A contemporary interpretation of William Smith’s 1815 geological map has been created by Bristol artist Rodney Harris, coloured using material collected from the actual rocks represented on Smith’s map.

Bristol-based artist Rodney Harris joined the University of Bristol in January 2015 as the Leverhulme artist in residence. Rodney explored the potential for using geological materials as artistic media to create a contemporary interpretation of William Smith's original geological map. 

The artist was based in the School of Earth Sciences where the staff, students and the public were able to follow his work and engage with the project.

Rodney collected material from all the rocks represented on William Smith’s 1815 map. He then ground them up by hand and mixed the resulting powder with a linseed oil medium to make a unique ink or paint.

Using 15 separate sheets, as per the original, Rodney Harris made an identical copy of William Smith’s 1815 map, but coloured it using the paint he had created from the original rocks.

The beautiful map, at the same size as William Smith’s original (approximately 6 feet wide by 9 feet high), now hangs in the common room of Bristol University’s Earth science Department where it will be unveiled on 19 November.

The Department also recently unveiled their very own newly restored original copy of William Smith’s map which can be viewed as part of an exhibition that showcases historic geological books, memoirs and cross sections from the archives of the University of Bristol Special Collections.

The exhibition is open to the public and can be viewed as part of the Wills Memorial Tower Tours. Please contact tour guide Gary Knott to make a booking.

Telephone: +44 (0)117 954 5219
Email: tower-tours@bristol.ac.uk

William Smith was the first to establish and apply the principles of ‘strata’ and ‘faunal succession’ in order to understand the geology of the British Isles, and to represent it on a map. He also developed a colour-coding method to visualise topographic data with geological and stratigraphic information. 200 years later we are looking back at Smith's life and work and how it changed the way we understand the rocks beneath our feet today. William Smith is considered to be the ‘Father of English geology’, and the map he created was the first-ever geological map of a nation.