Sunderland residents add DNA to new sculpture marking city's heritage

One of Sunderland's oldest creative industries is helping weave the DNA of residents into the fabric of a famous city landmark.

Sunday, 17th June 2018, 3:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 2:34 pm
From left to right, Audrey Hall, Alyson Tate, Maria Burns, Helen Curry, Lesley Webster and Kath Robinson with their glass drops forming part of the new sculpture.

Sunderland-based artist Zoe Garner is creating a large sculpture for permanent installation in 14th Century Hylton Castle

It will include glass rods into which people are being invited to add their DNA to with strands of hair or even the ashes of a departed loved one.

Working on the glass drops.

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Some of the pieces are being created during the flame glass workshops which Zoe is holding at the National Glass Centre until this Saturday.

The work is also inspired by the city's former Pyrex glass factory and city light bulb pioneer Joseph Swan. .

Zoe, who graduated with an MA in glass from the University of Sunderland in 2004, said: “I visited Hylton Castle and I was interested how the rain and weather had eroded the walls, and how that represented the passing of time.

"I came up with the idea of creating a rain wall lighting sculpture using borosilicate glass (Pyrex) and the technique of flame working.

“The Pyrex factory was once located in Sunderland and I'm interested in keeping this dying art alive.

"I also decided on a lighting sculpture to pay homage to Joseph Swan who went to Hylton School. It was very important to me that locals left their mark on the castle.”

Joining Zoe on Sunday was Alyson Tate and her family, who all grew up in nearby Castletown.

To mark their close association with the castle. the family included traces of their own individual DNA along with some of the ashes their late father, Alan Hall, into fire-blown glass droplets for the sculpture.

Alyson said: “Our dad left us with some great stories about his time in and around Hylton Castle and Dene, and adding our DNA to a sculpture that will be displayed there, will help recognise our and other local family’s parts in its history and it’s a great way to remember him.

“It was emotional but gave us the chance come together and do something long lasting and special in his memory.”

Member of voluntary group Castle and the Community and local ward councillor, Councillor Doris MacKnight, added: “I really appreciate Alyson her family getting involved and hope the sculpture will help remind everyone who sees it of the part local people like Mr Hall have played in keeping the castle alive for future generations to enjoy.

“Glass making is also part of our cultural and industrial heritage going back hundreds of years, so it’s appropriate that this will be recognised in the sculpture which will be the centrepiece of the castle.

There will be further opportunities later this year to get involved in this project and for people to share traces of their DNA to form part of the sculpture.

The Hylton Castle Project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sunderland City Council. For more information visit