11274 A RARE AND LARGE WEARDALE SPAR CENTER PIECE IN THE FORM OF A TEMPLE GROTTO English. Last Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 24″ (60.96 cm)
Of various colored spa minerals on a turned wood base with wheels to the undersides for rotation. Of temple form with six arches. The whole encrusted with colored stones. The plateau with original mirror to facilitate viewing of its ceiling.
This wonderful model of a temple, crafted from mineral specimens represents a specific variety of 19th century folk art taken up by lead miners in Weardale, Durham. The craft “flourished in only three places in Britain…whose centre was Upper Weardale.”1
The miners collected colorful pieces of feldspar, quartz, and other minerals they found while on the job, and created decorative “spar boxes,” items whose popularity lasted no more than a few decades. Some took the form of shadow boxes with interior scenes or landscapes, or abstracted arrangements like grottoes. Others, such as the present piece, took the form of architectural structures such as pyramids, towers and temples.
Little is known on the history of this art, but information has been gathered in recent years which helps piece together the tradition. For example, “records have been recovered of spar-box competitions in the north Pennines in the late 19th century, and there was a spar box of some two thousand mineral specimens, cemented together by a miner, Isaac Robinson of Nenthead, shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851.”2
A similar, but less complicated version, is in the Killhope Mining Museum in Upper Weardale, which contains Great Britain’s largest collection of spar boxes (figure 1).