Breath Water Marks

‘Watermark’: a mark made in paper that can only be seen if it is held against the light
‘Breath mark’: a symbol used in musical notation directing the performer to take a breath
‘Wake’: a vigil held beside the body of someone who has died; the traces left in water by a moving vessel 






Breath Water Marks is an evolving project of mobile sculpture, poetry and photographs, beginning with observations of ‘wake’ which I made when spending time at the Windermere Jetty museum and growing unexpectedly into a collaborative dialogue with poet Ian Duhig and photographer David Lindsay, transforming and being transformed by the exchange of work.




Exhibiting Dovetailing at the Windermere Jetty Museum in the summer of 2022 gave me the opportunity to spend time in the museum with its adjoining boatyard and conservation workshop, and sense the fleeting movement, floating reflections, the forming of wood, and working with air and water. I became drawn to the idea of wake and have gathered three studies as the starting points for this project:


Firstly, I was taken out on Lake Windermere by the Jetty conservation team and observed the way in which oars dip in and out of water, creating endless tiny rings which grow and disperse outward.


Secondly, I was mesmerised by the tiny water boatmen in the large boathouse next to the Jetty Museum, drawing rippled light lines with their paddle-like back legs as they go, disrupting the flickering reflections.


Thirdly, my imagination has been caught by the story of Ferry Mary Anne, salvaged from Lake Windermere in 1978 and currently undergoing a long and careful process of conservation. Built of larch, Ferry Mary Anne, the earliest-surviving rowing ferry boat (built between 1799 and 1860) now rests on a custom-made cradle at the Windermere Jetty Museum.

I am drawn to how Ferry Mary Anne, which no longer makes physical wake, has a resonant presence in her stillness. The hull has degraded but enough remains to convey a sense of her movement across water which she was so regularly used for. There is vitality in the ageing wood and, due to the care of the conservation team, she is still able to transport us into a sense of her history, the poetry of the time (the Wordsworths used the crossing at Ferry Nab), the trees from which she was made, the skills and craft used to build her, and other lives lived on her journeys. I also love how the wooden structure has now become home for other kinds of life.

Mobile sculpture


Spending time in the conservation workshop and learning about boatbuilding has enriched my understanding of the craft of lamination and the shaping of wood and I have made a new series of mobiles which draw on my observations of wake, experimenting with cut-out shapes within the pieces. For these first pieces I have used leftover wood which I had in the studio – sapele, ash, sycamore and smoked oak.






It wasn’t just Wordsworth that attracted me to this project, but the elemental nature of it and the paradox of writing not just about sculpture, but moving sculpture, exploring in-between states, provisional worlds created by the mobiles but never fully-occupied as their movement continually redefines their topographies. Even when the work is apparently completed, it still exists in a condition of becoming rather than being simply finished. The best poetry is like that, endlessly re-interpretable in various times by different readers, but I enjoy engaging with the art in this project for the challenge of reflecting on its own paradox of taking water and making its beauty fly.  Ian Duhig, November 2022



David has taken a series of images of the mobiles using a flash, and others using long exposure photography, (a technique which Clare Dearnaley used for the mobiles in Dovetailing), questioning stillness and movement, presence and absence, permanence and transience.


Many thanks to the Conservation team at the Windermere Jetty Museum for their support of the project.