Wheal Martyn lights up to celebrate china clay mining heritage

Photo: Ainsley Cocks

For three nights, on 5 – 7 December, Wheal Martyn Clay Works was transformed by light; the working china clay pit at the peak of the site formed the canvas for animated laser displays, the flat rod tunnel was illuminated as a magical LED portal, and the woodlands become a glowing festive UV wonderland.

Broadcasted live on BBC Spotlight on Friday 6 December, over 1000 people flocked to ‘Celebration of Light and Clay’, the first event of this type for Wheal Martyn. As the UK’s only china clay museum, the light installations and music were designed and selected to celebrate the rich heritage of the industry which has shaped the lives of the local community, and to showcase the museum’s collection in a unique way. Working with Greenwave Laser, the 1934 ERF lorry and iconic clay statues were illuminated, while a lighting and mirror installation transformed the musuem’s waterwheel. The animations featured in the laser shows, which were projected onto the clay pit at Wheal Martyn, were also inspired by key elements of the collection.


Photo: Ainsley Cocks

Visitors also had the opportunity to get involved in making jam jar lanterns, neon pinwheels and glow in the dark face painting. The Wheal Martyn atrium became a hub of merriment, and plenty of people enjoyed themselves: ‘We loved the UV woodland experience and also enjoyed seeing the water features and tunnel lit up in such atmospheric ways.’

Local people contributed to the event, adding that extra special touch; children and community groups made clay lanterns (led by ceramicist Jenny Beavan) and glow in the dark decorations; the laser shows featured a reading of Cornish poet Jack Clemo’s poem, ‘Snowfall at Kernick’, and each evening included live performances by local groups: NoteAbility Choir, Imerys Mid Cornwall Male Choir, and St Austell Town Band.

Nikita Brown, Exhibition and Engagement Officer, said: ‘Thank you to everyone who helped make our first celebration of Light and Clay a great success. We are so lucky to have the support of so many volunteers who helped with an array of tasks including making glow in the dark clay decorations, singing in the choirs, and guiding people around the site. We wanted the occasion to be rooted in our community as a celebration of Cornish china clay mining heritage, and it was fantastic to see the community come together and explore Wheal Martyn’s collection in a new light.


Photo: Ainsley Cocks

‘The event was generously supported by public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and from the Feast programme, with investment from Arts Council England and Cornwall Council – we are extremely grateful to these funders and to Imerys Minerals Ltd. for enabling us to project the light show onto the working clay pit at Wheal Martyn and to St. Austell Town Council for providing free car parking for the event.’

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