A sculptural sanctuary emerges from the Cambridgeshire wetland
A new thatched artwork by Studio Morison offers moments for reflection at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve
A thatched pavilion tinted gold by the sun sits on a wetland in Cambridgeshire, a refuge on a blustery late-winter day. Inside, visitors nestle into niches in the hand-milled wood structure. They lean against the supple straw walls, looking up at the blue sky through a perfect oculus in the conical ceiling, like worshipers at a tiny countryside Pantheon.
The experience is calm, meditative and spontaneous with the whiff of the spiritual, happening, as it were, on the last day of the leap year. Yet Mother…, designed by the Herefordshire-based practice Studio Morison, is the culmination of years of machinations. It all began in 2017, when Arts Council England asked the public to nominate little-known rural locations across the east: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Partner galleries, including nearby Wysing Arts Centre, then commissioned ten artworks inspired by those settings. The results form a series called New Geographies, a creative redrawing of the East England map. Heather and Ivan Morison set theirs in Wicken Fen, the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve.
Inspiration for the Morisons included the recovery memoir Nature Cure by Richard Mabey, an author and naturalist who reconnected with the East Anglian landscape to assuage his own depression. Mother… is their take on a therapeutic refuge in the image of a Fen hayrick, or haystack, a common sight on this landscape going back centuries. Working with a master thatcher who began his career here in Wicken Fen, they followed a simple, traditional cylindrical shape using local materials. The uncomplicated experience benefits from natural scents and sunlight, which streams in through narrow doorways throughout the day. ‘The sculpture offers an opportunity to still the mind for a while by focusing on the simple material qualities of the work, and the changing nature of the landscape that surrounds it,’ says Ivan.
The title is up for interpretation. It emphasises protection and nurturing but leaves the rest open. Mother… Land? Mother… Earth? ‘These are important and powerful ideas by which we define our identities,’ says Ivan. §