Wassa, 21 May – 31 October 2021 (opening date subject to change depending on COVID-19 roadmap)

Washington Old Hall

A historic manor house in Washington, Tyne and Wear, is the site of a new art installation bringing together a cast of historical and mythical characters associated with the building and its local area – including George Washington, the first president of the United States.

Created by artists Lindsey Mendick and Dominic Watson, Wassa – titled after a historical name for the town of Washington – takes the form of a medieval feast attended by six characters, each linked with Washington Old Hall’s history.

The installation will be on show from 21 May 2021, when Washington Old Hall plans to re-open following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Dominic Watson explains: “As you enter the Old Hall, which dates back to the 13th century, you’ll be faced with a grand banquet table laden with pies, jellies and drinks. Seated at the table are a group of notable characters who all have a link with Washington Old Hall, over its hundreds of years of history.

“The installation is partly based on facts but it’s also steeped in stories and half-truths which have been passed down through generations and which we’ve learnt about as we’ve researched the Hall and the town of Washington.”

The most well-known person at the table is George Washington, the first president of the USA, whose ancestral home was at Washington Old Hall. Alongside him is a depiction of the White Lady, whose ghost is said to haunt the building; the Lady of Hertbern, one of the oldest known residents of Washington who may have lived on this site as early as the 13th century; and the Green Man, a mythological character usually associated with spring time and rebirth, often depicted in carvings at pagan worship sites, like the one which may have once stood next to Washington Old Hall.

At the head of the table sits a sculpture of Fred Hill, the local historian and schoolmaster who played a key role in saving Washington Old Hall from ruin in the early 20th century and who penned his own book of local stories called Fact, Folklore and Fiction.

And on the table, amongst the feast of food and drink and set inside a jelly, is a sculpture of the Pickled Parson whose body, according to local legend, was preserved in salt by his wife in order to convince parishioners that he was still alive and they should continue to pay his family their annual tithes.

During the creation of the installation, Mendick and Watson worked with local residents and school pupils to learn more about the stories and legends people hear while growing up in the town.

“I think that the people we met will recognise their own input in parts of the artwork,” said Lindsey Mendick. “Talking to local residents really informed our work and gave us extra insight into the stories which are the most important to people here.”

Operations Manager at Washington Old Hall, Sarah Murray, said: “This really will be a vibrant, sensory experience for people who visit here – it’s theatrical, playful and a little bit dark in places.

“We wanted to make a shift in the way we tell the story of Washington Old Hall and the people who are associated with it, and this artwork is not like anything people will have seen here before.”

Wassa is part of Meeting Point, a programme led by contemporary art specialists Arts&Heritage (www.artsandheritage.org.uk). Meeting Point presents artworks in unexpected places and supports small and medium scale museums to commission artists, forging new relationships between the contemporary arts and heritage sectors.

For this round of the programme, leading artists have been partnered with six museums in the North East, Yorkshire and the North West to produce new artworks inspired by the museums and their collections.

Arts&Heritage is funded as a Sector Support Organisation by Arts Council England through its National Portfolio Organisation funding.

Wassa is on show at Washington Old Hall from 21 May to 31 October 2021. Tickets for Washington Old Hall must be booked online and safety measures are in place including social distancing and limited visitor numbers. More details can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/washington-old-hall.