Turf Labyrinths – lino cuts

Julian's Bower, Alkborough, print by Nina

Julian’s Bower, Alkborough, print by Nina

About the project

In May 2018 I had the opportunity to offer an ‘enthusiast’ workshop at a very special family music camp. All adults at the camp choose something (often non musical) that they are interested in and devise a sharing session for others to take part in. I chose to combine two enthusiasms: turf labyrinths and lino printing. Participants learnt a little about turf labyrinths, chose one of the designs to work with, traced and cut the design and printed multiple copies. The aim was to collaboratively produce a full set of labyrinths for each person to keep. Twelve people took part, aged 12 to adult, most of whom had never done lino printing before. We had no press, we just used basic materials which anyone might be able to use at home.

About turf labyrinths

I have visted all of England’s turf labyrinths and I feel they are very special places, each with a unique atmosphere. I enjoy the process of walking these patterns cut into the land, and feel it to be a kind of ‘moving meditation’.

There are only eight turf labyrinths extant in England, though at one time they were quite common. Their age is uncertain- many people believe they are very ancient, but recorded evidence is scant. They are mentioned in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:And the quaint mazes in the wanton green/ for lack of tread are undistinguishable.– a quote which feels oddly relevant today as it illustrates that if the mazes are not used and maintained, they soon disappear. The purpose of the labyrinths is also debated, although there is much evidence of them being used for games and gatherings (with possible pagan heritage) akin to morris dancing and other village green festivities; there are also links with pilgrimage and other spiritual purposes. To me, this history- of gathering, sharing, play, and opening oneself to a spiritual or creative journey supported by a grounding sense of place- feels resonant with the venue and ethos of the music camp.

In common parlance we use the terms ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ interchangeably, however this is technically incorrect: a labyrinth has a single path to the centre, whilst a maze gives the walker choices (and the risk of getting lost!)

Reference: Pennick, N., 1990. Mazes and labyrinths. R. Hale, London.

About the process

In two of the labyrinths (Saffron Waldon and Mizmaze, Winchester, below) the walker treads the groove cut in the turf. In the others, the cut areas leave a raised turf path for the walker to tread. This presented interest when working out the construction of the designs and considering how they would work as prints.

The templates I created do not show the labyrinths to scale, rather they were optimised for the size of lino available. I drew the labyrinths by hand using rough construction lines for the simpler ones and squared paper for the more complex patterns, then traced and photocopied them. I found drawing really helped me understand the construction, and the process of tracing reminded me of walking the path. I was keen to give participants the chance to explore this in the session. We all had a quick go at drawing the simplest labyrinth (Dalby) by hand, then each person chose a labyrinth template to work with. They traced their pattern, turned it over and re-traced it on to the lino using a layer of carbon paper. The final ‘walking the path’ was of course making the cut. The turf labyrinths themselves evolve as they are trodden and re-cut, sometimes in shifted locations or to slightly altered patterns; as the grass grows or dries with the seasons the labyrinth outlines can become blurred or ‘rustic’. I like the way the prints share some of these qualities in their process and final execution.

The participants worked industriously to complete the set of prints in the time allowed, and brought skill, patience and creative curiosity to the activity. I felt privileged to share my enthusiasm with such willing recipients and I really like all the results they achieved- a few examples are below.

Maze wing2_20180803_0001

Wing, print by Nona

Maze somerton2_20180803_0001

Troy Town, Somerton, print by Becca

Saffron Walden, print by Mandy

Saffron Walden, print by Mandy

Maze mizmaze2_20180803_0001

Mizmaze, Winchester, print by Simon

Maze hilton2_20180803_0001

Hilton, print by Maisie

Maze breamore2_20180803_0001

Mizmaze, Breamore, print by Sarah

City of Troy, Dalby, print by Nicola

City of Troy, Dalby, print by Nicola