The Clay Country is an area of mid-Cornwall that is the site of the only large-scale extraction of kaolin, or ‘China Clay’, in the UK. This is due to its remarkable geology: kaolin is derived from granite at a particular stage of decomposition, and Cornwall is the only place in the UK where this is found in abundance. The working area of Clay Country, which has been radically shaped by the clay industry over the last 250 years, covers around 25 square miles of land, mostly former moorland, but also including villages and other settlements, and coastal ports.
The culture of the area is deeply connected with the landscape, and has been shaped along with it. For example, local stories tell of pellars (‘wise women’) whose remedies use products from the land, piskies that might lead you astray on the moors, and spirits that inhabit the earth. Zenna Tagney’s haunting and stirring ceramics and sculptures explore the folklore and culture of the Cornish Clay Country. Here, illustrated by her own work, Tagney will tease out some of the interwoven threads of place and story, landscape and culture, in this important but often overlooked area of Cornwall.
Bio: Zenna Tagney is a Cornish artist and community project facilitator. Zenna creates ceramic and mixed-media sculpture, incorporating materials gathered directly from the Cornish landscape. Her work draws inspiration from her upbringing in the world of traditional Cornish music and culture, and draws on themes and characters from local stories, folklore, and traditions. She is particularly interested in how these tales and traditions are embedded in the landscape. She has been exploring this relationship in the context of her home area, the ‘Clay Country’ and investigating how shifting landscape and industry has affected the folklore of this area.