On Preserving Flowers:
A Visit to Hafod Grange
At the very end of a long, winding dirt road climbing up the valley which overhangs Port Talbot and its lush green landscape, you will find Hafod Grange. A small grouping of buildings houses a very humble factory - no secret formulas or state-of-the-art technology hidden behind closed doors - rather it is the people and place which infuse each paperweight with the full weight of its magic.
For starters, consider that the object itself, a paperweight forever preserving the perfection of the botanical specimen it encases, came about in 1968 as part of Barry Needham’s art therapy to ease his muscular dystrophy. In his resilience, patience and dedication to the task, he succeeded in his self-imposed challenge, creating something which for over 50 years has brought joy and amazement without fail. Furthermore, he unknowingly created an ongoing livelihood for his family, as Gareth Needham together with his childhood friend Alun, continue to give life to their relative’s design as part of a thriving family business.
Alongside the uplifting Needham family story, each paperweight also imparts within, the spirit of the Welsh countryside. In Spring, hundreds of perfect dandelion clocks have to be collected in just a few weeks. This work isn’t the result of a poly-tunnel production, but a painstaking treasure hunt in the local fields and by the roadside for the sought-after untouched flowers usually considered weeds. One season’s harvest will go towards a year’s worth of production, but how to store the delicate blooms, these ephemeral symbols of wilderness until they are ready for casting?
Possibly the most wondrous moment of the trip to Hafod Grange is the discovery of a mysterious all-white spotless room fit out with formica cupboards - as if a science laboratory plucked from Clockwork Orange - most incongruous in an otherwise dark and rural stone building, home to a dusty assemblage of machinery. Each cupboard door can be opened to reveal hundreds of perfect dandelion clocks mounted individually on a toothpick, protected from wind and human breath, until it is preserved forever. More heartbreaking than the object’s own melancholy beauty is this singular place, a shrine dedicated to the stopping of time, or rather to the conservation of a fleeting moment, and together of hundreds of individual fleeting moments.
More contemporary art installation than production site, we are left from our trip not with entitled and satisfied ownership over the object’s secret, but with a deeper sense of its implicit poetry and our own wistfulness.