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The Hunt for Black Treasure

Last New Year's Day we headed into the woods near our home in Dunster to hide one of Jackie Morris' labyrinth stones. This year we had a little further to travel, as the stone that Jackie left with us in the autumn was to be part of an exchange with the earth and its truly ancient treasures.

For the past few years there have been rumours among West Country artists regarding Bideford Black. At first, I thought it may be a locally produced charcoal commercially available and then I learned of an exhibition that was hosted in 2015 at The Burton Art Gallery which set out to discover the potential of Bideford Black as a medium for contemporary artists.

'Mineral Black' or 'Biddiblack' was mined for nearly 200 years in industrial quantities right up until 1968 within the region and was used by the boat building industry, for colouring rubber tyres and even for beauty products, namely mascara produced by Max Factor.

Jackie has been working extensively with Sumi ink during the past year, painting the most wonderful fluid black otters, mixing the ink with local river water which got me thinking. Bideford is home to Tarka the Otter and so it seemed a natural progression for Jackie to create an otter from 'Biddiblack.' I gently asked around among the artists I know and had heard talk about this wonderful mystery material and my trail ended successfully thanks to The White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple.

Jackie managed to experiment a little with the new pigment when she visited in October and has gone on to find it incredibly satisfying to use and so we needed to source more, and of course we were up for the adventure, knowing full well that this time we had to go to the true source.

After a little research Christopher discovered where the seam may show itself and had been itching to head out and investigate if his hunch was correct all Christmas. Yesterday we finally got the opportunity.

It was a beautiful frosty morning, trees and fields dusted white which made for a stunning drive across the moor. We stopped at The Burton Gallery for an amazing lunch - I'm so pleased we did as our walk took us far further than expected and turned into quite an adventure following a wrong turn, but I'm so glad it did for we discovered the most amazing shack built on the remote beach, complete with fire pit, hammock and otter!

It was late afternoon and the light was beginning to fade when we finally found the seam of black. Christopher scrabbled up to collect a few different samples and as the sea turned the heavy pebbles on the beach and a blackbird sung, I collected water dripping through the nearby rocks for Jackie to mix with her own Biddiblack. We carefully placed the labyrinth stone, our thank you, just near the seam and collected another smooth pebble to take home.

The car wasn't too far away after our coast path loop madness where we enjoyed a much-needed flask of hot tea feeling inspired and elated by our day.

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