A tale of two Snails

18 Sep 2018

Artist Judith Berrill has created two distinctive Snails, taking design inspiration for each from very different sources. These are Snails with tales to tell about two colourful characters – a fictional green-fingered gardener (with unexpected roots in the local community) and a historical trailblazer who put Brighton firmly on the theatrical map.

We spoke to Judith to find out more:

Mr Watts at the bottom of the garden

“I wanted my snail to represent that part of the garden where everything collects in a hidden corner – leaves, flower pots, bamboo canes…and snails of all shapes and sizes. I teamed up with a poet friend of mine, David Attree, and he wrote the poem that is on Mr Watts’ apron; it’s all about the characteristics of snails and the coloured lines are anagrams of #BeMoreSnail.

Gardening is a process that requires slowing down, you can’t grow things instantly. In the same way, painting is also a process that moves you into a different space and you don’t realise time is passing. Each of my snails has taken over 150 hours to complete. It may not look like that, but you have to put a lot of layers of paint on to get real depth of colour. For Mr Watts I did a whole under-painting process first then added multiple layers to make the colours really sing.

The title of the original design was a reference to ‘what’s at the bottom of the garden’, but there’s a lovely story relating to Greenacre Recycling, the family business that decided to sponsor the snail. When Beth, one of Greenacre’s owners, saw the design at the viewing event (linking artists with potential sponsors) she liked the gardening theme, but another surprising connection made it a natural fit – her late father was called Mr Watts! Her Dad received support from Martlets when his wife was ill and he had a great deal of admiration for the hospice.”


“I also wanted to create a female Snail and Snellie is tribute to the amazing Ellen Nye Chart. Also known as ‘Nellie’, Nye Chart ran Brighton’s Theatre Royal during the Victorian era with creative flair, a kindness of heart and a commercial acumen entirely ahead of her time.

When her husband died at quite a young age, ‘Nellie’ took over in 1875 as owner and manager and built its reputation, putting Brighton firmly on the theatrical map.  Enterprising and generous, she introduced matinees and annual pantomimes, attracted star actors from London and every year she’d invite the 1,000 inmates of the workhouse to a free pantomime performance. She did all this while also single-handedly raising her young son.

Nellie’s home was where the box office is today, and some say she has never left the building, so next time you visit, see if you can glimpse her ghost! According to theatre staff, Nellie’s favourite seat was in the Royal Circle (today’s number G16) and some say that when the theatre is empty and all the seats are upright, Nellie’s seat is still down as she’s sitting on it surveying the theatre and making sure everything is running smoothly!

Snellie’s big red curtain and tassels are a real celebration of theatre, and I looked at lots of examples of Victorian costume as references for the style and decoration of her dress including plenty of flounces and frills, as well as a pendant featuring a picture of Nellie which, I hope, will have a surprise effect in the dark. I’ve painted it with a special pigment that stores the sunlight and at night it should glow. I haven’t used the pigment before so I did a practice one which I keep looking at in my wardrobe to get a sense of whether it works in the dark!”

Make sure you check out Judith’s Snails on the Snailway!

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