Art in Chepstow and the Wye Valley
Chepstow and the Wye Valley are well known for both their history and the beautiful countryside but they also have a strong link with the creation of art both in the past and the present. A modern-day visitor to the area will probably be aware of Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey and Caerwent Roman Town. These were also the attractions that brought many artists to the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Professional artists including J.M.W Turner, Paul Sandby, and Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker spent weeks during the summer sketching and painting but it was William Gilpin’s ‘Observations on the River Wye…’ published in 1783 that created a form of artistic endeavour that was focused on the amateur artist. It was this book that also introduced the concept of tourism to the area. Chepstow Museum has an excellent collection of paintings from the time but the area also boasts many modern sculptures.
The Gwent Living Levels area has been instrumental in introducing a number of sculptures that pay tribute to the men and women who have worked in and contributed to the landscape. At Black Rock picnic site, the figure of The Engineer celebrates all those involved in the construction of the Severn Railway tunnel, the two Severn Bridges and the sea wall that protects the Levels. Inspired by the 19th century engineer Thomas Walker, who supervised the building of the tunnel, it was designed by local sculptor Rubin Eynon from Corten steel.
Close by is another sculpture in the shape of The Fisherman representing a lave net fisherman working in the shallows of the Severn estuary fishing for salmon. The giant oak figure, weighing an impressive 1.8 tons was carved by a local chainsaw carver Chris Wood.
In the centre of Magor Marsh is another figure, this time of The Brinker who traditionally would be responsible for clearing the drainage waterways using a scythe. This sculpture is built on a steel framework with steamed brown and white willow woven through to create the figure of a women resting on her scythe. It was designed and built by Sarah Hatton and Melanie Bastier.
Finally, we return to the Chepstow riverbank where a new sculpture was recently unveiled to mark the 10th anniversary of the Wales Coastal Path. The controversial installation is intended to represent a pebble and was designed by artist Michael Johnson using Corten and stainless steel. It was quickly renamed the ‘Baked Potato’ because of its resemblance to a foil wrapped spud. It has become something of a local celebrity attracting comments from all over the country, both positive as well as negative. Isn’t that the case with all modern art?