Artwork from over 200 school pupils from across the region has gone on display in Durham Cathedral’s Cloisters.

Working with artist Becky Mackenzie, the ‘Save our Species’ school outreach project is a display of thought-provoking illustrations of extinct or critically endangered species carefully painted onto ceramics.

To coincide with Luke Jerram’s earth artwork, Gaia, currently being exhibited at Durham Cathedral, the cathedral team commissioned artist Becky Mackenzie earlier this year to work with pupils aged 7 to 15, from across the North East, to create illustrations of extinct or critically endangered species.

Pupils from Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, St John’s Academy in Darlington, Elemore Hall School, Durham and Hollis Academy in Middlesbrough, were asked to think about the biodiversity crisis and create monochrome illustrations of species that have become extinct in the last 100 years, or that are on the critically endangered list.

The 336 drawings created by pupils were then printed onto ceramic plates crafted by Becky, to create an installation covering the hoardings of all four corners of the cathedral Cloisters – each with a different species including insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and water creatures.

Artist Becky Mackenzie, said,

“I have been really impressed by the response and enthusiasm from the schools. Although the students were provided with a brief of species to get them started, they took initiative to research other plants and animals to highlight, resulting in a really extensive and varied body of work. The quality and diversity of the illustrations are incredible.

The illustrations created by pupils were turned into ceramic transfers by Becky, which is a process that dates back to the mid-18th Century. The transfers have were then applied by Becky to hand-cut ceramic tiles that echo the shape of Durham Cathedral’s iconic ribbed ceiling vaults.

The final display aims to encourage visitors to reflect on the biodiversity crisis facing our planet. Gaia, currently on display in Durham Cathedral, was created by Luke Jerram to give visitors a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

Andrew Usher, Chief Officer for Visitor Experience and Enterprise at Durham Cathedral says,

“With Gaia in the cathedral, we wanted to expand on Luke Jerram’s intention for visitors and explore ways to tangibly show the direct impact of the current climate crisis on our nature and wildlife. We’re delighted with the final display – the pupils work is fantastic and Becky has translated the fragility of earth’s environment beautifully through her ceramics. The Cloisters is a fitting place for this exhibition as the hoardings the artwork is displayed on is only there due to the ongoing effects of climate change.”

Since 2016, each corner of the mediaeval Cloisters has been supported by scaffolding and hoarding which is needed due to increased rainfall levels. The historic guttering can no longer cope with the volume of water, resulting in water damage and structural concerns. This area of the cathedral is also part of an important regional habitat for Common Pipistrelle bats, which are seen swarming the Cloisters in late summer every year.

On the last weekend of Gaia at Durham Cathedral, 8 – 10 September, visitors will be invited to take one of the unique ceramic designs home. The removal of the tiles will represent the potential risk to these species as they disappear permanently from the cathedral Cloisters and potentially the earth.

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