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The Pebbles Group: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

  • Date: 2 June 2011
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: South East
white shelving with pottery work on it Work created by The Pebbles Group, Credit: Photo courtesy of firstsite

firstsite, an Arts Council funded organisation, has created an inspirational project to help women, whose partners are serving in Afghanistan, come to terms with their separation.

The Pebbles Group ­- a collection of army wives whose husbands serve with 16 Air Assault Brigade - was formed in summer 2010 by firstsite Associate Artist Ange Leinster, and has continued while the women's husbands have been on deployment to Afghanistan.

Ange Leinster is a ceramicist whose artistic practice is closely tied to the processes and techniques of her craft. With the Pebbles Group, Ange has been exploring the meditative properties of manipulating clay.

Ange is an army wife herself - her husband was stationed in Afghanistan last year - so she came to The Pebbles Group as an equal. From this common start point, Ange shared her skills with the group, empowering them to use the clay confidently to express their individual stories. Introducing new techniques gradually each session, Ange enabled the women to explore the characteristics of clay, and push it to its limits.

Through repetitively pushing, pulling, twisting and contorting the clay, the women created ambitious, raw and beautiful artworks, each of which communicates something about the women who made them.

The groundbreaking work of The Pebbles Group offers a new perspective on the ongoing impact of the Afghan War. It shows how women are finding new and creative ways to cope with the extraordinary pressures that arise from having a partner on active service on the other side of the world, and helps to redefine preconceptions about the 'army wife at home'.

The project also fits with the Government agenda to better recognise the role of army personnel and their families, and the impact of small groups and community-based programmes, to honour its Big Society pledge.

The group's exhibition, Keeping the Home Fires Burning, was exhibited throughout May 2011 at firstsite's Short Wyre Street base in Colchester, as well as at The Musket Club.

firstsite's Pebbles Group on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour

BBC Radio 4's Felicity Finch travelled to Colchester in May to interview the inspirational women involved in firstsite's Pebbles Project for Woman's Hour.

You can listen to the piece in full on BBC iPlayer - the interview runs from 15.11 to 26.35.

About firstsite

firstsite is Colchester's visual arts organisation. For 16 years, it has presented an ambitious programme of contemporary art to audiences in the East of England and beyond. The organisation's breathtaking new building in Colchester's historic town centre, developed with £9.2 million Arts Council funding, will open its doors to the public in September 2011.