to find the sculpture that exists inside the piece of wood,” he says. “I find it a satisfying way of working, and very exciting – it feels so much more organic.”
Find out more about Keith’s work at keithapettit.com
For more on Lewes Artwave visit artwavefestival.org