Back on the sculpture trail again

Once a simple community arts event, now internationally-renowned, Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail is a contemplative journey through medieval ecclesiastical and community history. RACHEL BULLER reports.

Down windy single-track country roads is the small, unassuming village of Bergh Apton. Most of the time, it is a sleepy rural community, but every few years it comes alive, buzzing with artistic activity and welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Gardens in the village, between Norwich and Loddon, are turned into makeshift outdoor art galleries and public areas transformed into exhibition spaces and impromptu workshops — all ready for the stars of the show — the beautiful, eye-catching and eclectic sculptures.

The idea of the Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail is built on a simple premise: to use the idyllic setting of people's gardens as a display space for the works of art.

And it isn't just vast country houses opening their gates – it is gardens of every shape, size and type, which helps foster the sense of community generated by the event.

Some 60 artists are taking part in this year's event, which began last weekend and continues this weekend and next, and there will be workshops, story-telling and music over the three weekends, all reflecting this year's con-templative theme – The Journey.

A reflection of the journey taken by medieval pilgrims and builders of churches, this ambitious theme will consider the creation of these incredible buildings and their communities.

Most Read

Suzanne Bryant, one of the organisers, says: 'What is most exciting is that the work has been created by the artist specifically for that garden. One of the most exciting things is you don't really know what they will produce or exhibit until we see it in situ.'

A garden makes for a wonderful gallery space. The idea of an outdoor gallery is also key to the organisers' aim to make art socially inclusive. Those who feel inhibited walking into a gallery on the high street, they hope will feel more at ease exploring the art if it feels like home from home.

The event has risen to such prominence that it is now a major date in art collectors' diaries, both nationally and internationally. However, this year, there is going to be more focus on the regional and home-grown artists rather than emphasising the big names in sculpture.

'We want to try and give new artists an opportunity to show their work alongside established sculptors. This year will feature the BA third-year visual studies students from the Norwich University College of the Arts.'

The sculpture trail was the brainchild of Pat Mlenjnecky and she is still involved today. Having retired from teaching, she wanted to get involved in the community and had always been interested in the arts. But it was a chance viewing of some sculptures on the outskirts of Norwich by a group of women that inspired her to get a group of friends together to start a sculpture exhibition of their own in the village.

After the second sculpture trail, Bergh Apton Community Arts Trust (BACAT) was formed with a very clear ethos – to provide opportunities for residents to work together as a community, foster talent within the village and bring the world of the arts to people who may rarely, if ever, go to exhibitions or museums.

In keeping with that, there are countless events and workshops happening at Bergh Apton and the surrounding villages in the months before the main exhibition weekends, involving local groups, schools and villagers.

As well as sculpture, there will be live music and this weekend there will be a mystery play written by playwright Hugh Lupton and featuring people from the village.

'It will be performed by members of the community and it has been co-created by them. We had a mask-making workshop in which people helped create masks to go with the costumes and the response we got was amazing. There were about 40 people there across a wide age range and a real cross-section of the community.

'There will also be heritage skills workshops each of the days this year, including basket-making, flint-knapping, candle-making, calligraphy and a mobile foundry on site. Some will be just to watch and others will be participa-tory.

'There will also be a children's art project, making a collage, and there are plans to wrap the village hall in ribbons, again working with the schoolchildren.'

The project to adorn the village hall with colourful materials, called Dressing the Hall is the work of textile artist and writer Amanda Addison.

The shimmering wall of colour will be made up of separate ribbons, some of which have been individually decorated by other artists and writers, and some of which were created by 70 children who took part in a medieval workshop at Norwich Castle Museum earlier this year.

As with previous years, there will be a green emphasis to the event and people are encouraged to park on a large car park on the edge of the village and walk around the trail, or to bring their bikes and cycle around the exhibits. It is worth noting that walking the full trail could take all day.

n Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail continues May 28-29 and June 4-5. It is open from 10.30am to 6pm. Tickets are available on the gate, �10 one day/�15 for any two days, under-16 free.