Autumn in Christchurch Park

A couple of weeks ago my sister and I took a stroll in the local park.

We arrived at the gates of Christchurch Park just after 4 o’clock and the shadows were already beginning to lengthen, but nevertheless there was plenty of blue sky and puffy clouds for a ‘Constable Suffolk sky’.

Most of the trees near the Round Pond were still wearing the heavy green of late summer although just at their extremities some leaves were turning dry and brittle with hints of the orange and brown to come.

As we leisurely made a rough circuit of the park the low sun began to set and those first oranges of autumn glowed in the dappled light.

Not everybody was having a relaxing time. The park’s squirrels were very busy with the horse chestnuts. And, clearly being used to humans they did not bother to scamper away as we walked along the path towards them. In fact some came up to us expecting food, obviously somebody must be regularly feeding them. I can’t complain as it made taking photos of this industrious chap very easy.

There once was a bunch of flowers

Back in September I had a good selection of homegrown flowers that made a large and colourful flower arrangement. You may have seen the arrangement in my Blog post ‘Light or Dark‘. I liked them so much I decided to have a go at painting them. It is some years since I last had my paints out and I’d forgotten how different it is to working with dyes on silk.

It turned out to be an interesting lesson and a reminder to me to look and observe more carefully. Of course, I couldn’t let such an arrangement not feature in my silk work as well. And, it was revealing to see how the essence and not the detail ended up in the silk design.

Drawing out a loose version of the original flower arrangement.

As you might be able to guess this isn’t a full-sized scarf. I thought I would start with a bandana/small square scarf to see if the translation from gouache on paper to dye on cloth was worth pursuing. The jury is out on that at the moment. I have just started drawing out a 90 x 90 cm twill scarf to eventually include the arrangement, but probably as a repeat motif rather than a central ‘picture’.

For the time being this bandana is finished and steamed and on the shop.

Early Autumn and the Last Flowers of Summer

Back in early spring I sowed twenty sunflower seeds in a tray indoors and about six weeks later I considered planting them out.

April was unusually cold with quite a few frosts that would certainly have killed off the seedlings – so no planting out in April. I waited for the arrival of May. It began cold and then turned extremely wet, but eventually the temperatures warmed up. I thought now is the moment to plant our my sunflower seedlings.

The clematis has done well this year enjoying damp roots, but with enough summer sun to flower.

It looked at first as though I had timed it perfectly as May became June and the temperatures began to rise towards a little summer heat. And then it poured. It rained and rained and in my part of the world the rainfall was almost double the average for the time of year. And, as I blogged in ‘climate, rain, snails‘ earlier this year my backyard offered the ideal conditions for a population explosion of slugs and snails.

The upshot of all the rain was only one of the original twenty sunflower seedlings made it to flowering maturity. Not only did just a single plant survive, but it has flowered so late it has provided the feature blooms for the ‘last flowers of summer 2021’ arrangement.

I thought the one stem with its five blooms would look balanced and in proportion placed in my grandmother’s old, blue and white vase. Of course, I had forgotten that I’d never seen fresh flowers in this vase and soon discovered why. Somewhere it has a fine, hairline crack. First I grabbed a plate to collect the slowly pooling water, but no.

I think you’ll agree the plate doesn’t look right, too bright and white. So thinking a bowl would also be more practical for the slow leak, I tried a gold bowl and plate set up. That all just looked weird.

Knowing when you are beaten is a strength – apparently. Though only mildly irritated I pulled apart the arrangement, chopped stems, ditched the leaking vase and stuffed the flowers into a trusted leak-free milk jug. Finally, the last bouquet of this year’s homegrown flowers for my kitchen table. A touch dumpy, but very colourful and cheery.

Our Moon

Formed in a violent collision when Earth collided with another small planet, the Moon is our closest and most familiar cosmic neighbour. Last week I went to see ‘The Moon: Meet Our Nearest Neighbour’ a touring exhibition at Ipswich Art Gallery.

The Ancients Greeks made the link between the Moon and the tides here on Earth sometime during the 4th BC and then later the Roman Philosopher, Seneca writes in ‘De Providentia’ of the tides being controlled by the lunar sphere. And, when you enter this exhibition space a very, very large plastic version hangs from the double height ceiling. It is hard to get the scale from my photograph, but it does make you stop and consider how that small orb we are so used to seeing in the night sky could indeed influence the tides.

A very large plastic version of the Moon hangs above the exhibition showing the topography of the Moon. The Moon is one of the few places in the Solar System with no erosion, so its surface has remained unchanged for billions of years.

On display, apart from the modern plastic model, there are several maps and diagrams detailing the topography of the Moon including the oldest printed map made in 1707.

Original of one of the oldest printed maps of the Moon. Made in 1707. It shows two views of the nearside of the Moon with different namings. Despite being made with primitive telescopes over 300 years ago, these maps are surprisingly accurate.
This colourful picture is a map of lunar craters.

The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite and, so far, the only off-world body visited and walked upon by man and included in the exhibition are two tiny pieces of actual Moon rock.

This is a sample of Moon rock. This white rock is called anorthosite and makes up much of the topography on the Moon. It is what the lunar mountains are made of, and what craters are blasted out of.
And the other Moon rock on display is this black rock. It is a sample of solidified lunar lava, called basalt. It erupted from a volcano on the Moon billions of years ago flowed downhill into a large crater or depression, and then solidified into rock.

Throughout recorded history and no doubt before, humans have gazed at the Moon and found inspiration for beliefs, assigning meaning and portents. Various peoples have used the moon for calendars, timekeeping and as a navigational aid and a selection of examples are on display in the exhibition.

Small pieces originals and facsimiles line the Upper Gallery.

I was fascinated by the Moon rock, but there were two other very interesting items in the exhibition. One was a 3,500 year old bronze disc from Germany showing the earliest-known depiction of the cosmos. It shows a clear representation of the Sun and Moon surrounded by stars.

Bronze disc from Germany approx 3,500 years old.

And, the other item that captivated me was a magnificent chart. As history records twelve astronauts have walked on the Moon with the first and most famous landing taking place on 20th July 1969. Below is a large wall chart of the GOSS-Mission Profile. I looked it up, GOSS means Ground Operations Support System. The schematic was an engaging and intriguing end to an an interesting exhibition.

There aren’t suddenly two moons. The chart is showing two journeys, the one from the Earth to the Moon and then the return trajectory back to Earth.
Chart dated 1 May 1967

The Sailors’ Path

Although once again I live here in Suffolk, and have visited on and off for over 50 years, until last weekend I had never walked The Sailors’ Path. Growing up my family weren’t big walkers. Yes, we were repeat visitors to the Suffolk coast setting out from homes further inland and spending time at Shingle Street, Sizewell, Thorpeness, Aldeburgh and sometimes travelling further up the coast to visit Southwold.

The Maltings Concert Hall across the reedbeds.

However, although there was plenty of swimming and fishing, serious walking was not on the menu. My father enjoyed beach fishing and my mother the swimming, but the only lengthy walk I remember taking with them was a circuit of the bird reserve at Minsmere.

The River Alde at Snape Maltings.

Naturally, as they weren’t walkers they didn’t know of The Sailors’ Path, an old smugglers’ footpath from Aldeburgh to Snape that partly follows the course of the River Alde.

View across the River Alde towards Iken.

Last week my sister’s family came to stay at Aldeburgh and my brother-in-law suggested we should take the walk. We started at the Snape Maltings end and followed the route through the reed beds of the River Alde admiring the views back towards the Maltings. Then the path took us passed the marshes where the tide was low enough to expose parts of the muddy river bed.

The muddy marshland of the River Alde.

As we walked there was a gentle incline as the route skirted the heathland of Snape Warren before entering Black Heath Wood.

The beautiful light through the silver birch trees.

Eventually, on the other side of the wood the countryside again opened up with views across the marshes towards the River Alde.

The River Alde from Aldeburgh.

Just when we thought we might be able to go down and walk along nearer to the water the path switched away and it wasn’t long before we had to walk alongside the busy road into Aldeburgh.

The formal route does in fact continue along on the footpath of the main road all the way into the town. However, after about 10 minutes of this experience (horrible and noisy) we passed a recently resurfaced side road heading down towards the river. It didn’t look like a public road, but at the same time it wasn’t graced with the ubiquitous ‘private property’ signs we’d seen posted at all the previous lanes leading down to the water.

A splendid oak.

As we were trying to decide if there was a public right of way (no signs indicating that either), a dog-walker came up from the direction of the river and explained how to join another footpath along the water’s edge. She instructed us on how to navigate a new-build housing development enclosed with multiple road gates and join the river footpath. Thankfully, it was a route along the top of the sea defences and well away from any roads.

One camouflaged dog. My sister’s dog, Bertie.

It is hard to know precisely where The Sailors’ Path and gone. It may have been where the main road was built, but somehow I think as it was originally a route for smugglers it probably wove through the marshes. And, with the ever changing nature of marshland environments, the path had probably never been an entirely fixed route particularly in the distant past when used only by locals in the know.

A view of the river defences and in the distance the sea wall. The river no longer enters the sea here as it did in Tudor times, but flows to the right between Orford and the Orfordness peninsular and finally, about 10 miles down the coast, enters the North Sea at Shingle Street.

Returning to our progress along the river wall, eventually we left the river path and followed another footpath across cow pastures towards the buildings of the seaside town. We strolled past some beautifully tended allotments and then turned into the bottom of Aldeburgh High Street just as the sun finally decided to make an appearance.

An On/Off Project

As many of you know I have been painting silk for years and mostly selling painted silk scarves, but that was until Covid.

First the lengthy job of painting the long, long piece of silk.

When the pandemic arrived and with it, eventually, the wearing of masks in crowded spaces and on public transport and during a lockdown or not, there was an explosion of homemade masks of every shape and colour. And, as some of you know, I started painting and making silk versions. All that was until the arrival of working vaccines and the gradual reduction of mask wearing.

After painting and steaming the silk a backing was add with a layer of wadding between the silk and the backing to give a richer, thicker slightly quilted appearance.

Now, anybody who knows me in real life knows that I view sewing, by hand or machine, as a means to an end. Getting my old sewing machine out to make masks was an interesting experience for me. In the end sewing and making joined painting as part of my everyday work.

Random flowing machine embroidery make swirling shapes and loose gold stars.

All this prattle brings me to the point that for some bizarre reason at the beginning of this year I decided to embark on a large painting and machine embroidered piece of work. Yes, I did just write ‘at the beginning of this year’, because this has turned out to be a very long drawn out endeavour. And, I am now at the stage where I have picked it up and started and stopped so many times I am wondering whether it will ever get finished. The working day routine of sewing masks pretty much ceased back around last Easter and in between periods of scarf painting, this long, involved project began to take more and more time. Now, as we move into autumn my patience for machine embroidery on this scale is seriously running out of steam.

It is easier to see the freehand machine embroidery on the reverse.

Anyway I thought I’d share my progress so far and I will blog about it again if it ever gets finished.

Art at The Red House

‘Masked Figure Venetian Carnival’ – Robert Colquhoun (1914-1962). 1950, oil.

To be an art collector is a privilege and, of course, in the past it has mostly been royalty, the aristocracy and the Church who have commissioned as well as collected art. That is why I think it is fascinating to see personal collections of people from more recent times who come from different environments other than the usual suspects so as to speak.

Art at home in The Red House. ‘Portrait of Britten’ – Henry Lamb (1883-1960) 1945 oil on canvas, and also tucked behind the curtain ‘Canal Scene: Venice’ – Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) oil on canvas. Photograph from 2019 visit.

I think the art collected by Benjamin Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, is interesting as it contains commissioned portraits of both men as you would expect, with one a world renowned composer and the other a famous tenor, but it also includes a broader and more diverse range of pictures and sculptures. Their whole collection numbers around 1,200 works with many on display at The Red House within the domestic setting of their home.

‘Double Concerto’ – Maxwell Ashby Armfield (1881-1972). 1969, tempera on canvas.

Although the collection is not all about them specifically or their work, it nevertheless gives an insight into their interests and their daily lives. We are left with a glimpse of them as we see their chosen art ornamenting the rooms where they dined, read, relaxed and entertained. As with any large collection not all the work is on display at any one time, but nevertheless the rooms reflect more than a hint of the essence of the Britten-Pears home.

Drawing Room of the Red House from 2012.

Hanging on the walls of The Red House there are works featuring their friends such as colleague and close friend Imogen Holst. (She is, in fact now buried behind the two graves of Britten and Pears in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, Aldeburgh.)

Portrait of Imogen Holst. ‘Memory of Terrington St George’ – Edward Seago (1910-1974), 1962, oil

Also, there are works reflecting their personal taste, with apparently Peter Pears’ preference for strongly coloured 20th-century work.

‘Green Rose’ – Philip Sutton RA (b. 1928 – 92 years old). 1955, oil.
‘Clymping Beach’ – John Piper (1903-1992). 1953 (The lined, green upholstery fabric of the sofa complements the dark, striking lines of the painting.)

However, apparently Britten’s taste was more restrained and, there are many drawings and sketches amongst the collection.

Of course, and not in the least surprising as with many art lovers, there are works featuring Venice.

‘Interior St Mark’s, Venice’ – John Piper. 1973 (Hanging opposite the stairs which I am afraid you can see reflecting off the glass somewhat spoiling the ‘dancing light’ effect of the painting. A better photo of this evocative work can be see HERE at ArtUK.)
Pictures on the stair walls depicting more of Venice including a painting of the Santa Maria della Salute and also within the collection (but I seemed to have missed photographing it) was another painting of the Salute by Walter Sickert (1860-1942) oil on canvas.

Finally, if one is lucky enough to have the means, you can collect pictures by artists from the canon and the Britten-Pears collection has works by William Blake, Walter Sickert, David Hockney and, of course, being men of Suffolk, a painting by John Constable.

‘Portrait of second son Charles Goulding’ – John Constable (1776-1837) c.1835-36, oil on board.

Light or Dark?

I have to say that up until recently I was very much committed to the traditional dark background for a floral image.

You only have to see a few examples of those amazingly skilful and intriguing seventeenth-century Dutch flower paintings to fall in love with the striking contrast of colourful blooms against a very dark, if not black background.

Over the years whenever I have grown enough flowers to put together a reasonable arrangement I have attempted to save the results of my gardening labours by snapping a few floral-themed photos with black backgrounds.

Now this preference of mine came under serious personal scrutiny when I decided to enter an image-based competition where photograph entries had to be uploaded to Instagram. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but photos on screens can either benefit from the backlighting effect of the screen or be blighted by it.

After some time experimenting with my dahlias I concluded that a bright, almost white background made for a more interesting, contemporary photo and suited the screen presentation a little better. And, then it was a choice of going with either more flowers (above) or less (below). I chose less and although not a winner I was individually thanked for taking part, as were all entrants, which I thought was rather civilised for social media.

Slave to the Algorithm

Back in 2014, one year after I opened my online shop, it became clear that ‘Agnes Ashe’ should be on Instagram. The occasion that prompted my boarding this particular social media train was when the US craft platform, Etsy, decided to make a UK television advert. In order to be included in the selection procedure Etsy wanted to see your work on Instagram.

First Instagram post for Agnes Ashe 8 May 2014.

The above is the first post I made on Instagram back on 8th May 2014 and over the next couple of weeks the pictures uploaded on a daily basis included my painted silk scarves, flowers, my garden and, of course, the ubiquitous coffee shot!

My first fortnight on Instagram back in May, 2014.

I haven’t posted a coffee photo in years and it is rare that I post any food or cooking pictures these days, but I still post many flowers and, needless to say, my silk painting work. But, in this fast moving world of everything social media, Instagram, is not the same platform it was back in 2014.

Instagram has been around for about 11 years and during the first five years there were no significant algorithm changes, not even when Facebook bought the platform in 2012 as Instagram hit 50 million active users. By the time I joined in 2014, Facebook had already introduced advertising the previous year despite considerable grumbling from their longtime users.

Instagram’s different presentation modes.

However, 2016 was the watershed year when ‘the Algorithm’ (basically how other people find and see your posts) was totally overhauled. From this time onwards Instagram and visibility have been a moveable feast. I guess for high profile Instagram stars and celebrities it is all part of the social media game, but for regular individuals or small businesses posting on Instagram whether simple posts, stories (recent example below) or reels, it is not quite the useful beast it once was. It has turned into somewhat of a voracious monster for me gobbling up my working time prepping not only photos, but videos and slideshows. I suppose some aspects of social media work are creative, but I would rather be creating and painting scarves.

A recent story which on my Instagram has accompanying music too.

Salt and Spittle

Now reading ‘Salt and Spittle’ you may have thought I was going to post a ‘foodie’ review following a visit to a new, ironically named local pub, but no that’s not the case.

Fifteenth-century Stone font. St Margaret’s, Ipswich.

Of course, I am sure some folk will already know about pre-Reformation baptismal rites, but this was all knew to me despite my longstanding interest in medieval art, sculpture and architecture. Perhaps, that is because the ‘salt and spittle’ aspect did not easily lend itself to artistic interpretation.

The ‘sal et saliva’ (salt and spittle) was part of the sacrament of baptism where salt was placed in the infant’s mouth whilst the nose and ears were anointed with the priest’s saliva during the ceremony.

A defaced survivor.

Fascinatingly and somewhat serendipitously, there is a medieval font in Ipswich where it is still possible to read the ‘sal et saliva’ carved into stone. The eight sided, fifteenth-century font bowl of the church of St Margaret shows eight angels bearing scrolls. Originally, all eight angels had carved faces and text on their scrolls, but then the iconoclasts came to visit. It isn’t clear whether the angels were defaced sometime during the sixteenth century or later when William Dowsing made his destructive tour through East Anglia.

“Margarett’s, Jan. 30. There was 12 Apostles in stone taken down; and between 20 and 30 superstitious pictures to be taken down, which a godly man, a churchwarden promised to do.”

William Dowsing. Record – St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich. 30th January 1644

However, the survival of the text might simply have been that the font had been moved up against a pillar or the wall and had therefore restricted access for arm with chisel. Although, it does appear that the angel’s face was removed. I suppose it will remain an unresolved mystery as to why this text ‘sal et saliva’ has survived.

The Reformation in England had mixed outcomes but at least one benefit was that such a superstitious and unhygienic aspect of baptism fell out of practice. I can’t imagine many modern parents would want their baby anointed with spittle not least in these Covid 19 times.

climate, rain, snails

On Monday of this week the IPCC published a report that has finally shocked our complacent media into taking the climate crisis seriously. Even BBC News has well and truly jumped off the fence of ‘balance’ and stopped giving airtime to climate change deniers such as Nigel Lawson. And, they even posted the headline – Climate report is ‘code red for humanity’.

Dahlia ‘Black Jack’ chewed to bits by slugs and snails.

Of course, for many, many people of this country this wasn’t news, but, sadly, a confirmation of the dire situation humanity faces. Where I live, as yet, the worst we have had has been tropical, monsoon-style heavy showers, but no actual flash flooding. Mind you I do live on a hill towards the top, but my father lives down on Ipswich Waterfront. He has received several flood alerts, but luckily high tides and torrential downpours have not coincided and only the nearby car park has flooded.

Dinner plate dahlia ‘Penhill Watermelon’ (A survivor perhaps because it’s just so big.)

On a lesser issue all this rain and continuous warm damp has provided super optimal conditions for the slugs and snails. My backyard has been invaded and overwhelmed by snails. First they ate all my runner bean plants, then they started on the dahlias (always a favourite with both snails and slugs) and now they have moved on to the lilies. I have been growing lilies for over 20 years and, yes, in the past I have had to fight off the dreaded lily beetle, but this is the first time my lilies have been shredded by snails.

Survival rate of lily blooms about one in three.

Finally, in exasperation last week I went to war against these pests. Now, firstly I didn’t use slug pellets as they are a disaster for the wildlife and, rather incompetently, I had already missed the window of opportunity earlier in the season for deploying nematodes. This has left me with only one option to sally forth in the drizzle at dusk, hunt them down and physically destroy them.

Large slug heading for a feast of dahlia.

It has been very unpleasant and I have wondered how the professional growers of fruit and vegetables produce largely undamaged crops. I know really, mostly they use pesticides, but not for me as I garden organically. In a small, urban space without a pond for frogs or any town-dwelling hedgehogs visiting to snack at the snail bar, my backyard is devoid of predators except for me with my torch and wellies.

In the rain strongly smelling golden fennel, not popular with the local gastropods!

I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child washing mud from locally grown potatoes, picking out tiny slugs whilst preparing lettuce and cutting the odd worm or maggot from an apple. These days we appear to have forgotten the effort and resources that have been used to get near ‘perfect’ fresh food to the shops, but, perhaps this is about to seriously change. Apart from the immediate difficult weather, the climate crisis is already bringing droughts and floods and generally unseasonable weather to other parts of the world, and worryingly there are signs of the beginning of strain on our system of food production.

Seasonal, blemish-free cherries from Kent. (That’s two counties away – can I call that local?)

The IPCC issued another report (not this current ‘Code Red for Humanity’ one), a report that contained an entire chapter about food security back in August 2019 – you hadn’t heard about that? Neither had I. Disappointingly, looking around at all the great and good elected to govern us and lead by example, they too, don’t appear to have heard about it either and, even if they have, they’ve taken no action. Two years on from that report and with COP26 this November and following/despite the publication of the Code Red warning, it’s all still very much business as usual.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse may be on the horizon but let’s instead fret about exam grade inflation, refugees crossing the Channel and propping up the aviation industry as everybody is (apparently) entitled to cheap holiday flights!

The monument and grave of John Bunyan (1628-1688), Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, London.

Here’s a thought regarding climate crisis action “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan (1628-1688).