Designed to appear as if seeping from the ground and flowing down a woodland slope, ‘Natural Course’ has emerged as the new, monumental sculptural centrepiece of Chatsworth’s biggest garden transformation for nearly 200 years.
Created from more than 100 tonnes of local stone, Natural Course is made up of tens of thousands of individual, hand placed pieces using a traditional dry-stone walling method. The artist, Matlock-based Laura Ellen Bacon, designed the sculpture and worked with a small team of local dry stone wallers to build it in a previously undeveloped, 15-acre area called Arcadia. Chatsworth’s Arcadia.
Pushing the boundaries of dry stone walling technique, Natural Course was assembled by coordination of hand and eye to give the great mass of stone a sense of slow, gradual movement over the land, suggesting an innate life force to the hard and seemingly motionless stone.
Very different from a typical boundary wall, the technical challenge came from both the sheer volume of material used and particularly its 40 metres of contours and curves. At more than 10m in length and 2m in height with a base width varying from 50cm to 3m, visitors will be able to enter up to 5m into Natural Course, giving a feeling of being swallowed by stone.
Situated in woodland between two glades in the Arcadia area, new paths surround the sculpture and have been laid by the garden team using quarry spoil. The area is punctuated by several newly planted Davidia or ‘Ghost Tree’, which are under planted with thousands of flowering perennials including Epimedium, Hellebore and Iris to complement the already mellowing stone, allowing the sculpture to sit at ease with the landscape, as intended.
Usually working in wood, often willow, Laura Ellen Bacon is best known for creating large-scale organic forms but this was her first major commission in stone. Natural Course will join more than 20 sculptural works in the Chatsworth garden by post war masters including Antony Gormley, Angela Conner, Elisabeth Frink, Allen Jones, Michael Craig-Martin and Barry Flanagan.
The Duke of Devonshire: “We were keen on a new sculpture for the garden that strongly evoked both Chatsworth itself and the Derbyshire landscape from which it was born so I visited Laura at her studio in Cromford and we talked about how this might be achieved. We gave her the freedom to explore the garden and develop her vision for the location, the materials used, and the sculptural form. The use of local stone and the dry stone walling method roots Natural Course in its environment and surroundings and its innovative construction is in keeping with the radical approach taken by so many of the other artists whose works can be seen in the garden today.”
The Peak District home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth has begun work on the biggest transformation of its garden since Joseph Paxton’s work finished nearly 200 years ago. Having completed the £32m Masterplan project to conserve the house a few years ago, the Duke and Duchess have since been planning to have a similar revitalising effect on the garden.
The Arcadia area is part of a huge garden transformation project that also includes Tom Stuart-Smith’s remodelled Rock Garden, the Maze borders, the Ravine, and Dan Pearson’s redevelopment of the Trout Stream and the Jack Pond. It includes the clearance of previously inaccessible areas, large-scale structure installations, new sculpture commissions, the movement and addition of hundreds of tonnes of rock, hundreds of thousands of new plants and hundreds of new trees, as well as new pathways taking visitors into previously underexplored areas of the garden.
The 105-acre garden is the product of nearly 500 years of careful cultivation. Although some points of interest have been replaced to make way for new fashions, the garden retains many early features, including the Canal Pond, Cascade and Duke’s Greenhouse. The famous waterworks include the 300-year-old Cascade, the Willow Tree Fountain and the impressive, gravity-fed Emperor Fountain, which reaches heights up to 90m.