THERE ARE just a few days left to catch a show at Barnstaple's White Moose gallery featuring five local artists, who have all used the famous Bideford Black pigment.
Westward Ho! earth artist, Pete Ward; Hartland based printmakers, Merlyn Chesterman and Grizel Luttman-Johnson; and printmaker Judith Westcott and painter Susan Plummer (both from South Molton) have all come together to produce a diverse range of artwork experimenting with Bideford Black.
These range from large painted canvases to smaller drawings and prints, through to installation and photography.
For more than two hundred years until 1969, "Biddi Black" as it was known locally, was mined from seams running from the North Devon cliffs, under Bideford and inland as far as Umberleigh and had many uses; in industry, painting boat bottoms, in brick building, for marking farmers rams and not least, in the preparation of Max Factor mascara.
Following much research by Pete Ward, with assistance from the Burton Art Gallery, there is renewed interest in the mining history of Bideford Black with stories and images still coming to light about this fascinating aspect of local heritage. Gradually more local artists are becoming aware of the unique, intense depth of blackness this pigment gives them and are incorporating it into their artwork.
"Reading the collection of social history anecdotes about the Bideford Black mines, one story called out to me. The experience of the office girl really resonated with my own early working life in various dull jobs, where most of my time I was desperate to escape," said painter Sue Plummer.
"The girl recounts how there was a large black gap between the floorboards underneath her chair and how much it unnerved her – not surprising in view of the mines below. There she is, trapped within a dirty industrial environment."
Sue visited the Bideford Black mines at East-the-Water as part of her research.
"I picked up a few bits of wood and small rubbish items and slunk back through the gates. These included an office bulldog clip, which I later combined with a section of the North Devon Journal to create Office Girl, a heroine immortalised in Bideford Black."
According to Sue, who is exhibiting pieces called Constructions For Lost Thoughts, the use of Bideford Black takes us back 350 million years to pre-ancestral memory as well as to the future, with the potential of Bideford Black still underneath the earth.
"Lost worlds, lost memories, unknown worlds and memories yet to be made. My Constructions For Lost Thoughts do not offer any easy answers but deal with universals that we all relate to."
The show runs until Saturday, October 5. To complement the exhibition, the book Bideford Black is for sale at £10. It is available in the Trinity Street gallery, or can be ordered from the White Moose website www.whitemoose. co.uk.