The mosaic sculpture was first unveiled in Williamson Park in 1992 as the culmination of an art project involving patients from The Royal Albert Hospital, which was situated close to the park. Over the years, the sculpture became weathered and was in need of repair.
The Friends of Williamson Park began a project to unearth the fascinating history of the sculpture in 2017. With the help of the Lancaster Guardian, some of those involved in the sculpture's creation came forward. Over the next three years, the Friends were able to piece together its history as well as rresearch and carry out its restoration. In addition, a brand new story board was installed next to the sculpture, giving a brief history of how the concept of the sculpture was conceived and brought to life.
Various options for restoring the sculpture were investigated with local artists, sculptors and designers. Taking into account the costs, practicalities and the need to retain as much as possible of the original design and colours, it was decided to clean the sculpture and use specially colour matched paints to paint in the lost tiles. The “Money Tree” was replaced as was the missing squirrel tail. The Friends received excellent support from both local companies and the park staff.
This area off the main drive is now a quiet place to sit and enjoy the colours of the sculpture, and in spring the display of daffodils planted by the Friends of Williamson Park.
Background to the original art project (words by June Baker and other former staff of the Royl Albert)
The Royal Albert Hospital engaged in many creative activities over the years through the Richard Smith Day Unit, Occupational Activity Centres, Education and the Occupational Therapy Department. These were places where people could come together and learn new skills through creative medium.
The hospital arts movement had emerged in the 1980s and staff teams and patients of the hospital decided to pull together a steering group called “CREATE”. CREATE organised a number of art festivals over the years but with the hospital due to close it was decided to do something special. The proposal was to install a piece of artwork into Williamson Park, Lancaster which many of the patients of the hospital visited regularly.
The design brief emphasised that the artwork had to be functional and accessible sculpture for all. Chris Smith Occupational Therapist, Carol Bristow Arts Coordinator and June Baker who led and supported the project, made sure that it was about people’s experiences of living in the Royal Albert Hospital.
The patients involved in the six week project all took part in Learning Skills for Living, Education, Art, Crafts, Music and Social Activities. Staff also supported them to attend Community College courses, theatre trips and holidays.
The Project took place in the old hospital laundry which had been disused for some years, but it provided a great location as it had a glass roof so the light was perfect for colour painting. It was also central to all the wards where the patients lived so convenient and easy to access. The flooring was bare concrete and it meant we could get messy which helped the patients' creativity.
The aim of the project was to create a piece of Art and give something back to the people of Lancaster for all their support of the patients and the hospital over the last 100 years. It was supported by an Arts company from Rawtenstall called Raku Sculptural Arts who facilitated the project on a daily basis.
The artists and patients were helped by staff from the Activity Sections as the staff knew the patients well and were used to providing meaningful activities. The staff took the patients by mini bus on trips to the places that patients said had been important to them throughout their lives at the Royal Albert Hospital. These included Glasson Dock where the river, sea and canal come together and where patients used to go for a walk, an ice cream, and to see the fishing boats coming in and out of the Docks. The patients loved visiting Williamson Park where they used to look at the trees and flowers, the old hot house and feed the ducks. Morecambe Bay was another favourite, for the sand, paddles, the lovely views and eating the cockles, Morecambe Bay Shrimps and Fish and Chips. Happy Mount Park was enjoyed for the gardens and flower beds, the brass band concerts on a Sunday, and also ice cream or tea.
Following the outings the patients did drawings, paintings and talked about what they had seen. One gentleman who was visually impaired described what he had touched, smelled, heard and sometimes tasted that day. From the drawings and colours that the patients chose there was a repeating pattern of how the places visited often mirrored where they lived at the Royal Albert Hospital. The trees, leaves, flowers and squirrels were a big part of daily life at the hospital and were very familiar to them.
From their drawings and paintings the designs started to take shape and definitely came from what their own interpretation was of nature and how they saw the outdoor world. It was also a sculpture that was going to be tactile and be used to sit on and become a part of. The shapes became trees, leaves, a flower, the sea and waves, squirrel and fishing boats.
The shapes were made from chicken wire which some of the patients found physically difficult and they needed constant help at this stage. The chicken wire was then covered in concrete, we had a concrete mixer, and then there were multiple coatings and layers concrete to achieve a smooth finish. This provided the patients with enhanced interest as now they could see something real and tangible from their designs. I remember the brother and sister who designed the flower seat being really excited as he just wanted to sit out of his wheelchair on the top of the flower even before the tiling! I think that to see a flower this big provided excitement and a sense of worth. The shape was what they had seen with their own eyes and it sparked renewed interest and enthusiasm. We then rolled and rolled the clay, which was heavy going, to make the tiles. Some patients who could not do the rolling were given clay to make into shapes and designs. That is how we came to have the small mosaics sited within the waves. The tiles were then glazed with the colours the patients had chosen and fired at the Artists workshop. The tiles were broken up to make the mosaic shapes and then cemented onto the shapes.
The patients could now see their ideas in reality with a tree and metal squirrel and leaves, waves and a boat that could be felt and sat on, and the flower seat. The other "money" tree, made of bronze was stolen soon after installation. It was called the money tree as patients getting ready for leaving the hospital were learning to handle money and one patient on the project used to say repeatedly on a daily basis …….. “money does not grow on trees”.
The whole project was completed in six weeks and was officially opened in the Park in 1992.