A FABULOUS flock of brightly-coloured birds has landed in the grounds of stately Wentworth Woodhouse, forming a spectacular salute to the togetherness and resilience of Rotherham folk during lockdown.
Launched on Saturday as the Big House reopened to visitors following six months off-limits, The Flock is a 10,000-strong collection of wooden birds hand-decorated over the summer by everyone from toddlers to pensioners in care homes, from 4,000 children across 17 schools to tradesmen working on restoring the dilapidated mansion.
Some are simply striped, others feature detailed, intricate designs and one even has its own knitted jumper.
They have been arranged in a huge Tree of Life shape with its roots in the shadow of the East Front and its branches reaching out across the sprawling lawns, the back of each bird bearing a personal message from the artist.
There are lyrics by The Beatles and Bob Marley and positive mottos such as “Love and light will shine through the dark” and “The first hug of loved ones will always mean the most”. The simple sentiment that “Covid family time was so special” will resonate with many.
Artist Ron Thompson, who forms the Planet Art collective with wife Julie Edwards, said the finished artwork was “better than I expected”, adding: “It’s quite incredible to see.
“We live in a dark, overcast place and it has surprised me a little how bright and colourful they (the birds) are.
“People have spent a lot of time painting them. Some of the messages are really sad – they are people who have lost relatives – and some are political: Dominic Cummings takes a bit of a kicking!
“The brief was to do something about lockdown on one side and something about Wentworth on the other but people have gone their own way and made their own mark.
“One thing about lockdown is people have got their paints out. Art is not just for rich people to hang on their walls — it’s a need we have.”
Each small bird is seen as a symbol of freedom and marks how people pulled together in the Covid-19 crisis.
Helen Waters, of Braithwell, who has taught art for ten years, painted five birds at her caravan in Filey.
Her designs include a “Wentworth warbler”, a detailed portrait of the Marquis of Rockingham and a morning glory flower.
“I liked the fact there was no specified theme and it was about what people were feeling about coming out of lockdown and maybe just wanting to feel happy about something again,” she said.
“I love the Tree of Life shape. It’s so nice that you don’t know who has painted them, whether they are an experienced artist or not, and they are all together.”
Charlotte Birley, a member of the ArtWorks group for young people with learning disabilities, was one of 70 members who took part in the project.
She said she had yet to find either of her creations — one in orange and yellow of her hands praying and the other in blue — but thought the finished artwork looked “amazing”.
Jacky Beevers and Valerie Hales are members of the dedicated troupe of volunteers who individually varnished each of the 10,000 birds before hammering their stake-shaped perches into the Wentworth soil.
“We’ve been bashing the birds!” Jacky said. “It is really quite inspiring to think so many people have got involved. They are beautiful.”
Varnishing and storing so many birds was no mean feat, and a handy volunteer known as Brasso Dave can take the credit for dreaming up a grid-style structure in which each painted specimen could perch while drying.
At one point, Valerie revealed, a length of wire and two bed ends were pressing into action: “Anything to keep them dry.”
WWPT chief executive Sarah McLeod said: “It’s incredible so many people in the community have got involved in this project.
“I know from looking at the blisters on people’s hands how hard it has been to put these birds into the ground.”
The Flock is free to view throughout October — with viewing regulated by pre-booked slots — and tours of the mansion itself are now all-clear for take-off.
Visit wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk for details.