End of The Giant’s Chair

The Giant's Chair (Place) on The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail
The Giant’s Chair (Place) on The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail

The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail in partnership with the Forestry Commission has commissioned artist Onya McCausland to recycle one of its most iconic, but fragile sculptures, Place by Magdalena Jetelova.

McCausland has been to visit Magdalena in Dusseldorf, Germany to discuss the plans for how the artwork will be dismantled and burnt for charcoal. Place was commissioned 29 years ago by the Forestry Commission following an exhibition by the artist at The Arnolfini. It was one of the first sculptures to feature on the newly opened Trail.

Jetelova, has built a number of monumental chair sculptures in her career, influenced by her experience as a young woman in communist Czechoslovakia.

Her work for the Forest of Dean was intended to be a short lived artwork that would then be burnt intact using traditional Forest of Dean charcoal methods. The artist had visited a traditional charcoal burn event at the Dean Heritage Centre and was inspired by what she saw.

When I first visited the Forest of Dean I heard about the tradition of charcoaling there. I was fascinated by this landscape due to the contradiction between the beauty of the imposing view and the scar which was incurred through the logging on this site. This is why I chose this location for my art. I strove to connect the imposing view with the positive energy of the charcoal tradition.” Magdalena Jetelova.

In 1986, at the artist’s request, local charcoal experts began the process of building a wood pile to cover the monumental sculpture so it could be burnt. But eventually it became clear it was too huge and risky an undertaking and the burning event was cancelled. As a result, the sculpture remained on its hilltop position overlooking the Cannop Valley.

In the years that followed, the sculpture entered into the imagination of local people and visitors to become a much-loved icon of the Trail and the Dean. However, it has inevitably suffered wear and tear and is now deemed beyond repair by health and safety experts.

Over the past few years during our inspections of ‘Place ‘ we have noted that it was in decline, so talking it through with the Sculpture Trust we have made the decision to decommission this artwork. This was particularly hard for me as I have found memories from when I had my wedding photos taken there. The process will involve the sculpture being dismantled under the supervision of the Forestry Commission, two of the larger legs will be placed nearby and over the years will provide a wonderful habitat for a whole host of invertebrates and associated wildlife”. Judith Lack, Recreation Manger, Forestry Commission.

The sculpture will be dismantled, two of the largest legs within which bats sometimes reside, will be re-sited in a quieter part of the forest. The remainder of the timber will be sawn into sections and local charcoal burners will pile the wood pieces into a traditional charcoal hearth called a “clamp”.

Charcoal stack at the Dean Heritage Centre
Charcoal stack at the Dean Heritage Centre

Onya McCausland intends to use the charcoal as fuel to burn the red/orange ochre that can be found in areas of the Sculpture Trail. The ochre will then be painted onto the ground as part of a new temporary artwork for the Trail.

Additionally, the remaining charcoal will be used to initiate a series of new drawing works by invited artists for an exhibition at the Hardwick Gallery in Cheltenham at the end of February 2016.

When I met Magdalena I wanted to understand more about her original plans to burn Place. I learned how important this gesture was to her life. Since then, the sculpture has touched many peoples lives so the gesture is a material change that connects to the landscape and with the people that live there. This act of burning is a transformation, not an end “ Onya McCausland.

There are no plans to replace the artwork, but new sculptures are due to appear in other parts of the Forest in late 2016.

Place– or the Giant’s Chair as it is known colloquially – has become the repository of so many memories. The Trust decided it should be turned into charcoal and transformed into other artworks. There is an intriguing symmetry to this because it was the intention of Magdalena Jetelova, the artist who created Place, that this should be done soon after its construction those 29 or so years ago.” Andrew Stonyer, Chair of Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust.


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