Light installation by Anna Whetstone
Posted 13 December 2017

Art & architecture Gardens

From Little Acorns, Mighty Oak Trees Grow

Artist Anna Whetstone talks about creating this outdoor light installation which you can see until 2 Jan 2018 behind the Wigwam at the top of the Willow Lantern Trail and Woodland Playground.

How long have you been a light artist?

Anna: I have been fascinated and inspired by working with light for over 15 years. It’s a joy to work in a medium that people have such an instinctive reaction to, and it has always amazed me that something so intangible as light can have such an enormous impact on people’s mood and behaviours.

It’s a source of wonder to me that since the very early days of human existence light from the sun and from fire has been used for both ceremony, and so very many aspects of daily life. In my own work I find endless potential in experimenting with the effect of many forms of light on different materials, and contemplating the atmosphere that can be created with these interactions.

You’ve created this beautiful structure for us here at Waddesdon, what was your inspiration?

Anna: Oak trees were the inspiration for the piece; to me they are symbolic of so many things which felt relevant to Waddesdon as a place. They support the largest ecosystem of any tree species, so create an incredible sustainable and balanced system where each creature has a vital role to play and life is supported in ongoing cycles.

This notion resonates with me and my feeling for Waddesdon itself as a very special place. Not least for its commitment to working as a sustainable and self-sufficient operation, but also its history as a home to the Rothschilds. As a family world renowned for their love of collecting artworks and beautiful artifacts, the Rothschilds have created in Waddesdon a unique home for an enormously impressive collection, which is preserved for generations to enjoy many lifetimes from now. As a place I see Waddesdon as an inspiring example of a whole, far greater than the sum of its parts.

Anna Whetstone acorn leaves sculpture

The title of your installation is ‘From Little Acorns, Mighty Oak Trees Grow’, could you tell us a little more about the meaning behind this?

Anna: The title of the piece is actually an ancient proverb, meaning that all small things have the potential within them to become something great. It has always seemed magical to me that in a literal sense a tiny acorn has the potential to become a magnificent Oak tree.

Inspired by the opportunity to involve local children I hoped to capture the idea that the same is true of a child; each young person has within them the potential to achieve extraordinary things. At this point in time I believe we should be supporting the next generation to do great things, and come together to create positive change.

The piece you’ve created is very intricate, how long did it take to assemble?

Anna: The piece took four days to install at Waddesdon, although there were many hours in the studio threading up the smaller components to ensure the starburst formation would hang in the real world as it did in my sketchbook – and stay that way for the months ahead!

Light artist Anna Whetstone construction From Little Acorns, Mighty Oak Trees Grow
Anna constructing From Little Acorns, Mighty Oak Trees Grow

What materials have used for the installation?

Anna: Crucially, the light for the piece is generated by a low voltage LED light source. The whole installation needs only 22w of power, less than an old fashioned table lamp! The numbers relating to the other components are much higher…we have used 1.5 kilometres of fibre optic cable, over 3 kilograms of miniature metal weights, 500 tiny crystal glass spheres, and over 70 metres of steel wire.

How many oak leaves are there? And who did you work with to create these?

Anna: There are exactly 500 Oak leaves in the piece. The shape was traced directly from a real leaf, and laser cut by a local engineer in fine aluminium sheet. The other vital stage of production was carried out by the children at Waddesdon Feast weekend in June 2017; each leaf has been moulded by hand into a unique form by the child whose name is engraved into it.

Metal oak leavesby Anna Whetstone

A huge part of your work is understanding the impact of light on humans, how has this been realised in this piece?

Anna: The symbolism of light in human life is something that endlessly fascinates me. Of course there are the many ways that light affects humans on a physiological and psychological level, but the symbolism that light holds is so ancient and in some ways so simple that in this piece I wanted to use light as a means of highlighting the message of the piece itself. Each leaf and the name engraved on it is highlighted by a single point of light, representing the potential and the energy of the child who formed it. Collectively the 500 leaves form an illuminated canopy which creates a sense of magic and celebration as you walk beneath it and start your journey down Miss Alices Drive.

You’ve collaborated with Waddesdon a few times, what has been your favourite project so far?

Anna: A difficult question! But I would honestly say it has been this one. It is always a pleasure working with the team here in such a beautiful setting, but it was a real privilege to meet so many young visitors in the summer who were happy to share their hopes for their futures.

It was a fascinating, funny and inspiring insight into the dreams of the next generation. I hope that they too enjoyed contributing to an artwork which would not have been achieved without the input of all five hundred young people who shared their hopes with us.

Find out more about Anna Whetstone >