By David Nash, charred larch (subsequently charred oak) located 1986

From the embankment of a disused railway line a black dome shape can be seen against the colours of the bracken; a charcoal stack or an ancient burial mound? Whatever it is you sense a quiet presence in the landscape. On closer inspection the dome is made of some 900 tapered and charred larch logs situated at the centre of a ring of trees, evoking many different ideas and images. The mood of the piece changes as the seasons change and it will eventually melt into the landscape.

“While in Grizedale Forest, Cumbria, working as resident sculptor in 1978, I often came across centuries old-charcoal burners’ sites-oval level spaces, barely discernible on the hillside, with always the same combination of plants. Presumably the carbon residue from the charcoaling process only allows certain species of plant to flourish. These spaces, although nearly invisible, had a sense of the human being, a presence remaining from the concentrated activity of charcoal burning. The experience of these spaces made a deep impression on me.

The Forest of Dean also has a history of charcoal manufacture. The idea for Black Dome arose from these thoughts encouraged by the appropriateness of an object that has an image link with the history of the forest. Ideally the sculpture would be a mound of charcoal, but charcoal having no structure would not have survived the public’s use. The sculpture needed to be anchored to survive, so I opted for charring the ends of sharpened larch poles.

Using about a kilometre of larch, Charlie Everett and I charred nine hundred pieces – over a two week period. After the first day we had achieved only fifteen pieces. We thought we would be there forever. However, we improved our technique and on the fourth day had increased our daily rate to over a hundred.

The Forestry Commission had hired a machine to dig a hole, twenty five feet in diameter and eighteen inches deep, partly filled with gravel for drainage. The nine hundred stakes were graded to form a dome, each ring being wired together to prevent pieces being pulled out. The spaces between stakes were filled with gravel.

I envisage the sculpture gradually reintegrating with its environment, rotting down gradually-fungus, leaf-mould, plants adding to its progress of `return’-leaving eventually a vestige of the original form, a slight hump. Rather than make an object that resists the elements of nature, I try to find ways of engaging those elements so the object is continually active in the environment. What I had not envisaged was visitors’ desire to walk over the dome, and by so doing polishing it. On a recent visit it seemed like a stroked cat. It will be interesting to see how this added element affects the reintegration.”

David Nash

David Nash was concerned when he returned to inspect his Black Dome. Wide pathways had been beaten around the sculpture and the work itself was “pummeled down”. David Nash admitted that “when I first came it was a quiet forest; I naively imagined my work would be viewed from the path” (that is, the main path some 50 yards from the work itself).

Since this, David Nash has done further restoration work on Black Dome.