Art project brings the Patagonian dream full circle back to Caernarfon


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Care home residents are working with a top textile artist and local schoolchildren on a pioneering project to celebrate Caernafon’s links with Patagonia.

The town was where the dream of establishing a Welsh colony in South America started when the idea was first discussed at Engedi Chapel in New Street in 1856.

Bethesda-born Cefyn Burgess, who is based at Ruthin Craft Centre, worked on a project called Perthyn with  pupils of Ysgol yr Hendre, in Trelew, in Patagonia, to produce tapestries depicting life on the River Camwy in fabric and stitch.

The tapestries have been exhibited at Galeri, Caernarfon and now Cefyn is extending project to include pupils of Ysgol yr Hendre, Caernarfon, which is twinned with the Patagonian school, and residents of Bryn Seiont Newydd, with the aim of illustrating life on the River Seiont.

According to Cefyn, who has designed fabrics for Paul Smith, Liberty, Medici and Gallery 5, the aim is for children and residents to work together to collect stories and images of life in North Wales.

The stories and images will then be used to create a series of tapestries in stitch like the ones produced in Patagonia that will then be hung at Bryn Seiont Newydd, part of the Pendine Park care organisation.

From time to time, Cefyn will also be working out of Pendine Park’s office at Galeri where there will be a mini-exhibition of his work.

The project has been arranged by the Arts and Business Cymru organisation and is being jointly funded by Pendine Park.

The migration of the Welsh settlers to South America was masterminded by non-conformist minister Michael D Jones, from Llanuwchllyn, near Bala.

He also considered Vancouver Island in Canada but eventually settled on Patagonia before around 150 people set off from Liverpool on May 28, 1865.

There are now as many as 5,000 people in the Chubut area who still speak Welsh, and in recent years there has been a significant revival of interest in all things Welsh, particularly since the 150th anniversary last year.

Cefyn said: “Perthyn in Welsh means ‘to be related’. I visited Patagonia and worked with children of Ysgol Yr Hendre, Trelew to produce the tapestries I’ve exhibited at Galeri.

“The project will now see pupils of Ysgol Yr Hendre, here in Caernarfon, working alongside Bryn Seiont Newydd residents. Collecting memories, stories and images to create a series of tapestries in stitch that will be hung at the care home.

“A really important and iconic image of life in Patagonia is the Welsh tea room, the Casa de Te. The students of Ysgol yr Hendre, working as reporters, will help gather the thoughts, memories and tales of places and events in North Wales in the same way I did in Patagonia.

“They will then explore those experiences with residents to produce tea cosies that will go on show at the care home and also be used at tea time so memories and stories can be shared over tea and bara brith.”

He added: “The pupils will also research and gather images of the area, both old and new, to help capture the shared moments and information with the residents.

“They will draw the line, shapes, colours and texture to create tale tapestries using felt, cotton, flannel and stitch using embellishers and sewing machines as well as hand stitching.”

Cefyn says its important children understand that older people have lots of stories and experiences that deserved to be captured and recorded.

He said: “It helps children understand the depth of a person and the experiences they have had. I hope the images and tapestries we create will start conversations.

“And pupils working alongside residents is a fantastic way of getting personal interaction between generations.

“I will be led by the excellent Pendine Park team so we move at the right pace and in a relaxed way so residents get the most out of the project. I want them to really take ownership of the ideas and really enjoy what we do.”

He added: “I’m excited to see what the tea cosies residents will help make will look like. It’s about residents capturing a memory or image and using that to produce a work of art.

“And it will be fascinating to see how the children and residents work together. It may be they talk about the same building, for example, but the image they both see will be different.”

Bryn Seiont Newydd resident artist and enrichment co-ordinator, Nia Lloyd-Roberts, believes the Perthyn project is a wonderful idea.

She said: “It’s a nice idea linking Wales and Patagonia as well as a project that offers an intergenerational link with residents working with children.

“Our residents respond really well to working with children. They enjoy children coming into Bryn Seiont Newydd and sharing ideas, stories and experiences. I think children can learn a lot from working with older people.

“It’s an exciting project that residents will enjoy and gain a lot from. Dementia doesn’t mean they don’t have memories of growing up in Wales, things they did, places they visited and people they met. They will enjoy relaying that information to children.”

She added: “I’m looking forward to seeing the tale tapestries the children produce and the idea of residents making tea cosies is a fantastic idea. They will be both visual and yet practical and something they will definitely enjoy making.”

Bryn Seiont Newydd resident Millicent Foster, is looking forward to taking part in the project.

“I like the idea of the tea cosies and I like seeing and talking to polite children. It sounds like a good idea and I like craft things.

“It’s going to be good fun and the artist is going to come to Bryn Seiont to work with us and the children.

“I’m excited about seeing the children and talking to them. And I have a few ideas for a tea cosy too.”

The home’s manager, Sandra Evans, is equally enthusiastic about the idea.

She said: “We’re delighted that Cefyn and his team will be working with our residents and the pupils of Ysgol yr Hendre.

“It is going to be a wonderful project, rich in possibilities, that will form an important part of our enrichment programme to enhance the lives of our residents through the arts, whether that be music, art or even tea cosies!”

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