Public Art Leading Wayfinding

The background of Thame’s Public Art Strategy

‘Section 106 agreements’ are put in place with the developers to raise money for infrastructure to support new housing developments. They are drawn up by South Oxfordshire District Council before they grant planning permission, so the developer is legally bound to deliver the infrastructure agreed. Money is collected from the developer once the planning permission is implemented and when certain points in the agreement have been met. Included in this funding is money that is restricted to be spent on certain areas, and one of these areas is Public Art. 

To avoid the installation of various pieces of art that had little significance to Thame, and seemed a complete waste of money, a Public Art Strategy [Word Document] was created by a working group. This working group included members of the community alongside Thame Town Councillors and an SODC Arts Officer. This strategy identified possible locations for Public Art, as well as aims and ambitions for how it could be used to meet needs in the community as well as something beautiful to look at. 

Project 1: Public Art Leading Wayfinding

The first project to be implemented is one that aims to improve the wayfinding around Thame so that residents and visitors are encouraged to walk more, rather than always use their cars. The project has developed and will eventually lead to 3 exciting trails leading across Thame. These will be trails that you can enjoy, as an activity in themselves, but will also play a crucial role in helping people to walk easily across the town, using the footpaths and infrastructure already in place. We hope the trails will encourage you to leave your car at home more often, and bring an element of fun to your journey, as well at the opportunity to learn more about your town’s heritage and history. The trails will include: 

  1. A story trail (leading from Thame Meadows estate on the Oxford Road into the town centre – to be installed in March 2023)
  2. A fun fact trail (leading from the town centre across Lea Park – helping you to connect easily with locations such as the skate park, football stadium and rugby club) 
  3. A poetry trail (this will not be completed in this phase of the work, but is a project for the future that will connect the town centre to the new housing estates on Wenman Road)

The development of Trail 1

In July 2021 Thame Town Council announced the successful appointment of public artist, Nicola Henshaw to lead on this work. Nicola (pictured top left) has previously worked on many public art projects and the Town Council was drawn to both the quality of her craftmanship as well as her passion for engaging with the community. Find out more about here

In the summer of 2021, in-between the Covid restrictions we faced that year, Nicola delivered a series of workshops in the community. She brought in Pat Winslow, a professional storyteller, to deliver workshops to develop a ‘Story of Thame’. Workshops were delivered over four days, engaging people from all sections of our community, children and adults, people new to Thame and those who have lived here their whole life. Through these workshops a story was created that weaves elements of Thame’s history into a magical and intriguing tale of adventure set in three locations, in three very different times. 

Listen to the story in full here [MP3].

Developing the Waymarkers

Following these workshops, and drawing inspiration from the story created through them, Nicola Henshaw (the lead artist) went on to develop  a series of 5 waymarking sculptures. These pieces of art bring the story to life in a way that connects to Thame’s heritage, and are positioned in various locations along the walking route from the new Thame Meadows estate (opposite Thame Leisure Centre), through Cuttlebrook Nature Reserve, into the town centre. See Nicola’s original drawings here

Each way marker contains imagery and words associated with both Thame and the story. Each totem will also contain a QR code which will take you to a webpage. These webpages will allow you to find out more about each element of the totem and what it represents, delving into both the history and heritage of Thame touched on in the story, as well as encouraging you to think about the future of our town. 

From design to fabrication

The journey that takes the designs from a 2D drawing to the 3D creations that will be installed is a long and complex process – but also hugely exciting, watching them come to life. Below are a series of links that take you to videos and images showing stages of this process.

The first stage is to making maquettes of each of the way markers. These are small versions of the designs that Nicola carved out of wood, to allow her to see the work in 3D so she can figure out scale of the final pieces.

Elements of the way markers are made out of sand cast, anodised and powder coated aluminium. For these elements Nicola had to carve full size versions out of wood, that in turn were used to create sand casts into which molten aluminium is poured to create the final piece.

Alongside these sandcast elements are other sections of the way markers made out of laser cut steel. The design process requires that these have full size vector images created of them.

The final stage is to powder coat the various elements in different colours and then combine them onto their central core in place. See the full process here

Naming the Trail

In June 2022 the pupils of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School took part in a competition to name the new Story Trail. The winner, Emilee Sinclair, named the trail 

‘The Peculiar Pot’

Pictured here with Mr deVletter (Emilee’s teacher) and her mother, Mrs Sinclair.

Installation of the Trail

In March 2023 the way markers were installed. They are now in place and can be enjoyed as a trail. At each way marker the QR code will give you access to a webpage to listen to the relevant part of the story and learn more about Thame. It will also provide you with directions to the next way marker. 

The first way marker is positioned within the Thame Meadow estate, in the play park on Roman Way. 

Link to web page for first way marker