Camborne Celebrates Trevithick Day
28th October 2020
Article produced by Simona Dlugošová, University of Gloucestershire archive volunteer.
This blog post is written as a response to my experience working with a selection of records produced by the Local Heritage Initiative (LHI). In the following text, I will be talking about the records I explored, what caught my attention, what was the creative outcome of this project, and I will also be adding some reflective thoughts.
To briefly introduce myself, I am an artist and an aspiring archivist who currently volunteers remotely for the University of Gloucestershire Special Collections and Archives. My interest in archives is actually very useful in balancing out the chaotic aspect of myself (the artist) as archives work brings about a sense of structure and order to my practice. This is also why I truly enjoyed working on this project.
Initially, I was presented with two files from the LHI collection. Although, this blog and the artwork produced only focuses on the first of the two files. The reason why this is the case is that generally, once I begin creatively engaging with a certain subject, it is difficult for me to stop and shift my attention towards another one. Despite the fact that this might not be the best way of working, I think that my complete preoccupation with the first set of records I was asked to respond to indicates how stimulating archival material can be. Anyway, to introduce the file in question, its contents are regarding Camborne’s celebrations of Trevithick Day which took place on Saturday, 28th April 2001.
WHAT IS TREVITHICK DAY?
After conducting some research, I have learnt that Richard Trevithick was an engineer and inventor born in Cornwall, in 1771 and is considered a pioneer of high-pressure steam power. Trevithick Day is an annual Camborne town community event, originating in 1984, which commemorates this local figure and his inventions, and this comes hand in hand with celebrations of Camborne’s rich industrial heritage.
Trevithick Day 2001 marked 200 years of Trevithick’s famous experiment (Dec. 1801) during which he drove up Camborne Hill in a road carriage powered by his high-pressure steam engine. This carriage which is also referred to as the Puffing Devil is also considered by many as the first motor car and its replica was built for Trevithick Day 2001 so the journey up Camborne Hill could be repeated. This re-enactment turned into a parade of road carriage replicas including Trevithick’s 1803 London Carriage, various other steam engines as well as an array of vintage cars.
Besides this, Trevithick Day 2001 featured Bal Maidens & Miners Dance performed by local schoolchildren accompanied by Camborne Town Band and miniature steam engines, also Trevithick’s Dance performed by adults dressed in traditional Cornish colours again accompanied by Camborne Town Band, a variety of street entertainment including a funfair, there were stalls, sound stages, indoor and outdoor displays including an exhibition featuring models of steam engines, and furthermore a first brass performance of a piece composed by Goff Richards to mark the bicentenary called ‘MYTHIC TREVITHICK!’ was also conducted on the day.
The file for the most part consists of digital photographs that capture people engaging in all the above mentioned, activities that took place during the day on the 28th April 2001. In addition to the photographs, a leaflet from the day is also included, the heading reads ‘Camborne Celebrates Trevithick Day’. This leaflet features a short article written by Anthony Burton who also wrote Trevithick’s biography. The article gives a good contextual background into Trevithick’s life and work and asks an interesting question which I will come back to shortly as I attempt to convey my initial response to the content. The leaflet also includes text providing information on Devon and Cornwall Special Constabulary, which also expresses gratitude to the Special Constables for watching over the celebrations. The last page of the leaflet includes photographs of 2 steam engine replicas that also featured in the Steam Parade: Trevithick’s Camborne Road Carriage (1801) and his second London Road Carriage (1803).
I believe that in the original LHI file, there would also be a video documentation included (CD) yet exploring the file remotely I do not have access to such a record. Nonetheless, during my research I have stumbled upon a YouTube documentation which features a video documenting Trevithick Day 2001, watching this helped me get a better feel of what the day was all about.
WHAT WAS MY RESPONSE?
Regarding my immediate ideas regarding the Trevithick Day file, I was surprised that it wasn’t the beautiful photographs capturing what seemed like a real community festival atmosphere that stimulated my imagination the most. Truth be told, I was initially thinking of pointing my focus towards that community and celebratory aspect of the content but then I read the text by Anthony Burton. The title read ‘TREVITHICK: SUCCESS OR FAILURE?’. “A good question.” I thought as I realised that neither answer could be right or wrong, only subjective.
I want to draw a parallel here as this reminded me that people often ask open-ended questions though art as well. This, of course, leads to discussions where exploration of new perspectives is encouraged, and that is something today’s polarised society could benefit from in my opinion. So, inspired by this and Burton’s approach, I decided to produce a series of works that gently point towards questions that I asked myself while entertaining the subject of Trevithick’s life, the world he lived in, and I think, most importantly, the broader context of Industrial Revolution. Afterall, Trevithick Day celebrates an important figure of this key period, so I thought that it would be fitting to look back and assess its effects on the world of today.
WHAT IS THE RESULT?
Initially, I produced 4 main stop-motion animations, in black and white, utilising simple techniques, and aiming to use accessible visual language.
In each video there is an attempt to create a parallel between the present and the past. Mainly, I refer to technology. For example, I use the buffer icon + motion to reference present technology and a simple mechanical wheel illustration (which also featured on the leaflet made for Trevithick Day 2001) to represent the technology of the past.
I also use the image of a bowler hat with a candle attached to it (referencing old miners’ hats which also featured in the Bal Maidens & Miners Dance on Trevithick Day 2001) in juxtaposition to the buffer icon, again creating a similar parallel.
To emphasise the difference between ‘two worlds’, the digital and the analogue, the present and the past, I also produced additional videos featuring my 4 main animations. These show my animations playing on a digital device which is placed in space in combination with paper cut-outs, creating a sort of a visual assemblage. To date, I have produced 6 such videos, some featuring the same animation but using different compositions. I consider these 6 videos to be my more developed works in the context of this project.
The videos can be viewed here:
IS THE RESULT SUCCESSFUL?
As I don’t necessarily see the videos as finished works but more as video sketches or experiments, I can’t proclaim them as successful. In this sense, they somewhat mimic Trevithick’s own way of working. Bruton writes that Trevithick might have had too many ideas which he never fully developed but abandoned and let others use them as foundations for their inventions. I don’t plan to abandon my works, but I do hope that my animations inspire ideas in others.
Upon reflection, I think that it would be worth further developing my ideas inspired by the Camborne Celebrates Trevithick Day records. To improve the work, I still need to implement a better strategy regarding my intent to ask key questions through the works (do I want to ask a specific question perhaps?). At the moment, they rather vaguely reference a ‘thinking process’, which is in part my intention, but this only in combination with illustrating parallels might not be enough to achieve my aims. I think more experimentation is needed here. In addition, I should work on my technical proficiency in digital editing.
Overall, however, I have greatly enjoyed working on this project. It enabled me to learn more about archives, giving me an insight into the cataloguing process especially. Through the research process, I was given the opportunity acquire new knowledge. Furthermore, creatively engaging with archival records showed me how inspiring this process can be as I am leaving this short-term project behind with multiple new ideas that will contribute to the development of my creative practice.