Concrete Art Strengthens Historic Link
Concrete from Jersey-based Granite Products is playing a prominent part in celebrations on the other side of the Atlantic to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding and naming of the State of New Jersey, also known as the Garden State.
Creative archaeologist and journalist, Christine Finn, who was born on the island of Jersey, wanted to develop a project to celebrate the connection between New Jersey and the Channel Island after which it was named. Both places are renowned for their horticulture; concrete is a major feature in both locations; both have shores washed by the Atlantic and Christine wanted to feature all these aspects in her project.
She hit upon the idea of creating 350 solid concrete flower pots in various shapes and sizes from locally-produced concrete to symbolise the concrete fortifications left behind after the occupation of Jersey during the Second World War and the importance of horticulture in the history of both locations, calling her project, “Garden States.”
Christine’s mother and grandmother lived through the occupation of Jersey by the Nazis so she grew up hearing their stories about the building of the concrete defences on the island and spent many hours playing amongst them. During the war Hitler ordered a line of massive defence works, known as the Atlantic Wall, to be built from the Baltic to the Spanish border to protect occupied territories and nowhere was more heavily fortified than the Channel Islands – the only British territory the Nazis managed to capture. Many of these concrete fortifications still survive on the island of Jersey today.
“I wanted to articulate the sense and feel of the concrete that was such a feature of my childhood in Jersey,” says Christine. “I had tried using words but found using concrete as an artistic medium far more meaningful.”
Christine started working with concrete in 2006 and felt it would be the right material to use in her Garden States project. She carried out extensive research, calling on Jersey bunker historian, Dave Maindonald and his colleagues to help her flesh out the story of the fortifications and with family connections in both Kent and Jersey, Christine turned to Brett Group and Granite Products for advice on how to make her concept into reality. Kevin Bowler, Managing Director of Granite Products offered both practical help with the manufacture of some of the items using the company’s block plant on the island and expertise and advice from concrete technician, Graham Holland.
“I met with Christine to discuss her requirements, then we ran trials at the plant to establish a viable concrete mix for the task in hand,” explains Graham. “The factory process wasn’t right for this job, so it was decided that the pots would be manufactured individually and we developed two concrete mixes, a dry mix that produced a rough-textured surface finish and a highly workable mix, which gave a smooth surface finish.
“A local garden centre donated a large number of recycled plastic pots that we used as moulds. These varied in size from large 0.5m diameter pots to small teacup-sized ones.”
Within a fortnight, Graham had produced over 350 pots in a variety of shapes, sizes and finishes. A delighted Christine was asked to display her project at the Contemporary Art Gallery as part of the Skipton Open Studios exhibition on the island of Jersey in the summer and other pots were installed at the Frances le Sueur Centre, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic fortifications.
“We involved local people in the installation of the pots and the watering of them with seawater that I had gathered from the Atlantic to symbolise the interaction of the sea with the concrete defences on the island. It became a sort of ritual space,” explains Christine. “The plan was always to take it across the Atlantic and this is now happening thanks to the Jersey Arts Trust, who have kindly funded the shipping of the pots. They will be installed in a wonderful location on a beach next to a concrete bunker in the Cape May State Park – a historic site. Again we will invite local people to install the pots, so they will have been handled in Jersey and handled again in New Jersey, symbolising ‘hands across the ocean’. The pots will then remain there as a gift to the State.”
Some of the larger pots were too heavy and costly to transport, so around 120 of them will remain in Jersey. Graham and Granite Products have been quick to help out with the shortfall, producing 120 teacup-sized pots to make the number back up to 350 – one for each year since New Jersey was founded.
“People have asked why I didn’t make the pots in New Jersey and save the cost of transporting them, but it was important to the spirit of the project that the pots were made from Jersey materials,” explains Christine. “The granite used to make the concrete was drawn from the Granite Products quarry on the island, which has been operating since soon after the war. The shipment of pots weighs half a ton, so we will be leaving half a ton of Jersey over there.”
“The contribution of Granite Products to the project has been absolutely key to its success and completion. I simply could not have done it without them,” says Christine.
The concrete fortifications in Jersey are considered an important part of the island’s heritage and are subject to regular maintenance and restoration work, in which Granite Products is often involved as the preferred supplier of concrete to the States of Jersey.
“Granite Products supplies high strength concrete to reinforce foundations, replace cappings and reinstate sea damaged promenades,” explains Graham, who has many years’ personal experience of this work.
Granite Products recently developed and supplied concrete to overlay a five-mile stretch of German sea wall. Working in conjunction with engineers from the States of Jersey and global civil engineers, Arup, Granite Products developed a highly durable, abrasion-resistant concrete and, in a project that took over a year to complete, a small team from these three organisations laid a protective layer of concrete over the sea wall on The Five Mile Road at St Ouen, Jersey.
“The concrete overlay has so far stood up to the ferocious winter tides that are experienced regularly on the west coast of Jersey,” says Graham, “and Arup has used the knowledge gained on this project in similar situations across Europe.”
Photography courtesy of Dave Maindonald, Jersey Evening Post, Graham Holland, and Christine Finn