“You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”
No – we are not standing gazing across from West Egg to East Egg, but sailing down the River Orwell in Suffolk on board the Sailing Barge Victor. I just saw that green light and immediately thought of Gatsby. What an old romantic!
This special trip had been booked by my daughter for midsummer 2020, but we all know what was happening last June and, in due course, like so many events that excursion was postponed.
You may remember that last year June was warm, dry and summery, but this year it has been just a bit more on the wet side. We climbed on board and whilst waiting to set off, I started taking some photos and noticed it had already begun to drizzle.
Once Victor had cast off it was round the marina to the old lock. As we waited for the lock to empty to the level of the river the persistent drizzle turned to rain proper. It was lucky my camera is fine in less than optimal conditions (it has a sealed, weatherproof body apparently) as we got soaked remaining on deck determined to make the most of the experience.
Fortunately, it was only a shortish downpour and by the time the barge chugged under the Orwell Bridge the rain had stopped. There was a gentle breeze and the Master decided it was time to cut the engine and hoist the sails.
The sudden peace and quiet was delightful as the huge main sail filled with the breeze and the barge gently sailed down the river. This was the first time I’ve been on a boat under wind power and it was enchanting.
Of course, sailing is slower than being engine-powered, but why be in a hurry. I think humans, particularly in so-called advanced societies, have lost something that’s restorative that comes with ‘slow’. In our relentless need for speed, continual clock watching and chasing our tails much is missed.
With the climate crisis making its presence felt more and more perhaps we need to rethink this speed thing and generally take life at a gentler pace and burn less fossil fuel.
Our barge trip was an evening affair and despite being just past midsummer, it was dark by the time we returned to Ipswich. And, what a treat to approach the Old Customs House from the water lit up in all its glory.
Finally, if you were wondering what Victor looks like under sail, here’s a couple of photographs I took from another boat as Victor sailed past us on a very windy day in August 2018.
Well, who’d have thought we’d go from cool and rainy to very hot and sunny from one week to the next. Of course, the answer is anybody used to English weather.
The roses, clematis and lilies have most definitely appreciated the moist soil followed by plenty of sunshine.
And, finally the pots planted up with summer bedding have eventually taken off and got into their stride.
Whilst writing this post I took a moment to review the progress over the last three years of getting my concrete backyard to look like a garden.
It has taken a fair amount of effort and time, but, at last, when I look out at the backyard I do feel as though I am looking at a garden. Unfortunately, the excess of rain at the wrong time facilitated a population explosion of slugs and snails. This has done entirely for the runner beans with every single one eaten to the ground and has also pretty much annihilated the sweet peas resulting in only one in five surviving to flower. However, there are plenty of plants that have not been eaten (yet) and the recent sunshine has boosted flower production enough for me to cut and have a scented arrangement for indoors.
As artists, artisans, creatives and makers we all form part of the visual culture community and as such it is always a joy to see and be inspired by the work of others past and present.
One commendable opportunity offered by the Internet is the ability to share our finds and photos of inspirational art particularly the unnamed work of past artisans. Sharing our appreciation gently reverberates across the net as pleasantly, every now and then somebody pops up and leaves some much appreciated positive feedback for my own work.
Just recently I have received a couple of delightful mentions one by Sheri 42 from the blogging world
and one by ‘Suffolk Artists’ on Instagram. And, so I thought I would blog a ‘thank you’ post for both mentions and share the love as they say.
It might be a cool and wet start to July, but recently I have turned to painting with a warmer range of colours.
It is another layered mid-sized scarf which has ended up more patterned with the second layer than I had originally intended.
And, after steaming the colours have turned out to be stronger and hotter than expected as well. Perhaps this weather is going to get the idea and also turn hotter too and then we’ll have a summer after all.
This week I visited the latest exhibition on show at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. ‘Power of Stories’ is a collaborative endeavour and melds the loan of three of the Oscar-winning costumes from the Disney/Marvel film ‘Black Panther’ with historical pieces already held by the Ipswich Museum. Together with a team of Community Curators made up of local people, the exhibition also tells the story of how and why the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) was formed during the 1970s.
It is not a new idea that human beings express their lived experiences and histories in narrative forms. Storytelling is and has been an essential part of human existence and as the anthropologists inform us it is present in one form or another in every community and culture across the world.
To begin with there was the storyteller and the story listener, but each time humankind discovered or invented a new medium for expression then a song, a cave-painting, a stone carving, a stained-glass window, a book, a photograph, a play, a film, a computer game or even an exhibition told a story.
As you enter ‘Power of Stories’ there is a large block of text written on the wall introducing the exhibition. It states:
A world of stories.
Sharing stories is something all people have in common. The more stories we know, hear and share, the wider our view of the world becomes.
Museums have historically presented a European view of history, which has excluded many voices and ways of knowing.
As Community Curators, we have woven our perspectives into this display, recognising that everyone has valuable stories to share. This is part of a developing collaboration around history, community and belonging.
The exhibition begins with a series of cabinets containing objects from the Ipswich Museum collection including puppets, metalwork sculptures, books and comics.
There couldn’t be an exhibition about stories that didn’t include comics. Naturally this exhibition includes some of the most iconic Marvel issues, including copies of editions from ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Iron Man’ series. And, of course with the main draw for the exhibition ‘Power of Stories’ being the three costumes designed for characters from the Marvel film, ‘Black Panther’, there’s versions of the earliest Black Panther comic book appearances.
I have not seen the film, ‘Black Panther’ but I know it was critically acclaimed and heralded for its mostly black cast especially for the lead actors’ strong performances and, notably, an all-female army.
Predictably from a film franchise based on comics that revel in the mythic superhero, Thor/Loki, Iron Man, X-Men, Spider Man amongst others, and, with only 12 percent of the superhero comics having female protagonists, it is not surprising that ‘Black Panther’ is about a king, T’Challa, and his kingdom of Wakander. Despite two of the three costumes on display being those for the female characters, Shuri and Okoye, the story is not primarily their story, but the king’s.
The film costumes for fictional characters are, no doubt, the crowd-drawing, eye-catching spectacle and next to them the real life, local story of how and why the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) came into being feels quiet in the telling.
However, there’s no doubt though that the loan of the ‘Black Panther’ costumes has offered an exciting opportunity for the wider community of Ipswich to be engaged with the presentation of the town’s heritage, identity and culture. And, this sentiment was expressed by Carole Jones of Ipswich Borough Council when she said:
“The exhibition is a thrilling collaboration between museums and Ipswich’s community. We did not want to tell people how to get the most out of Power of Stories – we wanted them to inspire each other and visitors with their stories and, hopefully, to bring new audiences to the mansion.”
Carole Jones, Ipswich Borough Council (portfolio holder for planning and museums).
The exhibition as a whole is offering a variety of stories to coax the visitor to consider how storytelling can either unite or divide peoples. However, one of these stories more in focus than the others is the predictable ‘individualistic hero’, particularly as told through the hereditary king. In the 21st century perhaps we need dramatic tales of collaborative governance and democracy as surely this is the way forward for a united and peaceful planet regardless of gender or race. We are, after all, all members of one storytelling species.
The English gardener is the eternal optimist. Roses are planted, pruned, trained and nurtured and then the arrival of June is awaited.
And, when June arrives the buds start to open and all that effort is rewarded. Of course, the warm June days of gentle English ‘Constable’ skies with soft, billowy clouds and intermittent sunshine are the best conditions to achieve a fine display of roses.
However, as we know every year is different and having a good June for roses is not as frequent as the English Gardener believes. I gave up growing those old fashioned roses with large quartered blooms as four seasons out of five the buds balled and rotted in the rain.
And, so we come to this June in particular, where the first two weeks brought temperatures up to 28ºC with days of endless, hot sunshine. The roses in my sheltered, backyard became scorched and bleached. Then virtually overnight the weather changed. The wind blew in from the north-east, the daytime temperatures dropped to 15ºC and we had several days of continuous rain to bash the remaining blooms into a squidgy mess.
It wasn’t just the roses that were spoilt by the rain. The perennial poppy, Patty’s Plum were reduced to mush too. Fortunately, I took some pictures of their rich, intense beauty before their disintegration.
At the front of my house the pink climber now displays roses in various states of pulp yet the neighbouring salvia sclarea, normally good for a dry planting, has coped very well. Its contrasting shape, both flower stalks and leaves, has diverted attention from the climbing rose washout. It hasn’t been enough though, and with the lack of suitable flowers to cut, I was tempted and I am sorry to say, have bought some flowers from the florist. Well, who could resist these scented stock, so pink, such sweet scent, so summery.
Last month I took a few photographs of the flowers that had managed to do their thing despite a very wet May.
As it happens it was the photo of the deep purple and pale lilac aquilegias that consciously caught my attention and became the inspiration for a silk scarf.
And, in that strange way that colours and shapes so often infiltrate the sub-conscious, the alliums found their way into my design too.
The second layer of shapes and colours added over the first fully dyed silk made for a messy looking composition, but after steaming the completed scarf, Eladora Sea, has turned out to be one of my favourites.
Even before my parents took my sister and I to the British Museum to see the 1972 Tutankahmun Exhibition I had already fallen under the spell of Ancient Egypt.
I still have my original collection of newspaper articles, souvenir extracts and a history magazine stuck in a scrapbook accompanied by an average 10 year old’s random commentary and drawings.
Incidentally, I can see now, as the front cover has come unglued, that this scrapbook had originally been used for a school project imaginatively called ‘Normans’. All trace of school Normans has gone and my obsession for all and anything Ancient Egyptian (a topic not covered at my village school) has instead filled the pages and still does, sort of, 50 years on.
Of course during the run up to the 1972 ‘blockbuster’ exhibition, although that term wasn’t used back then, there was plenty of press coverage. Serious articles in the Sunday broadsheets and specialist magazines were printed as well as the ubiquitous souvenir pull-out.
The 1972 exhibition consisted of fifty prize objects from Tutankhamun’s reign as the boy-king of Egypt (BC1361 to 1352). The artefacts had been lent by the Egyptian Government and made this the biggest Tutankhamun exhibition outside Egypt. Fifty objects to mark the 50 years since 1922 when the English archaeologist, Howard Carter, had discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb with the inner chamber still intact and undisturbed by grave robbers.
Apparently the British Museum estimated that between 800 – 1000 per hour would pass through the turnstile with adults paying 50p and children 25p entrance fees. (So that cost my father £1.50!) I didn’t know at the time, but have read since, that the exhibition ran from 30th March to 30th September 1972, opening Mondays 3 pm to 9 pm, Tuesdays to Saturday 10 am to 9 pm and Sundays 2 pm to 6 pm with any profits going to Unesco’s fund to save the ancient temples of Philae from the waters of the Aswan Dam. (As a side note it’s interesting that the BM was open until 9 pm. I had thought evening opening was a 21st century innovation.)
Returning to the ‘treasures’ in my scrapbook I found an envelope with a special edition stamp which was also issued to mark the 50 year anniversary of the original 1922 discovery. (My goodness a stamp for 3p!)
Today turning the foxed pages and unfolding the fading newspaper pages all stuck in with the now yellowing and stick-less sellotape has reminded me just how keen I had been. You’d have thought I might have gone on to be an historian or even an archaeologist, but at 14 years old school history hit the Industrial Revolution and from being nearly top of the class I dropped to the very bottom in a year.
It was another 25 years before I seriously returned to history when I enrolled at UEA to study Art History. Of course you never really forget your childhood passions and eventually 20 years after seeing the 1972 Tutankhamun Exhibition I did, finally get to visit Egypt. We saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx, took the slow night train down to Aswan and travelled back to Cairo after stopping off at Luxor and the Valley of Kings. I still remember visiting the Cairo Museum strolling straight up to the cabinet displaying the gold death mask of Tutankhamun with no other tourists in the room. It was a pole opposite experience to my attempt to see the mask back in 1972 at the BM. After queuing for a couple of hours, I had struggled in the crush of adults and after the briefest of glimpses of the iconic mask been swept on through the exhibition to the next object.
Of course, since 1972 attending blockbuster, popular exhibitions has changed with the introduction of limited numbers and timed entrances. Then along came Covid and we now have greatly reduced numbers, strictly timed tickets, hand gel stations and one-way systems along with mask wearing. Last week when I made my first post-Covid lockdown visit to the Ipswich Museum it was so quiet the staff outnumbered the visitors.
It certainly has been late coming this year, but finally we’ve had sunshine. And, enough sunshine for the flowers to truly get into their blooming stride. My backyard, not the sunniest of spaces, now has the late-flowering pheasant’s eye daffodil, a selection of aquilegias and a few alliums all out together.
Also this week a visit and wander around the local park offers a fine testament to the sun’s essential, life-giving force. It was delightful to see the azaleas and rhododendrons bringing colour to the partial shade of the fresh green canopy of deciduous trees.
And, out in the more open area there was the wild meadow-style planting of cow parsley mixed with clumps of spurge.
Even the more formal park-planting that borders the park entrance was full of loose, cheery colour. Although pansies and forget-me-nots are usually a spring combination, the answer to the question ‘End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?’ is, I think, most definitely the beginning of summer.
One small aside, even without deliberately or even mildly consciously choosing to take inspiration from all this welcome floral spectacle, it is most undoubtedly influencing my work.
Along time ago when I was a student my textiles tutor once commented to me that she could always recognise my work by my use of black. At the time she had been looking at drawings for a floral fabric where I had used only the tiniest hint of black behind lime green stems.
I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.
Over the years I have begun to include more and more colours in their darker shades instead of the black to add depth to my designs. Every now and then I think I am going to stick with a pastel background, but somehow I find I want the design to be a little more punchy . . .
And then a pot of a dark Prussian blue or an imperial purple or even a rich brown is unscrewed and the dark dye banishes the pastel.
However, as I write this there’s work on the frame where I have designed from the outset to use pure black. I know it might seem strange, but to get the best black it has to be painted onto the natural silk before any other dye has been added. You’d think that black would just cover any previously painted area, but some of the initial coloured dye binds to the silk and even though the black is strong, it never quite looks as sharp.
Finding myself working again with black it seems, as with so much in life, even one’s creativity can turn full circle as part of a cycle. Apparently for me it turns out I am on a roughly seven year circuit! Of course, it’s never a true repeat, but a revisiting with the benefit of experience.
The Suffolk county town of Ipswich was granted a Royal Charter by King John in the year 1200. Back at the end of the last century to mark and celebrate this 800 year anniversary a discussion at the Ipswich Arts Association suggested some kind of tapestry in the tradition of the Bayeux Tapestry might be created.
The project was a community endeavour under the direction of Isabel Clover, a lecturer and tutor at Suffolk College at the time. She is known nationally for her ecclesiastical designs and embroidery and it was she who researched and designed the eight panels that make up the finished Ipswich Charter Hangings.
This commemorative work was an extensive collaborative project that took three years to complete and involved embroiderers, local historians, sponsors and finally a craftsman to make the presentation frames.
The team of volunteer embroiderers (at the time past and present City & Guild students at Suffolk College) worked at creating the eight panels that each represented 100 years of Ipswich history.
It is over 20 years since the Charter Hangings were commissioned and created and during the intervening time they have been displayed not only in Suffolk, but also in Arras, France (twinned with Ipswich) and Ipswich, Massachusetts, USA.
Now they are back in Ipswich on display at St Peter’s by the Waterfront and just before the Covid pandemic closed public sites, I went to take a look at the eight panels.
At this point I must just apologise for the quality of the whole panel photographs. When I visited the full sequence of the eight panels they were lined up in a single row opposite the south-facing church windows and each panel was individually spotlit.
Unfortunately, as the hangings were behind glass for their conservation, this arrangement and lighting resulted in photographs with unwanted reflections and additional points of bright light reflecting off the protective glass.
Of course protecting these textile hangings behind glass is important, but the introduction of a hard although transparent layer over the textiles and stitching also alters the visual experience and you can see less of the surface quality of the fabrics and embroidery.
And, just to make capturing the quality of the work doubly awkward there was also a table, chairs and a grand piano directly in front of the display restricting any direct front-facing shots and entirely eliminating any chance of a photograph showing the entire work in sequence.
For those interested there’s further information in this newspaper article and below is a short sequence of close-up photographs showing stitching, fabrics and a variety of braided, woven and gimp trims.