Prelude To A Broken Back
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Corn­wall Design Sea­son, a 9 week, multi-site cel­e­bra­tion of Cor­nish cre­ativ­ity and inge­nu­ity. The spine of which is an exhi­bi­tion of Cor­nish design sto­ries, inter­preted as an instal­la­tion by an artist or designer in fif­teen dif­fer­ent ship­ping con­tain­ers through­out Cornwall.

I was given the story of the Cor­nish Shovel to bring to life.

Nom­i­nated by: Paul Mas­ters, Assis­tant Chief Exec­u­tive, Corn­wall Coun­cil
Exhi­bi­tion designed by: Dion Star
Loca­tion: Car­bis Bay Beach, St Ives / 19 Feb – 2 Apr

A Libra, a Lur­gan, a Cardi­gan, and a Pasty. These names are all asso­ci­ated with a design more com­monly recog­nised as the Cor­nish Shovel. This hum­ble tool’s sim­ple but life-changingly effi­cient design has made hard phys­i­cal labour that much more bear­able – from 18th-century mines to 21st cen­tury gardens.

What­ever you wish to call it, this device was devel­oped in the early 1700s to help Cor­nish min­ers dig in cramped con­di­tions with min­i­mal back-lift. Unlike the unfor­giv­ing Eng­lish Spade, the Cor­nish Shovel spared unnec­es­sary back strain – its long, arc­ing han­dle and pointed head allowed the user to dig and twist the shovel, loos­en­ing the rock or soil while keep­ing an upright pos­ture and pro­vid­ing enough lever­age to prise open the hard, rocky ground min­ers had to dig through.

As Cor­nish min­ers migrated in the mid-19th cen­tury, escap­ing mining’s decline at home and fol­low­ing the min­eral bounty in the New World, so their supe­rior shov­els joined them and their rep­u­ta­tion spread. Sto­ries tell of min­ers using their Cor­nish Shov­els as makeshift oven trays to hold over camp­fires, as well as impromptu pasty-flinging com­pe­ti­tions with their shov­els in their spare time. Whether this is true or not is up for debate, but one thing is for sure – their cre­ation has made dig­ging a whole lot less painful for dozens of gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple. Gar­den­ers the world over will be nod­ding their heads.

Story writ­ten by: Stranger Col­lec­tive


Photos 2, 3 & 4 courtesy of Katrina Aleksa