Twenty Years on from the 1972 Tutankhamun Exhibition and finally I visit Egypt.

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.

What on earth could ‘odds’ be? I can’t think in those days at 10 years old I’d have read about canopic jars because if I had I would have added a suitable birds-head lid to the pot and gleefully labelled it ‘Pots like this held intestines’ .

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.

A special 35 page magazine cost 25p now available used/vintage ie secondhand for £4.39 and the Evening Standard Souvenir ‘Tutankhamun’ dated Saturday, May 6th 1972.

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.

My inaccurate drawings of Ancient Egyptian symbols and a newspaper page showing how once again in a similar way to 1922 fashion jumped on the ‘Tut’ bandwagon.

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.)

Yours truly out during the evening whilst in Aswan. Sadly, though we didn’t take the helicopter tour (nowadays more usually a hot air balloon) to Abu Simbel to see the relocated temples saved from the dam waters.

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!)

UK stamp issued in 1972 marking the 50 year anniversary of the discovery in 1922 of the burial chamber of the boy-king Tuthankhamun.

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.

I personally don’t remember seeing much of this dramatic make-up in our village, but I do remember in later years, during Sixth Form, attending a fancy dress party and going as Cleopatra when really I should have gone as a true Ancient Eygptian, Nefertiti.

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.

Yours truly again this time at the bottom of a pyramid in Giza (left) and (right) beneath the columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall within the Karnak temple complex, Luxor. (1992)

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.

The Vulture, Egyptian symbol for divine power and hieroglyph for the letter ‘A’ with the sound ‘ah’. And, I have no idea why I used wool and glue to make a record of hieroglyphs for my scrapbook, but this was the only example which was instantly recognisable.

End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?

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.

Narcissus poeticus – pheasant’s eye daffodil
Aquilegias
Allium hollandicum

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.

Underplanting of deciduous tree in Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

And, out in the more open area there was the wild meadow-style planting of cow parsley mixed with clumps of spurge.

Cow parsley in a town park.

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.

Bolton Lane entrance to Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

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.

Currently on my frame subliminal floral inspiration at work.

Adding a dark background

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.

Adding a dark mottled red to a red and pink neckerchief.

I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.

Adding purple to a square flat crepe scarf.

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 . . .

Adding Prussian blue as the final layer.

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.

Adding dark brown and dark grey to a large crepe de chine scarf.

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.

Currently using black again.

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.

An example of a black background from the outset. One of the first five scarves I created when I launched my online shop back in 2013.

‘The Ipswich Charter Hangings’ – Celebrating the Past

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.

Left Panel One – The Vikings sponsored by Ipswich Borough Council. Right close-up details.

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.

Left Panel Two – The Charter Hanging sponsored by Ipswich Decorative & Fine Arts Society (NADFAS). Centre and right close-up details.

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.

Left Panel Three – The Medieval Town sponsored by The Ipswich Society. Centre and right close-up details.

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.

Left Panel Four – The Tudor Period sponsored by Ensors Chartered Accountants. Right close-up details of Christchurch Mansion now and then.

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.

The people who, along with Isabel Clover, created the Ipswich Charter Hangings.

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.

Left Panel Five – The Stuarts funded by the people of Ipswich, who gave donations during the 2000 IAA Lecture Series. Right close-up details of the Ancient House now and then.

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.

Left Panel Six – The Georgians sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Ipswich. Right close-up of the race course that closed in 1902 and Gainsborough’s Tom Pear Tree.

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.

Left Panel Seven – The Victorian Period sponsored by the Ipswich Port Authority. Right close-ups of the County Courts and the Town Hall now and then.

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.

Left Panel Eight – The Twentieth Century sponsored by the Suffolk College. Right close-up of the award-winning Willis Building designed by Norman Foster now and then.

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.

At last, homegrown tulips

Last autumn I made bulb lasagne (as the Dutch would say). In a couple of large pots I planted layers of tulip bulbs that had arrived from SarahRaven.com courtesy of my sister. Now spring has finally arrived here are the results.

Tulips on the front doorstep. (Photo from about three weeks ago.)

The tulips in the pot that have been on the front doorstep are about three weeks ahead of those potted up in the backyard.

Two parrots and a double.

Of course, it’s all very well having a welcoming show of flowers as you arrive at the front door, but you’ve soon found your key, opened the door and stepped inside and that’s it. During one fleeting glance I noticed three dark red tulips, I think they’re a double version of Queen of the Night, had shorter stems and were a bit swamped and so I cut them for indoors. Now I see a lot more of them on my kitchen table.

Cut from front door display, on the kitchen table and lasting well.

This year it has been a noticeably cool spring, but now at last the backyard tulips are also out. It has been a lesson for me that before mid-May my backyard probably doesn’t get anything like the necessary six hours of direct sunlight for good flowering. The pear tree blossom has been and gone and currently there’s only the tulips, a small clump of forget-me-nots and some sparse cherry blossom. However, there are also nine pots that look empty, but actually, hopefully, contain dahlia tubers that might just have survived last year’s freezing winter weather. Fingers crossed that there will be more flowers . . . eventually.

Tulips in the backyard. (Photo yesterday afternoon.)

Blue – Bright and Cheery

Perhaps because it’s been an unusually cool spring I have found myself painting brightly coloured highlights against very, very blue backgrounds.

Fuchsia pink and burnt orange were the starting combination.
I nearly always sign my work early on as it is awkward to almost impossible to add at the end.
And this is the first of the strong, bright blue being added.

I am not sure whether you would call this blue, cobalt blue, royal blue or ultramarine, but it’s certainly a bright and uplifting colour.

Nearly finished, adding a circle of a dark navy with corners of black.
The painting is finished and this 90 x 90 cm scarf is now ready for two hours in the steamer.
Finished and uploaded to Agnes Ashe online.

Well, whether the blue is royal blue or cobalt blue or even ultramarine, I still think, as usual, Mother Nature does it best.

Brunnera macrophylla aka Siberian Bugloss part of a partial shade, roadside planting in Ipswich’s town centre.

An Interesting Dish or Two.

It seems like forever since we were able to visit and walk into museums, art galleries and historic buildings, but fortunately this dry spell of cultural visiting is drawing to a close. Next month, from May 17 onwards, more and more of these special places are reopening as lockdown ends.

Octagonal table with a slightly bizarre glass decoration in the bay window of the dining room. Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk. A manor house with a moat.

I have been so desperate for cultural inspiration I have been trawling through my old photos. And, here is something to whet the appetite and ready us for the return of the visit.

Now, when I visited Oxburgh Hall, some five years ago, I paid little attention to the vast selection of pieces on display as I had specifically gone to see one display, the Oxburgh Hangings (the famous embroideries sewn by Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick). However, once you’ve paid your entrance fee you might as well make the most of a visit and I dutifully snapped the various interiors open to the public at this National Trust property. Amongst the random collection of stuff which I photographed were these ceramics above the grand fireplace in the library. Recently as I scrolled through those old photos the two dishes at either end of the mantelpiece display caught my attention. They did not look like the usual 19th-century Royal Crown Derby or Royal Worcester versions of Japanese ceramics.

Stone fireplace complete with carved wooden overmantel in the library. Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.

At the time I hadn’t been able to get close enough to photograph them individually as that half of the library was cordoned off. However, on entering the next room, the dining room, I could see there was more china on display including another one of these dishes.

Heavily carved panelling from the 1830s makes this a dark room. Dining Room, Oxburgh Hall.

As is frequently the case with many rooms in heritage buildings, the dining room was barely lit with the lowest of lighting. This was no doubt great for intimate dinner parties in the past and nowadays for protecting the antiques against light damage, but awkward for those of us attempting to photograph the collections. Nevertheless at least in this room I was able to get a lot closer to those mysterious plates and with the widest aperture on my camera, a slow shutter speed and holding my breath I achieved one reasonable image.

Imari or Imari-style dish on display at Oxburgh Hall.

This is a very beautiful and intriguing ceramic dish. This design has a stylised central chrysanthemum and a floral border all painted in the classical Imari colours of blue and orange with highlights of gold. But what is that beneath the chrysanthemum? Is it a tortoise or a turtle, or is it some strange, vegetal design?

I have spent sometime trying to find out more by visiting online ceramic collections and scanning auction site catalogues in an attempt to locate any similar pieces. Naturally, I have checked the Oxburgh Hall National Trust listing and searched the National Trust Collections database, but these dishes have not been considered worthy of record. It might be because they are not genuinely part of the history of the house nor either of significance in a broader national context. However, there is one Japanese Imari bowl listed for Oxburgh Hall, but not of the same design.

Japanese Imari bowl, earthenware, dated 1700-1900. Oxburgh Hall. (Given to the National Trust in 1985 by Violet Hartcup, Lady Sybil Bedingfeld’s niece. Some of the Bedingfeld family still occupy part of Oxburgh Hall.)

From perusing the National Trust’s Collection database more generally, it would appear that no stately home was without a piece or two of Imari. That is not surprising as collecting Japanese ceramics during the 18th and 19th centuries had been popular and Imari ware was made specifically for the European market.

Examples of Japanese Imari dishes. Left possibly 18th century. Right 19th century.

This interest in collecting was a business opportunity and it was not going to be missed by the famous Staffordshire ceramics manufacturers operating in England during the 19th century. Firms such as Royal Crown Derby, Royal Worcester and Spode made the most of Imari ware passion and they amongst others produced Imari-style products. In fact English Imari is still made today with Royal Crown Derby producing an ‘Old Imari’ plate that’s even dishwasher safe.

Examples of 19th-century English Imari-style dishes. Left Chamberlain Worcester. Right Spode.

From comparing the images of the Japanese and the English examples it is almost as if the Oxburgh ‘turtle/tortoise?’ dish is a hybrid. An idea which brings me to consider the possibility of it being Chinese. At the time when the European fashion to collect Imari ware was booming, ceramics imported from the East also came from China. So, perhaps this is a dish made with the techniques and skills of the East, but with a Chinese interpretation of a Japanese original? Or, maybe it’s just part of a set of slightly weirdly decorated Staffordshire ironstone, date unknown, bought by the National Trust as a job lot to dress the hall when the moated, but distressed manor house was donated to the nation.

The more I have looked at these photographs the more I am wondering whether it might not be a turtle or a tortoise at all. Perhaps it’s me seeing something that isn’t there. Anyway I posted the main picture on Instagram to see if anybody had any ideas and a Japanese lady replied. She wrote that there is a saying in Japanese ‘the crane lives 1,000 years, the turtle 10,000’. She continued recounting that from this expression the turtle is considered one of the auspicious patterns and as such is not represented in this form in Japan. She then went on to say it would be hard for a Japanese person to recognise this blue/grey pattern as a turtle.

Perhaps somebody reading this post may recognise these slightly odd dishes and have more information, if so please leave a comment. I am not entirely sure why, but I’m definitely interested to know more.

Spring in Holywells Park

After such a long and very dull winter and a slow start to the spring I see in the park that leaves, blossom and early blooms are bursting into life.

Perhaps the most graceful example of a tree in the first green of spring is the willow. And, in Holywells Park this beauty grows in the middle of one of the ponds, with the drama of drooping, feathery greenery enhanced by the still water.

Holywells Park also has a couple of old magnolias now putting on their annual outrageous blast of sugary pink.

Of course any park worth its salt has an ornamental cherry or two, but the only one in blossom when I visited was this semi-double white cherry.

For the handful of folk who have not noticed this has been a very dry spring particularly here in East Anglia, and, the park’s dry garden looked suitably resilient. The daffodil display was just coming to an end as the first green spikes of the ornamental grasses pushed up through last year’s neatly pruned brown clumps .

One of the aspects of Holywells Park that I appreciate is that it isn’t a particularly ordered or a heavily maintained park. There are areas of light-touch maintenance where primroses peek out from under the hedges and

weeds/wildflowers such as red campion and nettle are left to thrive in a naturalistic manner not least to the benefit of the wildlife, and a human with a camera.

Painting Mask Silk Again

Slowly, but surely we are heading out of the third lockdown. Easter may have come and gone and it may still be chilly, but at least we have spring sunshine to accompany the odd foray into the wider world. And, if you’ve already been out and about and visiting the shops or enjoying a little outdoor hospitality, physical distancing, wearing a mask and gelling those hands still applies.

With this in mind and following a comment from a repeat customer, I’ve painted and made some more masks.

And, unsurprisingly, I have felt like using some bright colours to go with these more optimistic times.

As I think I have mentioned before, I don’t always start with a plan when painting and this selection has most certainly arrived courtesy of the springtime, colour muse.

Painted mask silk: One mostly orange and one mostly green.

Having painted all ten blanks and steamed the lot, it was then time to switch from the frame to the sewing machine, make the masks and then pop them on the shop.

The Very Old and the Very New

Sometimes the mixing of old and new can work well and the result can be quite beautiful, both enhancing the past and showcasing the new. One example of this is the south porch of St Peter’s Church in Ipswich. It has a 21st-century metal grille door set within a 15th-century stone and flint arch complete with Tudor roses.

The gates of gilded steel were made in 2008 by Paul Richardson (1967-). The work was commissioned by the Ipswich Hospital Band, when the church was deconsecrated and became a concert venue. If you look carefully you can see the two musical angels are partially constructed using metalwork from musical instruments. They also wear gowns patterned with the Tudor rose motif.
I particular liked the golden fish weaving through the scrollwork waves, referencing St Peter as a fisherman and also the proximity to the nearby Ipswich Waterfront.

St Peter’s Gate -Paul Richardson. Gilded steel, 2008.

Sadly though not all the local medieval treasures of Ipswich have fared so well where redevelopment of the harbour waterside has seen a mushrooming of tall residential tower blocks. The new blocks have replaced drab, utilitarian warehouses, but the trouble with these new blocks is that they are much taller buildings and they dwarf the Old Customs House and the medieval churches nearby.

Quay Place Heritage and Well-being Centre. The repurposed, redundant medieval church, St Mary at the Quay dwarfed by the newly opened Winerack (the tall, white residential block).

However, although the site of Quay Place from the north is no doubt nothing like the look and feel of its original 15th-century setting, the view from the east, as it lines up with St Peter’s is very pleasing. And, despite the fact that Key Street is now part of a busy one-way system, this is is one of my favourite views in Ipswich. (Sadly, my photograph doesn’t do it justice.)

Surprise flowers, lasting well

Every year my birthday falls near Mother’s Day and occasionally on Mother’s Day itself. I am not usually sent bouquets of flowers as I am not keen on the commercialization of ‘special’ days, but this year with the Covid thing and no visiting allowed I received a bouquet of pink flowers from my daughter.

A birthday bouquet that arrived in the post.

The beautiful roses arrived as semi opened buds and unusually the bouquet included some white foxgloves in bloom, all of course grown under glass probably in Holland.

Naturally, after about two weeks the flowers gradually began to fade and we arrived at the cut-down stage for some, and the transfer to a different vase stage for others. This transfer trick also included adding a couple of stems of hellebores from my backyard.

Unlike the roses and carnations the hellebores from my garden completely drooped after a single day, but as many of you know these flowers can be seen so much better when cut with a very short stem and placed in a bowl of water. And, I can report one week later the floating blooms are still looking fresh and catching the light as they bob around.