February flowers in the cemetery

On Monday I had a scarf order to despatch and as it was a gorgeously, bright and sunny winter morning I decided to take a detour and walk through the cemetery to the Post Office.

This is my first visit to the cemetery since just before Christmas and what a pleasant surprise.

A tapestry of snowdrops and crocuses in various stages of blooming flowed in between the old headstones and graves.

Of course, the bright, but low winter sun enhanced the scene although the recent storms and high winds has left a muddle of fallen twigs amongst the blooms.

As I walked through this enchanting green space not only was it a feast for my eyes, but there was also a full chorus of birdsong including the sporadic rat-a-tat-tat drilling of a woodpecker.

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Silk Scarves for Valentine’s Day

This time next week it will be Valentine’s Day. I do have a couple of red scarves on my online shop at the moment, but they don’t feel classically romantic to me. They’re too bright and, too, well, red.

Thinking about it in an old-fashioned way and despite the supermarket aisles of red Valentine’s merchandise, I find I associate the colour pink with romance more than red.

So with romance in mind for this Valentine’s post I have put together a selection of my work that features pink more or less.

The first scarf (at the top) has accents of zingy fuchsia, but the rest of this mini collection are all rather dusky, muted affairs.

In general I think that softer pinks are easier to wear, and, who doesn’t like a touch of pink lippy every now and then.

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I have been layering again

You may or may not recall that last year I was inspired to work with some Tudor motifs following my visit to the splendid exhibition ‘Wolsey’s Angels‘ held at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. I was particularly taken with an oak fire surround with beautifully carved details that included a repeating pheasant motif which I stole and reworked for a scarf design.

Initial drawing and painting of Thomasina

Sometimes when I finish a scarf and steam it I am very pleased with the result, but this is not always so. As I’ve mentioned in the past the steaming process intensifies the colour, but it is not entirely predictable. When the scarf is finally washed and pressed I can properly appraise the results. And, I have to say I was very disappointed with this pink one.

Thomasina after initial steaming

The pale background did not deepen as much I thought it was going to during the steaming and consequently the balance between the heavy lines of the motif and the pale background was way off. Fortunately, having a very pale background has allowed plenty of scope to successfully develop a second, richer layer.

I added more darker lines to the central area and generally softened the whole design by adding pale greys and a mouse brown over the pale pink.

After steaming, washing and pressing the scarf was ready for another assessment. A little surprisingly it as turned out much better than I thought, but, rather annoyingly the tonal range has also turned out to be awkward to photograph satisfactorily. You can’t win them all.

And, finally some words about blogging in general.

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Public Processions as Protest

R-Space Gallery CIC working with artist Lucy Turner and Seacort Print Workshop.

During these times of very strange, volatile, unpredictable, wobbly, erratic and, when you examine it all as a whole, completely chaotic politics, it is interesting to have a brief look at some ‘political’ slogans.

Rural Arts North Yorkshire with artist Angela Hall.

I am not going to engage with the Brexit shambles, but instead take a peak at a few slogan’s which were paraded in last summer’s celebration ‘Processions’ marking 100 years of votes for women.

‘Processions’ was a mass participation artwork to celebrate 100 years of votes for women. It was an open invitation to every woman and girl across the UK to get involved by being present on Sunday 10th June 2018 in one of the four UK capitals.

Greater North Belfast Women’s Network who worked with the National Museums, Northern Ireland.

Women from across the country gathered in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London dressed in the colours of purple, green and white, and marched together inspired by the great processions of the suffragettes and the suffragists in the years leading up to 1918 and the coming of votes for women.

Millennium Court Arts Centre. International Women’s Friendship Group working with artist Tonya McMullan, Flax Art Studios.

One hundred women artists were commissioned to work with community groups and organisations to facilitate the creation of banners with participants collaborating in workshops generating ideas and collectively producing colourful, striking and thought-provoking banners.

Many of the banners trumpeted slogans with universal appeal.

Banners from Women of the Estuary (that is the Thames Estuary) hanging in the Ipswich Library.

And, some banners celebrated various sections of society with both professional and non-professional female practitioners acknowledged.

The Braids Art Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland with artist Rosalind Lowry.

Needless to say, I especially appreciated those banners referring to the worlds of creative women.

Mid Wales Arts Centre with artist Loraine Morley on display at DanceEast.

And, finally, on a personal note, having gone to school in Essex I was quietly amused by the Essex women’s bold take on owning their space in this world.

Metal Culture, Southend-on-Sea working with artist Heidi Wigmore.
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How times change!

Recently I have been sorting and collating and trying to delete some of my thousands of photographs. It’s what I call a New Year’s task and as usual I have already been completely sidetracked!

This time it was all St Gabriel’s fault or rather should I say the talented Victorian stained glass artist who created this work. I think it could possibly have been painted by somebody who worked for James Powell & Sons. It has an Arts and Crafts feel, and, the overall design of the complete window has a look very similar to the late-19th/early-20th century works by that famous, London-based stained glass makers.

It wasn’t so much the beauty of the window, although I really do love the restrained aesthetic of this style of glass, but I wanted to know who had made it and so the hunt began. I was sidetracked.

Disappointingly, I was not successful, however, I did come across a little thread of discord from 2005 regarding the taking of photographs within National Trust properties. The above stained glass window, that had captured my attention, can be found in the chapel on the Oxburgh Hall estate in Norfolk.

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and St Margaret. Architect J C Buckler. 1835

Inside the chapel there are a few artworks worth attention. There is the tomb of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield, complete with a fine, marble effigy and alabaster tomb chest.

Marble effigy of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield. 1800-62

There is also a further stained glass window by Thomas Willement, this time featuring heraldic motifs and . .

Heraldic stained glass window by Thomas Willement. 1838

there is an oddly, overblown altarpiece arrangement. This is not the original 1839 altarpiece. In fact the painted and gilded wooden structure we see today is a retable with wings that was purchased sometime in the late-19th century. It is unclear when and who put together the full arrangement with the upper retable, the sacrament tabernacle and the bottom, carved altar table.

As you can see from my photographs, when the wings are opened displaying scenes from the Passion and the life of St James of Compostela, the whole effect is unbalanced and out of proportion within such a small chapel. Flemish altarpieces from the sixteenth century are often seen these days in museums and art galleries, but originally they would have been erected in cathedrals or larger churches set beneath high vaulted ceilings and tall windows. Perhaps the entire Oxburgh construction was purchased during a moment of Victorian religious zeal. Strangely, according to the official guidebook ‘The retable was acquired by the National Trust in 1982 with the aid of grants from the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Victoria & Albert Museum’ thirty years after Oxburgh Hall had been given to the National Trust. If you are at all interested in the baffling and convoluted arrangements for keeping some art accessible to the public you can read about the retable provenance here.

Now, after that minor digression, I come back to the issue of taking photographs, such as mine of the Oxburgh Retable, in National Trust properties. Back in January 2005, Simon Knott, who has made a fine photographic record of much of East Anglia’s church art, was visiting Oxburgh Hall. And, in 2005 photography was not allowed inside any National Trust properties for ‘security reasons’. However, Mr Knott attempted to photograph inside the chapel and was caught by the room steward. Mr Knott subsequently recounted this episode on his website. He was mildly critical of the NT’s over zealous no photography policy and then latterly received a sharp slap down in reply. Below is a glimpse back to those pre-selfie, pre-Instagram days!

Postcript, June 2005: Teresa Squires, House Steward at the Hall, was alerted by, as she put it, ‘a concerned National Trust volunteer’, and contacted me [Simon Knott] : I am most concerned about your puerile comments regarding the “sneak” photography. The National Trust has a No Photography rule for a number of good reasons, of which one is security. If you had taken the trouble to enquire of the steward, you would have found out that the No Photography rule only applies during public visiting hours, and an arrangement can be made to photograph for bona fide reasons at another time. Your irresponsible attitude is likely to cause others to think they can buck the system with impunity. Remember, the National Trust is a conservation charity, not a subsidised Government organisation. Yes, it is most unlikely that someone will steal this particular altarpiece, but art crime is on the increase everywhere. If you are truly concerned with recording and disseminating knowledge of church history, I would expect you to show a little more respect.

From commentary by Simon Knott

How times have changed! Fortunately, in 2009 the National Trust changed their policy regarding photographs. It is, of course, still no flash photography (so damaging to delicate artworks), but the sensible decision to permit paying visitors to photograph and share their experiences can only help attract more visitors to National Trust properties. Furthermore, sharing pictures of minority interests such as the needlework of Mary, Queen of Scots, can only be a positive addition to our shared culture.

Now it’s time for me to return to my original task and get deleting those underexposed, overexposed and just slightly out of focus photographs.

Stag – from ‘The Cavendish Hanging’ more information at Oxburgh Hangings
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Another in the Edlyn series

I can’t always put my finger on why I choose certain colours for a scarf, but after painting three muted scarves in the Edlyn series, I felt the need for something a touch more brash.

After drawing out the basic Edlyn design it was time to start selecting the colours.

The colours were definitely not from a medieval palette, but they were still too pale and pastel and needed a bit more zing somewhere.

Yes, I liked the fuchsia pink and the chartreuse green and the whole design was better pulled together by adding plenty of the chartreuse to the diagonal swag.

And, mmm, yes, adding more of the chartreuse worked, but to finish off the scarf unquestionably required just a little more fuchsia.

On the frame and finished, next step will be to steam it.

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Sunsets on the Waterfront

During the last two months of 2018 the weather was surprisingly benign with a number of clear winter days ending with beautiful sunsets. 

The low sun and the still water down on at the Ipswich Waterfront provided a variety of opportunities for interesting images, some vivid and some gently serene. Here’s a selection.

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Decorated Trees for the Festive Season

It’s interesting to see the civic responses to decorating public spaces at this time of year. Some Christmas trees work well for their locations. Down on Ipswich Waterfront the tree elegantly adds seasonal spirit to its setting whether it’s a drab December day or a winter sunset.

And some Christmas trees simply brighten the mundane places for all those travelling at this time of year.

Ipswich Railway Station

However, some trees are magnificent in their own right only to have their charm reduced by a cluttered civic space that should have been spectacular. It is disappointing that the lovely tree in the newly revamped Ipswich Cornhill is being obscured by a large temporary marquee (which I have tried not include in the photograph). I see from our local paper that I am not the only one to consider this set-up a disappointing mess.

Of course, most Christmas trees are in people’s homes and it’s been seven years since I have had a tree at home. I think it’s probably because it will be my first Christmas in this old house and the Victorian bay is such an obvious and familiar setting for a decorated tree.

It was a little walk down memory lane as I unwrapped the forgotten ornaments for the first time in seven years. I have some of my mother’s decorations and memories of family Christmases with my mother and my grandparents filled the room along with intermittent showers of glitter and the scent of pine.

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Kiss and Tell – Rodin at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

Rodin’s world-famous sculpture ‘The Kiss’ is currently the centre piece of the ‘Kiss and Tell’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. It is on temporary loan from the Tate and it is fascinating to see it spotlit at the centre of a dark, navy blue room.

‘The Kiss’ by Rodin. Marble. 1882

The inspiration for the figural forms of ‘The Kiss’, was taken from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and are the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Originally, the design for the two lovers, together with precursors for other renowned Rodin sculptures ‘The Thinker’ and ‘The Three Shades’, were part of a major government commission. In 1880, the French government had commissioned Rodin to create large, ornamented entrance gates for a new decorative arts museum in Paris.

Photograph of the adulterous lovers, Francesca and Paolo clasped together in the second circle of hell, part of the monumental bronze gates cast two years after Rodin’s death in 1919.

The gates were to be over six metres high and were to feature forms inspired by Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’ as well as the ‘Divine Comedy’. The museum was not built, but Rodin repurposed some of the sculptural details to make stand alone pieces one of which became ‘Le Baiser’ the marble version of Francesca and Paolo and is known to us English speakers as ‘The Kiss’.

Also on display at the exhibition was a sketch for ‘The Three Shades’. The shades are the ghosts of dammed souls that stand at the entrance to hell and point to the sign “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. It is always thought-provoking to see the creative processes behind a finished work of art such as preparatory drawings and small-scale models. And, indeed, when discussing his work towards the end of his life, Rodin said “It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work”.

The Shades approaching Dante and Virgil. Rodin. Graphite, sepia wash.

Another sculpture by Rodin in the exhibition shows a more formal, restrained style. This marble portrait bust of society beauty Mary Hunter, shows a polished and contained individual. I understand the societal constraints of the times, but I still think this is a chilly and detached piece especially in comparison to the vital, visceral quality of ‘The Kiss’. Mind you this could be partly due to the fact that, according to the exhibition label, the actual carving of the marble was carried out by an assistant working under Rodin’s direction.

Personally, I am not keen on this style of portrait and it feels too similar to a death mask for my taste. I much preferred another portrait head by Rodin, this time in bronze, of the popular Japanese actress, Hanako.

Head of Hanako. Rodin. Edition 5/12. Bronze. About 1900s (Hanako’s real name was Hisa Ohta, 1868-1945)

Apparently, Rodin, who met Hanako in 1906, was fascinated by the range of emotions the actress could portray with her face. Unfortunately due to the low light and darkness of the piece my photograph of this compelling bronze portrait does not do it justice. 

Supporting the main Rodin pieces were examples of various sculptures that either influenced Rodin or works that were influenced by him or had an obvious Suffolk connection. A portrait bust by Maggi Hambling of her tutor, Bernard Reynolds, falls into the last category. The original bronze was cast in 1963 whilst Hambling was attending Ipswich Art School.

“I studied at Ipswich Art School from 1962 until 1964. For my portrait of Bernard Reynolds, I worked in clay as he toured the sculpture studio, his head always tilted towards the ceiling, in the manner of an inquisitive, exotic bird”.

                                                                                              Maggi Hambling

The Head of Bernard Reynolds – Maggi Hambling. Bronze. 2011 cast from 1963 version.
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‘A Nation of Shopkeepers’ for the 21st Century

How time flies – I have had an online boutique for over five years and this 21st-century way of shopping has become routine.

And, in the last decade everybody, but everybody I know uses online shopping for some aspects of their lives, but sometimes for me it is pleasant and beneficial to meet my customers in real life. This was the case the other weekend at Blackthorpe Barn. I set up my display, took a quick tour round to meet fellow artists and stood by my stall ready for the first customers at 10.00 am.

By 11.00 am the featured scarf displayed was sold to an enthusiastic customer who used to be a silk painter. Obviously, the large poster-style photograph caught people’s attention, but there is nothing like seeing and feeling silk in real life and I hope she enjoys wearing it. 

British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn is a good venue to attend, but there is a newer, 21st-century form of selling. Since the first experiments in Los Angeles, the ‘Pop-Up Shop’ phenomenon has spread across the globe. Pop-ups in all sizes, selling all types of products, from all types of venues temporarily open their doors to the public. And, in my little corner of East Anglia a local artist transforms her charming house into a Christmas Pop-Up Shop for three days selling work by fellow artists from the surrounding creative community. 

The Pop-Up Shop at East Cliff House, 24, Harwich Road, Mistley, CO11 1LQ, will be open Friday 7th from 3 pm to 9 pm, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th December from 11 am to 5 pm.

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St Edmund’s, Southwold. Revisiting Rood Screens, Suffolk VI – An unexpected offshoot!

Ettaline-mouse-PeterSometimes I stick quite closely to my source inspiration as with the first two of my recent Edlyn series of silk scarves. Picking a panel and details from one of the panels of the St Edmund’s rood screen and working up a design.

Et1But sometimes I get diverted.

After I have drawn out some patterns and motifs a few times I start to wander off down my own road. I think it is a similar to when authors say that their characters somehow take on their own lives beyond the control of the writer. I feel this scarf is my version of my ‘visual’ characters marching off in their own direction especially regarding the colours.

This affair is probably better shown than described. As you can see from the photographs, the outline drawing still has a feel of the medieval panels about it, but it is loosening and the choice of colours has clearly moved away from the rood screen originals.

The creative process is not entirely describable, but here is the finished silk on the frame.

Ettaline-mouse-finishedAnd, finally after steaming, Ettaline Mouse.

Ettaline-mouse-close-up

ettaline-mouse-composite

 

 

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