Trail conservation - an artist's interpretation

6th August 2015

‘Stasis’ art installation

Chesters Roman Fort & Birdoswald Roman Fort

Sat 20 June – Mon 14 September 2015

Preserving England’s historic attractions and artefacts is a meticulous and fascinating job.

Newcastle upon Tyne artist, Dawn Felicia Knox, spent a year observing and recording the methods used on Hadrian’s Wall to ensure our Roman sites and objects are preserved to the highest standard for future generations to enjoy.  Dawn’s observations were captured in a beautiful display of findings and can be seen at Chesters Roman Fort and Birdoswald Roman Fort from now until 14 September.  

The Arts Council (ACE) funded project, entitled Stasis, explores English Heritage’s intriguing conservation activities including the meticulous cleaning of artefacts and the ancient monument as well as the land works done to ensure the public can access and enjoy these important sites. This is all done to protect the unexcavated archaeology buried just beneath the soil. 

Dawn also studied the work of NTO Dave McGlade and Trail Maintenance Ranger Gary Pickles whose task volunteers removed gorse bushes overhanging the Trail with the aim of preventing pinch point wear.  Dave explained to Dawn that the management of the Trail and its associated archaeology involves tasks that might appear to be rather strange, such as raking level upcast mole hill soil.  (It is done to protect the grass sward and avoid muddy wear lines).

Dawn spent time with English Heritage volunteers who donated their time weekly. The volunteers carry out the vital work of cleaning each and every object on display during the annual deep clean and the careful cataloguing of the objects in the archives. Dawn further documented the cleaning of the West Gate at Chesters Roman Fort which saw groundskeepers painstakingly remove all the moss and weeds from the stones with brushes and bespoke soft wooden implements. Dawn also spent time with the conservator as he repaired shards of pottery and glass that had begun to breakdown. She photographed, videoed and recorded the sound of all the work being done which has been distilled into her exhibition in the museum at Chesters Roman Fort.

She said: “When I first began spending time on Hadrian’s Wall, I was struck by the sense that no time had passed, that the monument and ancient sites are standing now as they had for centuries. This is true but only thanks the endless and thorough work of dedicated volunteers, curators, conservators and grounds workers.

“I was very honoured to be allowed behind the scenes at English Heritage and to work with Gary from the National Trail to witness the important work that is done. I wanted to make a series of exhibitions that show the public the unending work that is needed to preserve our heritage and to give visitors a chance to see and experience what is usually unseen.”

Dawn Felicia Knox is an artist and curator. Her artwork is a distillation of found and constructed narratives using ephemera, found objects, photography, oil paint and sculpture to create art objects and environments. Her work is research driven yet steeped in wonder.

American by birth, she forged an artistic presence in her native New Mexico through creating and exhibiting works in galleries and, more intriguingly to her, in non-traditional environments such as public spaces, performance halls and community rooms. She was driven to create encounters with her art that were unexpected and engaging. She is now at home in North East England. For the last several years her work has been concerned with the reinterpretation of artefacts and historical narratives bringing them into a wider discussion about art, science, myth and identity.


You can learn more about the project at

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