Project 5 GOW at GNM
May 14th- June 18th 2011

Christopher McHugh

The Heart of Jack Crawford

This medal commemorates the life of Jack Crawford (1775-1831), Sunderland-born hero of the Battle of Camperdown (1797), who repeatedly risked his life to nail Admiral Duncan’s colours to the mast of the flagship Venerable after the Dutch shot them away no less than 6 times. Sunderland pottery is famous for its pink lustre glazes and transfer-printed imagery, often depicting maritime scenes, with Jack Crawford’s exploits a common topic.  During research at the Sunderland Museum, I discovered that it had, at one point, accessioned into its collection, ‘the heart of Jack Crawford’. This artefact has now gone from the collection and it is impossible to tell whether or not it really was his heart. However, the story captured my imagination and inspired me to make a modern day bravery medal. It is hoped that this tribute to an almost forgotten folk hero will have contemporary resonance, particularly in these uncertain times when many people from the North East are serving their country in conflicts abroad.

Living Fossils: Art as archaeology, archaeology as art.

My work explores the convergence of art and archaeology and often results in the creation of ‘living fossils’, or ‘fossils of life’, in which experiences, journeys and memories are preserved and monumentalised, in material form. This cabinet installation explores, through porcelain, the idea of inventing a fictive material culture of relics from an imagined or lost civilisation. Incorporating imagery and text yielded through my research on Sunderland pottery, further inspiration has come from my own childhood collection of toys, Eskimo ivory carving, scrimshaw and other folk art.

Much cultural information, once recorded in material form, is now often stored or expressed electronically, leading to the “dematerialisation of the material world” (Renfrew 2003, p.181) and the possibility that many of the symbolic elements of our culture might become lost in the future. The aim of my doctoral project is to explore how the enduring nature of ceramic can be applied to this issue in order to form a means of enduring “external symbolic storage” (ibid, p.188). If, as Gell (1998, p. 222 cited in Layton 2005, pp. 29-46) argued, our consciousness is materialised in the objects we leave behind, a museum collection can be seen as a library of our ancestors’ thoughts, hopes and preoccupations. By responding to a collection, an artist can simultaneously reference the past and create new material traces. Not only does this augment the collection, but, by having the power to “fascinate, compel, and […] delight the spectator” (Gell 1998, p. 23), these artefacts also have the potential to act as a store of the creator’s agency into the future. 

Gell, A. 1998, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Clarendon Press.
Layton, R. 2005, Structure and Agency in Art in B. Derlon Lavollée, M. Coquet and M. Jeudy-Ballini (eds.) 2005,
Les cultures à l’œuvre: rencontres en art. Paris: Adam Biro, pp. 29-46.
Renfrew, C. 2003, Figuring it Out: Figuring it Out: What are We? Where Do We Come From? The Parallel Visions of Artists and Archaeologists, Thames and Hudson.

Community in Clay

Christopher McHugh studied archaeology at Durham and Cambridge, and was a Monbusho Scholar at Kyoto University, Japan. He is currently the recipient of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award and is based jointly in the Department of Glass and Ceramics, University of Sunderland and the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. The Community in Clay project, developed initially by the two institutions, aims to explore how an artist might use the museum’s world-class collection of 19th Century Sunderland pottery to engage and celebrate the local community for mutual benefit. This practice-based study will lead to the development of artwork, namely a “Sunderland pottery for the 21st Century”, as well as the establishment of a transferable model of best practice for artist-led museum collaboration.

Porcelain Medal

Porcelain Feild glasses

Porcelain Flasks