Foundle (2019)

Sussex dialect words carved onto
an erratic stone found at Firle Beacon

a work by JO SWEETING with
TANYA SHADRICK & LOUISA THOMSEN BRITS

Chalk boulder (irregular natural form: H 47cm; D 66cm; W 59cm)
Supported by the Chalk Cliff Trust and Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

FOUNDLE celebrates chance and connection in the language and materials of the Sussex Downs where the work was made.

Jo Sweeting is a letter-carving sculptor using a mallet and chisel in the traditional v-incised form as used by Eric Gill and handed down to her via Skelton Workshops at Ditchling where she trained. She had always – until 2019 – worked in the studio, making art in print and stone. Most of her work sells into private collections, and she had begun to want her work to be encountered freely in the landscape.

In August 2019, she was walking on the Sussex Downs with two writers, Tanya Shadrick and Louisa Thomsen Brits, discussing her hope that they would join her as word-gatherers and story-tellers for a multi-site project called Re-wilding the Word Hoard – a collaborative project with Common Ground, in which Sweeting will carve regional words for place onto erratic boulders at a series of locations around the UK. The first site with permissions was the National Trust beach at Bucks Mills in North Devon, and work – supported by the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford – was due to begin in March 2020. (The idea for this project began in 2018 after reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks: a collection of dialect words gathered from communities all over Great Britain).

As Sweeting said aloud her intentions, the three women reached the top of Firle Beacon…and came upon a sheep-sized chalk erratic boulder. A week of detective work talking to people in the village led them to the Rev Peter Owen Jones, who explained how he and a friend had placed the stone there as part of a discontinued project of their own. Sweeting was given their blessing to carve on it.

The words Sweeting, Shadrick and Thomsen Brits chose are ones for place as recorded in A Dictionary of The Sussex Dialect (Snake River Press: 2008):

FOUNDLE. HEART-GROUND. BONE-KEN. LOOKERING. LARK-LIGHT

Sweeting carved the words in situ, with Shadrick and Thomsen Brits documenting the process, and responses of passersby in photos, sounds and writing. 

The Foundle project is part of an ongoing undertaking called Re-wilding the Wordhoard, which will next see the three artists working in residence during March and April 2020 on the beach and in the Grade II-listed National Trust Artists’ Cabin at Bucks Mills, North Devon.

Further Resources

Foundle on Little Toller’s The Clearing: Three Views of a Chalkstone by Tanya Shadrick, Jo Sweeting and Louisa Thomsen Brits.

Foundle on Instagram: Those who encounter it are invited to share their responses @foundle.project

Foundle on Growing Wild FM: Sweeting, Shadrick and Thomsen Brits were recorded on Firle Beacon discussing the work by broadcaster Charlotte Petts for Growing Wild FM.