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15/16 Nov 2021: STEAM at the Dam - Recreating Fossils with Ysgol Cedewain

Just beyond the November frost forming over the reservoir, as the Monday mist muffles the mountain-tops, day breaks over Llyn Clywedog. The Creative Hub stirs, the beginnings of bustling as the busy day ahead is prepared for. Tools? Check. Materials? Check. Supervising staff, and, of course, the leading sculptor himself? Check.

A coach winds its way through the Welsh hills and valleys, nests neatly outside the Clywedog Creative Hub, and the class of Ysgol Cedewain disembark. The classmates chatter, as do their teeth, and they line up and listen nicely. There’s lots to get done today, and only so much daylight to do it in. The autumn brings with it a spectacular setting, all muted oranges and deep greens against an infinite sky of white. A perfect couple of days of art await.

Within the hub, the sculptor lays out a selection of small but significant scraps of a time long lost. In the outdoors, you’d be forgiven for passing their stony semblance without a second’s thought - but out of all the preparations for today, these little lumps of life have been ready for the longest. Today is their time to shine. Today is all about fossils.

The kids file into the hub, and the sculptor greets them all. Glenn Morris, sculptor and teacher, patiently waits for the class to settle. Glenn has worked with sculpture since he was at school himself. He knows waiting well. Nowhere near as well, however, as the materials he has to hand.

Glenn begins by introducing Ysgol Cedewain to the world of fossils, which, as luck would have it, happens to be the very world that we’re a part of every day. He tells of prehistoric life, the fossilisation processes, and the imprints of the creatures that we can examine today. He talks passionately of art, nature and well-being, and that, if you’re focused in just the right way at just the right time, you can quite easily see that all three are one and the same.

Take the fossils. Between the trilobites and the prehistoric leaf imprints, there is a lesson in how far life has come. For a living creature to leave its mark on the world, and one day be unearthed so close to our homes millions of years later is an extremely special relationship between people, the creatures, and the planet we call home.

With this grand overview in mind, we can work alongside nature and imitate its own designs. Firstly, the class of Ysgol Cedewain begins by sketching out some shapes and ideas that are inspired by the almost alien appearance of the various trilobites and fossil imprints.

After a whole range of ideas are pencilled out, Glenn demonstrates some simple clay-sculpting techniques, and the class sets off on their own sculpting journeys. Some of the class are taken by the infinite, golden spiral of the ammonite fossil, while some prefer to imagine the form of the creature that might inhabit such a shell. Some build their own trilobites piece by piece, and others recreate the leaf and foot imprints of old, using freshly picked plants of today.

A buzz of inspiration holds the class, as if they’ve been transported to a new space entirely. A medley of conversation, concentration, careful movement, and sweeping expressions. It really is a showcase of simple projects and new skills, which in turn creates this inclusive, focused space, safe for all to express inner feelings and observations in a brand new way - led by the stories and artworks that our ancient fellow Earth’s creatures left behind. Who knows? In another million years, perhaps future generations will take inspiration from the clay-sculptures left behind by Ysgol Cedewain.

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