David Murphy at Dales Countryside Museum


Project Info


  • David Murphy

Art Forms

  • Sculpture Installation and Performance


  • Dales Countryside Museum
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund

The Dales Countryside Museum shares the stories of the people and places of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. In 2016, they wanted to commission an artist to respond to the protected landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, together with the extraordinary items within the museum’s prehistory collection, in particular a late Bronze age spearhead, which was found at Semerwater in Wensleydale.

The Dales Countryside Museum was one of nine heritage sites selected by Arts&Heritage to take part in its Meeting Point 2016 programme. The museum took part in a series of A&H training workshops and visits, to learn how to successfully deliver a contemporary art project. The museum then developed their own Artist’s Brief, and presented this to 40 artists from across the UK at a networking event. From Expressions of Interest, three artists were shortlisted to draw up a more detailed proposal from which the museum selected David Murphy for the commission.

For the commission, Murphy presented an architectural intervention on Lake Semerwater titled SPEAR – celebrating the Museum’s treasured spearhead 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, (28 & 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, 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

A&H commissioned a ‘making of film’ for SPEAR, capturing the artist’s process.

The beginnings of the Dales Countryside Museum go back to 1941, when artist Marie Hartley was working with writer, Ella Pontefract. Horne’s Private Museum at Leyburn was closing and with great foresight, Marie and Ella attempted to prevent an important collection from being distributed beyond the Yorkshire Dales.  They bought thirteen lots at the sale, and here began the unique collection that we can see today. Over the years, other items were purchased and donated, and together these provide an excellent impression of all aspects of life in the Dales.

Following the tragic death of Ella in 1945, Joan Ingilby joined Marie and by the late 1960s, it had become widely known that Marie and Joan had created an unofficial museum in their home and the donation of objects by local people continued. They also kept detailed records created for the acquired objects. The stock book and card index provided information on the provenance of individual items, increasing their significance and value by presenting a historical picture of life in the Dales.

In 1972, Marie and Joan offered the collection to the then North Riding County Council (now North Yorkshire County Council). After many years in storage, a collaboration occurred between the National Park Committee (now the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) and the County Council, which resulted in the purchase of the former Hawes Joint Station Yard and its buildings at Hawes. The council offered the Goods Warehouse as premises for a museum in 1977, which is now The Dales Countryside Museum.

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).