Roman pottery inspires artwork

October 31 2014

INSPIRED by her father's discovery of pottery pieces at Sea Mills, historical illustrator Christine Molan is now part of a group uncovering an ancient Roman town at the Bristol port.

INSPIRED by her father's discovery of pottery pieces at Sea Mills, historical illustrator Christine Molan is now part of a group uncovering an ancient Roman town at the Bristol port.

"I remember my father bringing back these boxes of this muddy pottery which he found at his allotment - nobody really thought a great deal about it," she said. "We couldn't understand why all of this pottery was there, but it really got me hooked."

Her father's discovery in the sixties inspired Christine to become a historical illustrator, and she spent the next 30 years illustrating books about the Romans.

The Bishopston artist added: "I should have put the pottery remains out there sooner, but without a context of a project it would have just got dumped in one place."

It wasn't until 2009 that Christine heard about a community archaeology project happening at Sea Mills, so she decided to take her findings along to Bristol City Museum.

"I knew something was going to come up about Sea Mills at some point," she explained. "So I took the pottery pieces along to the museum to see if there was a connection and they just fell over - they couldn't believe it. It was all very serendipitous."

Christine decided to join up with a group of volunteers, which called themselves SMART (Sea Mills Archaeological Research Team), and they began excavating the area.

A cobbled area was discovered - where the Roman barges would have come up river and settled - with Samian ware pottery, dating back to the 1st century, embedded within the stone.

While the volunteers began digging, Christine started drawing and painting the area.

Around 200 to 300 shards were discovered, identifiable to Gaul - a region of western Europe during the Iron Age. The pottery pieces still maintained their dark red colour, high sheen and clean edges.

Christine's watercolour paintings - which were constructed using evidence gathered from archaeologists at the port - are an interpretation of how the quayside at Sea Mills would have looked and been utilised in the Roman period.

The group concluded that it was the Roman port of Abona, with results revealing the port's potential connections throughout the region to South Wales, Gloucester, Bath, London and Bradford-on-Avon.

Excavation has now stopped on the site due to it being scheduled by English Heritage. The group hopes that Abona will eventually appear on the map as an ancient monument.

Christine said: "There is no information anywhere in Bristol about this. I feel so lucky that I am involved. I want to get people inspired by going around to schools, and making them aware - it's so important that they can access this information."

Christine has also collaborated with Bristol City Museum and local archaeology teams, to create an authentic reconstruction of Bristol Castle, built on Castle Park in the 1300s.

Christine will be hosting an exhibition called 'Painting our Past' from October 27 - December 5 (weekdays, 10am-2pm) at Fresh Ground Cafe, Horfield Baptist Church in Gloucester Road. She will be displaying her painting of Bristol Castle, which is also on show at the M Shed museum, alongside her paintings of the reconstructed ancient Roman port at Sea Mills.

Christine Molan