11316 A RARE AND LARGE WEARDALE SPAR CENTER PIECE IN THE FORM OF A TOWER English. Last Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century.
Of various colored spa minerals on a turned wood base resting on three bun feet. The tower form with four arches at the base enclosing a mineral sphere at the center. Possibly originally with glass dome.
This remarkable model in the form of a tower, crafted from mineral specimens represents a specific variety of nineteenth century folk art taken up by lead miners in Northern England. The craft “flourished in only three places in Britain, whose centre was Upper Weardale,”1 and also included West Cumberland and the Isle of Man. The present piece was likely made in West Cumberland, as it contains dark quartzes, specularite, aragonite, calcite and hematite, which came from that region.
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 nineteenth 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).
- Kennedy, Maev. “Museum Wins Lottery Grant for Spar Box Collection.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 May 2003. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.
- Things Magazine, Peter Davidson, Minerals, Mining, Spar Boxes. “Peter Davidson – Spar Boxes.” Thingsmagazine.net: Peter Davidson – Spar Boxes. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.