Friday, 3:00pm
19 July 2013

Words in the wool

In Yorkshire Sculpture Park, artist Alison Cooper has collaborated with graphic designer Robert Hurst to stencil words on sheep

Write to Roam has visitors flocking to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) in the north of England, writes Katy Canada. The project, initiated by local artist Alison Cooper in collaboration with Robert Hurst, uses stencils to spray-paint words directly onto the sides of sheep.

For six weeks, the sheep will wander about the landscape creating various combinations of 150 words drawn from the Bretton archives. To link the project to the rich history of the park, Cooper and Hurst perused the archives and researched the Bretton Estate, which once housed the Bretton Hall College and now claims the YSP as its main attraction for visitors. To Cooper and Hurst, the chosen words seemed particularly indicative of the area.

Write to Roam in action.
Cooper and Hurst prepare to spray paint ‘Sculpture’ on the flanks of a sheep. Photograph: Jonty Wilde.


For example, they decided on words that described the landscape, as well as terms specific to the Yorkshire dialect, such as ‘thissen’ (which means ‘yourself’) and names of families who were owners of the estate. Now, as the ewes roam across the landscape, visitors can read the woolly inscriptions and absorb something of the park’s interesting history.

Examples of stencils using the Bretton typeface that Robert Hurst created for the Write to Roam project.


To make the stencil letters for ‘Write to Roam’, Cooper worked with graphic designer Robert Hurst (see ‘Sense of place’ in Eye 58). The resulting typeface, entitled Bretton, was designed exclusively for this project and the stencils were made by a local laser-cutting company called Cutting Technologies.

Photograph by Jonty Wilde.


Spraying took place at the same time as a general check-up and dosing the lambs. Robert Hurst says, ‘Three farmers handled the sheep while I held the stencils and Alison sprayed. It took around four hours to apply the Write To Roam project to approximately 150 sheep – on both flanks!’

Alison Cooper said, ‘This has been a fascinating project – learning the history of the land, people and animals at the Bretton Estate, from its inception following the Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book, right through to its present day management by YSP.’

A sheep marked with ‘Bretton’ grazing in situ. Photograph: Jonty Wilde.


Photograph by Jonty Wilde.


The title of the project comes from the successful ‘Right to Roam’ campaign of the 1990s. This led to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which opened up more than two million acres of countryside in England and Wales for walkers and ramblers.

‘From the land being closed and private to where it is now open, public and free, Write To Roam will … serve as an interesting way into the story of the Estate’, said Cooper.

The sheep can be seen in the Sculpture Park until 30 September 2013.

Cooper spray painting the flank of a sheep. Photograph: Jonty Wilde.


Katy Canada, FIE undergraduate and Eye intern

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.