One day, seventeen years ago (1991), when Eric Sawden was quarry manager at Locharbriggs, Dumfries, he was informed that an artist was in reception looking for a bit of sandstone. ‘He wanted a raw block out of the quarry floor to build an arch’, Eric explained. ‘I said he could have it for free and he came in and built a little arch. A year later he came back and built eleven little arches. ‘I had no idea what he was doing with them. He kept coming in and getting bits and pieces and he always asked for me.’
But in 1997, Goldsworthy approached Locharbriggs Quarry with bigger plans. He wanted to build a huge arch, for a commission in Montreal, Canada. Although his bosses thought it was ‘a wind-up’, Eric supported the scheme. The arch was built at Locharbriggs over a year, then had to be ‘earthquake tested’ according to Canadian regulations, before being dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic. Goldsworthy convinced their bosses to release Eric and two of his fellow workers to Montreal to reconstruct the work. Meanwhile, a company takeover put Eric’s job in jeopardy. Soon after this Goldsworthy approached him, out of the blue, with a job offer. Since then he has been Andy Goldsworthy’s right-hand man, assisting him with the logistical arrangements surrounding private commissions and installations for public art spaces and galleries all over the world.
Eric’s affection for Goldsworthy’s stone arches is clear and the Striding Arches project is obviously close to his heart: ‘I have been so much involved with this from the start,’ he said. He was on hand during the Striding Arches’ original construction at the quarry, their installation at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and their arrival back in Dumfries and Galloway. Locharbriggs quarry workers Brian Nish and George Rennie were responsible for selecting the blocks for Striding Arches before cutting and building the arches at the quarry and have continued to be involved with Eric in the reconstruction phase of the project. Goldsworthy has remarked that he is ‘very proud’ of how Brian Nish and George Rennie, who still work at the quarry, ‘learned how to make arches, the care and skill they show in making them. It’s very much about them and Eric.’
With many thanks to Carol Hogarth whose interview with Eric Sawden appeared in The Annandale Observer on 8th February 2008.