By Keir Smith, Jarrah (Eucalyptus) located 1986


The Iron Road was installed along a stretch of disused railway embankment deep in the Forest.

Twenty evenly spaced railway sleepers placed on the gentle curve of a disused railway line bring the spirit of the Forest’s industrial past to life. Skilfully carved out of the wood are poetic images of natural or industrial life-a feather, a leaf, a wheel, a factory or a cloud. The jar with water pouring out refers to the stream running under the embankment. The wood is a Eucalyptus called Jarrah, and the sleepers were obtained from the London underground.

A carver of wood and stone, Keir Smith worked on The Iron Road for almost a year

The Iron Road is composed of twenty carved units. Only the central section of each sleeper is used, the end sections are left Intact and carry the cast-iron ‘chairs’ which once supported the track. Thematically the carved images range from those associated with the site itself to obsessional images which repeatedly force themselves into my work.

One such image is the feather. Feathers open and close the Iron Road, the beginning of the track depicts a broad feather fallen from the sky, lying awkwardly on the ground, heavy and useless: a hundred feet further down the line the sequence ends with a redeemed feather, carried through the air on a cloud, returned to its native element.

Between these framing devices, images group themselves into zones, a zone of single objects, a zone of fire and smoke and finally a zone of clouds. Some images occur in different guises throughout the Iron Road. An opened carved book, at the beginning of the suite, reappears, smouldering, in the central section with neighbouring incendiary motil-, a flaming wheel, a burning house, a lightning shattered tree.

Smoke acts as a transition between the central zone and the clouds depicted in the final group of carvings. In one sculpture a bough torn from the shattered tree depicted near to the beginning of the Iron Road, is supported on a vast cumulus and breaks into leaf and bud:once again the idea of redemption is implicit. These sculptures carry a sense of meaning but are not decodable. There is no key which unlocks a precise narrative, the carvings are allusive and finally illusive.

Rupert Martin