The Angel of Hafodunos: A Life in Nine Tableaux

Margaret Sandbach’s life and work is the inspiration for an ambitious photographic project by Manuel Vason, in collaboration with Caerffili-based company, Truth Department.

Manuel Vason was born in Padua, Italy in 1974. In 1998 he moved to London and whilst assisting some of the most highly regarded photographers in the fashion industry he started the live performance art project ”Exposure”.

His work has been published on L’Uomo Vogue, ID, Dazed and Confused, Tate Magazine etc. and exhibited at Tate Liverpool, ICA London, Whitechapel Gallery London, VB Museum (Finland), Museo delle Papesse (Italy).

Truth Department commissioned Vason to create a series of nine photographic tableaux inspired by the life and work of Margaret Sandbach.  The images were first exhibited as part of Fotofringe in Cardiff, in June 2014 and are published in the volume Margaret Sandbach: A Tragedy in Marble and Ink.

Involving a cast and crew of twenty, each tableau features an inner image shot in studio, which was then reproduced and photographed for the tableau on location; at Bodnant Garden, at a Regency home in the Conwy valley and at Hafodunos itself.  The images feature performance artist Michelle Outram, Colwyn Bay schoolboy, Oshi Adey-Davies (9), Stephen Peckham as Margaret’s husband, Henry Sandbach, and Llandudno sculptor Nick Elphick as his Victorian counterpart, John Gibson RA.

Photographer Manuel Vason said, “Everything started from the story of Margaret’s life. Once we had all these ingredients we had to find a very good way of representing these stories, and we only had 9 images to do it in, so everything is very detailed”.

More information about The Angel of Hafodunos can be found at

To view our gallery please click an image below.

Antonia Dewhurst

Antonia Dewhurst is a multimedia fine artist living and working in North Wales. She gained a BA Fine Art from Coleg Menai, Bangor, in 2011 and is a member of casc (Contemporary Art Studios Cymru). Antonia’s work has been included in several exhibitions including ‘gimme shelter’ at the Oriel Davies gallery and ‘Preswylio/Dwell’ at The Last Gallery. 

Antonia visited the Hafodunos site on several occasions and through photography she has beautifully captured the vulnerable state in which the estate now finds itself. Antonia additionally travelled down to the Cardiff National Museum to photograph examples of the sculptural work of John Gibson, which are also displayed on this website.

When asked about her work, and what drew her to this project, Antonia had this to say:

I suppose it was the name that first intrigued me when Mark Baker asked if I wanted to be involved in Hafodunos.

My art is concerned with ideas around our complex relationship with home and I had been researching the Welsh tradition of the ty unnoswhereby, if a house could be built in one night between sunset and sunrise, and have smoke rising from its chimney at dawn, then it could be kept, along with the land as far as a hammer could be thrown from its four quarters (follow this link to watch a video of Antonia building the real thing: ). So I was intrigued enough by the name Hafodunos to become involved, despite the legend that the name derives from St Winifred’s body resting there for one night (un nos), en-route from Holywell to Gwytherin churchyard.

My feelings towards Hafodunos are ambivalent. The house was built to impress and the scale and detailing in the public rooms certainly do impress, and one can’t help but be moved by Margaret Sandbach’s story, or angered by the senseless destruction. However, it’s to the servants’ quarters I gravitate when I visit. They have a domestic scale that is familiar and, having largely survived the fire, retain evidence of recent habitation to which one can relate. The public face of Hafodunos exemplifies what Simon Schama calls ‘the folly of built grandeur,’ it is the melancholy of the intimate, behind the scenes, memento mori that keeps drawing me back.

To view our gallery please click an image below.

To see more examples of Antonia’s work, please follow the links below:

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