David Murphy at Dales Countryside Museum

SPEAR was part of the A&H Meeting Point programme, commissioned by The Dales Countryside Museum in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and displayed at Lake Semerwater from 28 - 29 October 2016.

The project

The Dales Countryside Museum wanted an artist who could respond to the protected landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, together with the extraordinary items within the museum’s prehistory collection.

The hope was that the commission would result in visitors experiencing something that highlighted the connections between the Museum’s collection and the magical landscape, from within which these objects were created and used.

A late Bronze age spearhead is displayed at the Museum, which was found at Semerwater in Wensleydale; and the Museum wanted the artist commission to highlight this piece and other artefacts linked with this area. The Dales landscape is layered with stories from each period that people have moved through or settled within it. The prehistoric landscape of Semerwater, the rituals of people living in the area at this period, myths, legends and stories of a sunken city, could also have acted as sources of inspiration.

The commission (which was available for up to three nights) was to be included within the Museums at Night initiative. It also connected with the exhibition that was on show in the Museum between October and December 2016, which was focused on the theme of wilderness.

Key objectives for the project were:

  • To bring together the origin mythology of the lake with archaeological finds
  • To create an atmospheric space to alter perceptions of the surrounding landscape
  • An opportunity to create an extraordinary event.

The proposal

“I propose an installation on Lake Semerwater that brings together the origin mythology of the lake with the treasured find of the bronze spearhead. Taking the ‘hovel’ described in Sir William Watson’s Ballad of Semerwater (1902) as a solid reference (it is the only structure that survives a watery end in this tale) I plan to build a simple, partially enclosed structure on a floating pontoon that can be accessed by visitors via a long floating walkway. From afar the entire structure will recall the museum’s prized spearhead, using specular reflection on the lake surface to mirror its form.” – extract from David Murphy’s original application


SPEAR was an architectural intervention on Lake Semerwater – celebrating one of The Dales Countryside Museum’s most treasured exhibits and remembering the myths and legends of Semerwater. The project saw an architectural-scale copper spearhead installed on the lake’s waters over two nights, Friday 28 & Saturday 29 October 2016. The installation physically acknowledged the treasures the lake has bestowed on the area, ‘returning’ the famous spearhead to the site on which it was found.

The fully-accessible installation reached 30 metres across Lake Semerwater, connected to the shore by a floating walkway. Visitors had the chance to explore the artwork and to view the landscape from a unique position on the lake itself.

Taking place during the UK-wide Museums at Night festival in 2016, a series of events helped to bring the installation to life. Music, readings and special performances from Rhoda Fraser and Sion Parkinson told the story of Lake Semerwater and its mythical past. A volunteer team connected with the Museum and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority assisted with the installation and visitor management over the weekend.


“As an artwork it is the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken; I think it has pushed my practice forwards both in terms of scale and in terms of organisation. As a sculpture it has brought new ways of working – publicly, collaboratively, and on an architectural scale […] I hope it sets the tone for more ambitious work in the future.” – David Murphy, 2016

  • The installation and events attracted over 1,000 people
  • Raised the profile of the Museum
  • The commission highlighted to Museum visitors connections between its collection and the local landscape
  • The project attracted more people from the Museum’s audience segments

“The commission met our objectives fully … [and] resulted in a visitor experience which highlighted the connections between our collection and the magical landscape from within which these objects were created and used.

Our objective was that the commission would attract more people from our audience segments and would raise the profile of the Museum. It delivered in relation to this over the week of the installation and we anticipate that this will result in an increase in visitor numbers and associated spend at the Museum in the future.

With the experience gained we intend to apply for further funding to enable future commissions to be made.” – The Dales Countryside Museum, 2016

Since David Murphy’s commission in 2016, The Dales Countryside Museum has gone on to work with further artists and most recently worked with printmaker Hester Cox.

About the Artist

David Murphy (b.1983, Newcastle Upon Tyne) studied at the Glasgow School of Art (2006) and currently lives and works in London. He was the recipient of the Kenneth Armitage Foundation Fellowship, London (2015-2017), completed a residency with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2014), and exhibited at the John Moores Painting Prize (2016) and the Jerwood Drawing Prize (2017). Recent exhibitions include New Art Centre, Roche Court, Wiltshire (2020); Bartha Contemporary, London (2020); Stephane Simoens Fine Art, Belgium (2020); Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2019); ALMA ZEVI Venice, Italy (2019); British Council, Cairo (2016); Galleria Monica de Cardenas, Milan (2015); New Arts Centre, Roche Court, Wiltshire (2016), PEER, London (2014).  Murphy has worked on large-scale commissions for the National Trust, UK (2018); The Dales Museum, UK (2017); Edinburgh Sculpture Workshops UK (2015) and The Blanket at the Piece Hall in Halifax,UK (2019).Forthcoming projects include a permanent new installation for Oxford House, Oxford Street, London (with Great Portland Estates to be unveiled in 2021) and a new public sculpture for the historic St Mary’s Church, Harlow, in association with Harlow Arts Trust, Essex (2021). He is Represented by ALMA ZEVI (Venice/London) and Monica De Cardenas (Milan/Zuoz).

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