Thursday, December 7, 2023

Mr. Arkwright Art Installation @ Cromford Mill

Cromford Mills is currently hosting an art installation called Mr. Arkwright.

Cromford Mills is part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which includes the Belper North and East Mills.  The Cromford Mills were built by Richard Arkwright, and Jedediah Strutt invested in their construction.  Cromford Mills have benefitted from the foresight of the Arkwright Society to buy, renovate and run the mills, on a mortgage basis.  With local control, the entire mill site is a historical centre.

This installation is part of a scheme across the Derwent Valley Mills sites to bring art and heritage together.  This installation was commissioned from Jo Fairfax.  The interactive art installation is a water and cycle powered drawing machine, with the bicycle replacing nature to get the water to move.

Jo Fairfax took inspiration from the way in which the mills and the factory system were powered, and specifically from Richard Arkwright’s water frame, a water-powered cotton spinning machine.  The water frame spun cotton thread, whereas this water machine creates a drawing.

Jo Fairfax said,
“I find Richard Arkwright’s achievements really inspiring. His mind combined engineering, architecture, mechanics, nature, housing, entrepreneurship, business and invention. This artwork, ‘Mr. Arkwright’, pays tribute to his multifacted mind in a contemporary way.  I am not making a moral comment on social welfare and capitalism, but making a comment on a brilliantly inventive mind that worked in a way like most minds need to do, crossing boundaries and multi-tasking with ease.”


Members of the public can ride the attached bicycle, their cycling draws water from a sump and pushes it through a system of pipes, which in turn triggers a hydraulic mechanism which draws a heart on a postcard, which the cyclist can then take home with them.

Watch the drawing action in our video below:


The cycle is a tandem, so two cyclists can work together to power the machine.

The installation will be at Cromford Mills until the 3rd November 2019.

Simon Wallwork, CEO of Cromford Mills, said, “The work is a fantastic example of where science, engineering and art comes together to produce something quite unusual and unique which can be experienced on different levels.  It is also a great example of how art can be used to help interpret our heritage.”

The project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England’s pilot programme of Great Places Scheme.  At the launch of Mr. Arkwright, Simon Wallwork (CEO of Cromford Mills), Barry Lewis (Chair of DVWHS Partnership and leader of Derbyshire County Council (Con)) and Jo Fairfax all introduced the project, explaining how it had come to be.

Nailed spoke to Simon, Barry and Jo after the launch.
Nailed: This is quite a big project isn’t it?  How long has it been planned?
Simon: It’s been a lot of fun.  We started planning it last year.  We went through a selection process with the Derwent Valley team. There were various people that were engaged in that. We put a tender out, and then a lot of artists tendered for the project and Jo was our chosen choice for the one here.
We loved his ideas.  We thought he was fantastic.  Really inspirational.  I loved the combination of the water and how he picked up very well: themes for the site, themes for the valley, and interpreted that in a very innovative way.  One which we thought was exciting and would have a broad appeal for people who come and visit us here at Cromford.
It appeals to someone who’s 60 and comes out cycling, it appeals to families,  it appeals to children, and that breadth of appeal is absolutely perfect for us, because we get very mixed visitors to the site here at Cromford.
Nailed (to Jo): How did you put your pitch together?
Jo: I find this place so inspiring.  I think it’s just amazing. How it’s run, the history of the place, it’s just extraordinary. What Arkwright has done here, I just find it brilliant.  The transfer of energy, I find really exciting.  How he’s used the water to create the water wheel, the water frame, and then to create the cotton.  That transference of energy, from one form, the water, and then to finally get these threads of cotton.  There’s something really poetic and beautiful about that.  So I wanted to reflect that, but I wanted to reflect him as a person – how his mind works. The entrepreneurship that he has, how he got the money to support this project from Nottingham businessmen, and I wanted to include that part in there as well.
Interruption from DVMWHS staff:  He got the money from the Strutt family as well.
Jo:  Yeah, that’s right. Strutt and, I can’t remember the other one off the top of my head.  Because he got funding from them to finance this project, it seemed to be part of the reflection of his personality, how he combined all these different things and the funding is often a key part of it and I wanted to include that as part of the project.
So that’s why we’re asking for donations.  They don’t have to, but they can, and then they get their postcard, and then it goes on the machine, and then they can draw their heart, and the money that’s gets donated, then that goes to an educational fund locally.
Originally here, the children actually worked at the factory, which is not good for their health and not good for their education.  I’ve sort of seen that principle, but inverted it, so now the bicycle is good for their health, and the fund that is created is good for their education.  So it’s a reflection of him, but in a contemporary way.
Part of what excited me about how his mind works, is that it seemed to be in a very contemporary way.  In how he didn’t see borders in things, in how he combined arcitecture, engineering, mechanics, uh I don’t know, religion?  Then the financing.  I thought I would somehow like to reflect that combination of interests. Then the transferring of energy is really central to it.  It moves from one form to another form to another form, then in a way, by just drawing a little heart at the end, which is quite delicate, there’s an inherent artistic absurdity about it.  And that hopefully makes it engaging as well.  There’s a certain amount of effort and then you get a nice heart declaring love for Richard Arkwright.
Nailed: Is this similar to the other work that you’ve done?
Jo:  I try to do each piece as utterly unique, so I hope not in a way.  Each site has its own history and requires its own response.  My business structure is one of a flexible cluster, so I don’t work with the same team.  Depending on what the project requires, then I will choose certain people for that particular project.
For this one, obviously, mechanical engineering was going to be essential to it.  I selected a team that I knew were highly qualified in that arena.  For other projects it might be totally different – it might be virtual reality or programming using gravity.  It could be anything.  It really depends on what the voice of the project says, and hopefully it ties in as sensitively as possible with the site, and the history of the site, and what’s required.
So with this,  it needs to have all the qualities that I talked about, but it needs to be engaging too, and somehow it needs to lend a hand out to people and say, “come and have a go.” You know, don’t be frightened.  Hopefully people won’t see it and go, “oh it’s modern art”. and if they’re cautious about it, they’ll just have a go.  It’s almost art by stealth.
Barry:  That’s what we’ve seen today.  That’s been really positive the way that that’s gone. We’ve had children wanting to get up and have a go, and then we’ve had people of my age having a go as well. It’s a lot of fun.
Nailed: Was the design solely inspired what had happened at this site, or were ecological factors part of it?
Jo: A little bit.  Mainly it was more to do with the site. Obviously I’m conscious of ecological factors, like inverting the principle of the education and the health.  It is also highlighting how we can use natural energy for a cause, for a good cause.
Simon:  That’s one thing that gets missed sometimes I think, about the Derwent Valley.  If you think about it, when Arkwright started here, and the same with Strutt, they used water power to power their machines, so that was actually pretty ecologically sound.  It’s only since then that’s it’s developed into dirty power sources, and actually, going back to that, in some ways, could be more ecologically sound. It’s one thing we’re looking at for the next stage of development here in Cromford.  We want to use the water power again to provide some of the energy supply for small buildings and for heating on the site as well.  We’re just looking into the development of building one here.  That’s something else we’d like to do here.  So Jo’s also helped us to tell that story as well.
Nailed:  So Cromford is returning to using water power?
Simon: We’d like to, very much. We’ve inherited a fairly contaminated site.  That’s been one of the big jobs over the years, to get rid of that contamination, and then take it back so that we can be a bit more ecologically sound than we have been in the past.
Nailed: Do you think that there’ll be a change back to using water power, for current businesses?
Simon: I’d like to think so.  Obviously the great thing that with us here, is that we have a great deal more flexibility in that we don’t just have to look at things purely in commercial terms.  So we can take a slightly longer term view than if you’re doing it as a commercial enterprise. But equally, I think people WILL look at that because I think there’s a will amongst people at the moment to return to and support more ecologically sound projects.


Art in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site

Mr. Arkwright
Where: Cromford Mills
When: Until 3rd November 2019
Times: 11am-3pm daily
Price: Donations

Belper Art Installation by Seiko Kinishita
Where: Belper North Mill
When: 18th October – 3rd November 2019
Times: 11am-4pm
Price: Free entry on 27th October, Museum entry including installation = Adults £5, Children free

Clare Washbrook

Current Editor-in-Chief News and magazine editor since 1995 Post-grads: Literature; Theatre; Journalism, Ethics & Law Community Affiliations: Belper Goes Green, Belper's WW1 Poppies, Amber Valley Solidarity No political party memberships/affiliations.

4 thoughts on “Mr. Arkwright Art Installation @ Cromford Mill

  • Joanna Kirk

    Doesn’t the male version of the name “Jo” have an e on the end of it? As in “Joe”.

  • Joanna Kirk

    Or am I confusing the photographer’s name with who is depicted?

  • Jo Fairfax

    From one Jo to another – you are absolutely right regarding the spelling, but my brother wrote my name like that when he was 5 and it has stuck. Technically incorrect but that is how I have written it myself ever since I could write.

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