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Psalm of Praise

Year Completed : 1965

Size : 2.4m x 8.2m (8ft x 27ft)

Client : North London Collegiate School, Edgeware

Location : On outside wall of NLC School

Current Status : Still there in 2014

Psalm of PraiseThe pieces having been made over many months, they are now assembled together with the stones on the surface of the blocks.  Here a 6th former is arranging ceramic with a group of much younger children also at work in the background.The sixth former has made and glazed an almost life-size figure of a queen.  Here she arranges the head on a 2’ square concrete block.Clearly seen here is the shuttering which is placed around the blocks. A layer of cement render is applied within this into which are placed the stones and ceramic.Here I am seen encouraging a group of small children as they arrange their pieces of ceramic and stone into the cement render. Only the youngest children worked in class.  All the older girls worked on the mural on a voluntary basis in their own time.The 6th former’s queen’s head is arranged with a bird which will have been made by a much younger child.  In this you can clearly see how the figures had to be cut up to fit the blocks. Curved lines can be used within a block but the pieces at the edges have to be cut up with straight lines.A view taken from above shows blocks to the right which have been completed and a block with shuttering in the centre where the girls are working into the wet cement. Stones are still being arranged on other blocks.The angel in this detail was made in class by a group of 3rd formers (Year 6.) Only the youngest children worked in class.  All the older girls worked on the mural on a voluntary basis in their own time.Two 6th formers cooperated on this amazing figure of a king on horse back.  I would have shown them images of formalised early Renaissance painting, but their adaptation of this to the medium was theirs alone.A peacock and a lion modelled by individual girls who would have come to the ‘pottery club.’  It wasn’t always known exactly where the smaller things like these would go: they were worked in around the major figures at the time of the final arrangement.The queen from images 2 & 5 is seen here in full.  Besides her is a standing king with a falcon (work of another talented sixth former) and another, smaller king made by a group of 10 and 11 year olds.  The medium unites the very different approaches and styles.North London Collegiate School is housed in the gracious buildings of Canon’s Park.  This photo shows the whole mural in position against the background of the 18th century house.

The mural was produced by students whilst I was teaching art and pottery at the school. Dame Kitty Anderson, the head mistress, had seen my mural using ceramic and stone at Loftus, 'Evolution of life in the Sea'. She had the idea of commissioning a similar mural for the school, with the girls working under my direction. The following is taken from a piece that I wrote for the SEA (Society for Education through Art) for their September 1966 Bulletin. 'The whole design was to be the children’s responsibility. During the summer of 1964 all 850 members of the school were asked to collect at least 10 stones each during their summer holiday. We had stones in sack-fulls from Cornwall, and individual stones carefully wrapped in tissue paper from Iona and Mount Zion. The pile grew and grew.' 'It was a problem to think of a subject which wasn’t merely decorative. Eventually the idea came of a theme that would give the children a real sense of involvement: a psalm of praise.' “Praise ye the Lord...all his angels, praise Him all His hosts...praise the Lord from the earth ye dragons and all deeps....beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl...kings of the earth and all people...let them praise the name of the Lord...” (Psalm 148). 'This would appeal to both Christian and Jewish children in the school. We had a big sun symbolising God the Divine Power, with everything converging on it - flying, swimming, crawling, and walking. As well as being a spiritual core, this was a great help aesthetically: the sense of movement towards the centre unified the whole.' 'The idea of this focal point was mine but apart from this the whole grew logically and inevitably. If a group of 14 year olds wanted to help, I explained that they could make an angel or a crocodile. They would set to, usually working directly in clay. I might add that many of them had already done some textured tiles because I always introduced the first year (Year 7) to clay with this process. As the mural grew, we had to be more specific and senior students were commissioned to make particular figures: the sun, the king and queen, the knight on horseback. Only the 10-year olds worked in class. All the other age groups worked in dinner breaks and in their own time. I wanted the work to be done only by those who were really interested.' 'Textures and patterns were impressed from the great variety of tools and seals that we had collected and made throughout the years. The re-appearance of a particular imprint on a king’s crown, a hedgehog’s prickle and a cock’s comb gave unity to the variety of styles. The work of 18 year olds and 10 year olds can be uniquely unified in this medium. Glazes were applied by the children experimenting with oxides and various basic glazes, and occasionally with melted glass.' 'The ceramic pieces were all finished by summer 1965. A local builder had made concrete blocks with a scored surface to specific measurements. The girls themselves mixed the sand and cement, arranged the shuttering round each block and sank the ceramic and pebbles into the bed thus prepared. Choosing the stones and pebbles and arranging them to form the background is always exciting and many different groups of children were involved in this stage.' 'More or less free standing, the blocks were tied back to an existing wall with copper rivets.' The mural is still standing over 40 years later. It has not changed one bit since that first day when the children grouped around to see their work on the wall at last. From time to time, I receive emails and contact from people who remember taking part in the making. Several have had children attend the school where they know their mother took part. Makers of crocodile, angel and fish are now grandmothers.

Lat/Long : 51.614106, -0.294998

Blue - mural exists but with restricted access

Mural still exists but can't easily be seen due to resticted access to the site

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Philippa Threlfall
Black Dog
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philippa@blackdogofwells.com