One of the popular myths about Milton Keynes is that it is the city of the car and no-one walks anywhere, writes Anne Green.
Not true! When Milton Keynes moved in, nature did not move out, so there are lovely places to walk.
As a bonus there is amazing outdoor art everywhere you go. One way to combine a great walk with seeing some fantastic art is to follow the Gyosei Art Trail, which runs along the Grand Union Canal between Monks Way (H3) and Portway (H5).
The Gyosei International School opened in Willen Park in 1987 as a boarding school for up to 1,000 children of Japanese workers in Europe.
However, economic problems in Japan caused the school to close in 2002 and the site was redeveloped.
The Gyosei Art Trail commemorates this school, with eight artists contributing work based on themes of Japanese connections, the history of the canal, and local fauna and flora.
Great Linford Parish Council is now seeking funding for stage two of the trail, which could include a 20 metre tall Torii (a traditional Japanese gateway) and a seat designed to look like a barge.
In the first stage, the foundation stone from the Gyosei School was used by artist Justin Tunley, who framed the stone and topped it with a multi-layered stainless steel map of the art trail.
Justin explained: “The laser cut stainless steel reflects its surroundings in that it incorporates a stylised map of the canal and surrounding footpaths – it is only accurate in the same way that a tube map is.”
Another of the artworks with strong Japanese connections is ‘Local Birds and Plants’ by Laura Boswell.
Laura said: “I worked with local birdwatchers and an expert on Japanese poems to create enamel panels that both represented the local birdlife and plants through the seasons, while celebrating the connection to Japan through poems.”
Rob Griffiths produced a superb solid oak bench for the trail. Entitled ‘What Lies Beneath’, it depicts animals and fish found in the Grand Union canal, including a huge and rather morose-looking frog.
This bench has become a favourite spot for people taking frog selfies.
A second bench on the trail was inspired by traditional Japanese tatami mats.
Woodcarver Jeremy Turner said: “The research process is frequently the most interesting and stimulating part of the job.
“A lot of my visual reference for the insects and their larvae came from the beautiful engravings of an 1898 edition of The Royal Natural History, which I inherited from my father.”
A great deal of research also went into the beautiful mosaic by Melanie Watts entitled ‘Autumn Splendour’.
Melanie explained: “I drew and photographed owls and local forestry to really capture the essence that can be found all over Milton Keynes.
“People liked my ideas on an endangered theme so I chose a beautiful barn owl.”
Possibly the most novel artwork on the trail is the giant dragonfly made by Ptolemy Elrington, as this intricately-designed insect was created from abandoned shopping trolleys.
It sits on top of a tall pole and looks fantastic viewed against the sky.
The sculpture ‘Arachne weaves’ by Linda Johns has an ethereal quality. There is a magical now-you-see it, now-you-don’t quality to her huge spider webs made from metal wire.
Linda explained how her work relates to the art trail: “For me this is the essence of Milton Keynes, old and new, urban and green, manmade and natural, all coexisting in harmony.
“Hopefully the art along the trail will bring this to life for visitors.”
Andrew Kay’s life-size shire horse reminds us of the horses which used to pull barges along the Grand Union canal.
Andrew said: “In this sculpture I tried to capture the steady, quiet strength of a Shire Horse at work.”
More details and a map of the trail can be found at http://www.great-linford.gov.uk under Projects, Gyosei Art Trail.
This article was first published in the March issue of Celebrate:MK lifestyle magazine. Read the full digital edition by clicking here.
List of artists mentioned and websites…