It's January, but it's almost balmy in the park

At the end of last month it didn’t feel very wintry and now, already halfway through January, it is still surprisingly mild with no sign of a true cold snap in the forecasts for East Anglia.

Ornamental grasses are left for winter interest and cover for wildlife.

My local park, Holywells Park, even has a hint of spring about it. Between the dead and drying ornamental grasses I spied long, green blades of recent growth.

Colourful evergreens

There was also the colourful mix of reliable evergreens; ivy, box, holly, euonymous and even the dramatic black ophiopogon planiscapus all looking ‘super’ vibrant and healthy (no signs or blemishes from frost damage as so far no heavy frosts).

The Orangery, the Victorian conservatory in Holywells Park.

Of course, even in this rather mild English winter there are still plants that need to be given full protection from the merest suggestion of frost or even a hint of a chilly breeze. One such specimen is the banana tree. There’s plenty of protected space and a pitched ceiling in the beautifully restored Victorian conservatory to allow this banana tree to thrive.

Tender plants protected in the Orangery.

As I continued through the park, there was a surprise. I walked through this distinctly autumnal scene. There had been a late drop of fronds from an ornamental tree and the amber tones seemed to proclaim, “No winter here, move on, move on, it’s still autumn”.

It occurred to me if there’s a planting of winter evergreens, a flourishing summer banana tree, albeit in a conservatory, a springtime clump of green shoots and an autumnal carpet of brittle orange leaves, then at this moment Holywells Park was a park of all seasons!

We recognise the green shoots of spring or rich autumnal colour as seasonal, as normal for our part of the world, but by the end of this new Climate Crisis decade . . . . what will we witness, what will we be experiencing as seasonal?

For a reflective view of living in a time of Climate Crisis here’s an article by Professor Jem Bendell exploring ideas of resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation.

The Ark has Landed

Last year, on the 9th November, this large version of a Noah’s Ark arrived in Ipswich, with the aid of a tug, and docked at the Orwell Quay down on the Waterfront.

It is big, it is very dark and it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a beautiful boat. The idea for this project came from the Dutch TV producer, Sir Aad Peters, and his boat, originally from the Netherlands, has visited Denmark, Norway and Germany, with this visit to Ipswich marking its first time in the UK.

It is a 70 metre wooden version of Noah’s Ark and also houses a floating exhibition of Bible stories. According to the local press, the boat features a 12ft tall Tree of Life that ‘grows’ up through the four floors of the vessel.

I haven’t been to see the exhibition as it isn’t my kind of thing being neither art nor a collection of historical, cultural artefacts. Plus, it is £16.50 for adults and £9.50 for children (4-13 years old) whereas Norwich Cathedral is free to visit despite its running costs of about £4,000 a day. And, even Canterbury Cathedral (running costs of approximately £18,000 a day) with its wealth of medieval culture of national and international significance, is only £12.50 for adults.

The online promotional information claims the vessel is a half-sized replica of Noah’s original vessel as described in the Book of Genesis.

14. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

15. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

16. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof;  with lower, second and third stories shalt thou make it.

17. And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth . . . . 

Genesis, Chapter 6, Verses 14-17. The Bible, Authorised King James Version.

That’s clear then, its 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Although, I do wonder quite how this is a ‘replica’ when there is no description in the text of the boat’s shape neither of its overall appearance.

Interestingly, twenty years ago the scientist and marine explorer Dr Robert Ballard found evidence of a great flood that occurred in the Black Sea area around 5,000 BC. There is also evidence of human occupation of that area and of a world subsequently drowned by a great flood. However, so far, no ark or ark remains, or ark preserved impressions have been found.

Noah, Gilgamesh and other flood myths are most likely explanations of actual geological episodes that occurred in times before evidence-based, scientific accounts became available. If you have a look around the Web, it appears that finding a real, original Noah’s Ark is of considerable importance to some folks. However, in the meantime people can visit ark interpretations such as the one on the Waterfront or watch Darren Aronofsky’s film, ‘Noah’, with its Biblical accurately-sized Ark that has a very different appearance and doesn’t really look like a boat at all. I suppose if you think about it, the Ark only had to float as it wasn’t built for sailing.

Just to finish, here’s a photograph of a fine, stylish craft also anchored in the Ipswich harbour which was decorated very attractively for the recent Festive season.

Winter Blues for January 2020

It is not always the case for me, but with seasonal changes I often find that I am choosing a different palette for my work.

Adding the fourth layer of blue to the background.

Back in November we had a brief, cold snap. The frost was enough to blacken the dahlias in the backyard and I noticed that I was already painting with cool blues again.

Green, coral and gold and a few daubs of fuchsia are used as the accent colours.

Since my summer visit to the Ipswich Museum I have been working and re-working the delightful ‘Iceni’ horse motif found on the Freckenham staters. By November it was time for me to move on from painting versions on silk neckerchiefs and to develop the motif into a full design for one of the bigger squares of silk I paint.

Flat crepe silk square ready for steaming.

With all the dyed and resist areas dried the silk square was steamed and photographed. It is now January, and winter proper, and this scarf of winter blues has been added to my online shop.

Wilda Ink Blue is a 69 x 64 cm flat crepe (10 mm) silk scarf. 

Boxes on Boxing Day

The day after Christmas Day in the UK is known as Boxing Day. Why is it called Boxing Day? Well, the clue is in the name! However, it’s nothing to do with the sport of boxing, but everything to do with boxes.

And, no, that’s not packing boxes or even either associations with the ‘box’ room. (That’s the tiny, upstairs room often found in a traditional Victorian terraced house).

But, as with quite a few Christmas traditions in the UK, boxes for Boxing Day is a Victorian invention. During the reign of Queen Victoria household servants were given a day’s holiday on the day after Christmas and as well as receiving a boxed gift from their employers often went back home to their families bearing gifts in a box. And what might have been in such a box . . .

Well, it might have been tinned food. These old tins for Oxo and corned beef are on display at Ipswich Museum. Tinned products along with tinned fruit had become familiar food staples during the course of the nineteenth century. Such preserved food could well have been part of a such a Christmas box. How times have changed, a gift of food these days is more likely to be a very non-essential product such as luxury chocolates.

As we face the harsh truths of global warming I wonder how many of the other festive traditions – Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, puddings, pies, fowls, etc, beloved of the comfortably off Victorian, will no longer be considered sustainable.

Anyway, finishing on a positive note, one type of Victoriana which has thankfully mostly melted away into history is this form of the sentimentalisation of childhood, and, along with it this type of kitsch.

Civic Spaces at Christmas Time

Last year at Christmas time the Cornhill in Ipswich was a public space that, although newly refurbished, was a cluttered muddle.

The Cornhill, Ipswich – December 2018. The Christmas tree squeezed in next to the new sculptural installation – The Plinths.

The splendid Town Hall and Corn Exchange was dressed with lights and the traditional, tall Christmas tree was erected, but any civic grandeur was lost with an ill-considered large new sculptural artwork and an additional seasonal shopping marquee plonked in the middle of the concourse.

During the course of 2018 there had been an extensive remodelling and refurbishment of the Cornhill as part of £3.6 million revamping of the town centre. Previously in front of the Town Hall the old paved pedestrian area that hosted the market stalls had sloped down towards the Town Hall. These stalls have now been moved to a pedestrian street to the side of the Town Hall, whilst to the front the Town Hall most of the sloping concourse has gone to be replaced with steps and a level area with a pavement fountain arrangement. Surprisingly and pleasingly, the new steps provided a good vantage point to view the youngsters participating in the Global Strike that took place earlier this autumn.

Global Strike, 20 September 2019

And, incidentally, whilst enjoying the passion and energy of the striking youngsters, I noticed the less than impressive sculpture ‘The Plinths’, often referred to by the locals as Cornhenge, was no more. It had not been well received (that’s a polite understatement) and despite costing in the region of £45,000 (according to the local paper), it has been removed. Its departure has left us with a clear view of the Town Hall and a more grand and impressive yet welcoming civic space.

Of course, with the sculpture gone it has also meant that the purely functional and expedient move to squeeze in more retail opportunities into the area (for example that seasonal Christmas marquee) have also been dropped.

However, we do not get off that lightly. In what looks like a last minute desperate decision the marquee has been squeezed into Lloyds Avenue.

Seasonal Christmas marquee crammed into Lloyds Avenue, Ipswich.
Bit of a tight fit.

One positive thought for this seasonal period is at least Ipswich doesn’t yet suffer from the faux Christmas Markets that have sprung up round the country in a pale imitation of the traditional community Weihnachtsmärkte of Germany.

That’s enough of the complaints, Scrooge has left the building, and instead let’s feast our eyes on a very attractive display of lights decorating the Town Hall.

Or, take an evening stroll down the Buttermarket with its eclectic architectural mix of buildings enhanced by an elegant display of Christmas lights.

Adding a little purple

Last month was a busy time preparing and attending the Christmas Craft Fair at Blackthorpe Barn. I always do a run through setting up my display at home, and, as you would expect when getting ready for the show, I prepare my stock. This is a task I have hopefully started by mid-October. During the process I am able to appraise each piece and, as is always the way when I haven’t seen my scarves for a while, I decide one or two could be improved. The first one up for the layering treatment last month was Agatha Cherry.

Agatha Cherry – not a favourite of mine and one for the layer treatment.

Apart from the fact that this scarf, with all the red, has been difficult to photograph accurately, I didn’t think there was enough contrast and depth within the design.

Lines of resist were added first before painting in the new colours.

Adding another layer allowed me to introduce some of the darker colours I like. I took inspiration from this photograph showing the muted tones of my dried dahlias.

As soon as the resist lines had dried I began to paint with a mid-tone old gold and then to darken other areas I added a deep, rich purple.

With the second layer completed and the scarf steamed the final result definitely has more depth and interest and it has made the rich lustrous quality of the twill weave more obvious. A definite improvement I think.

The Fourth Plinth at Night

Walking through Trafalgar Square in the evening these days is still a noisy and bustling affair, but with all the cleaned buildings and the National Gallery artfully lit, the experience is definitely an improvement from my first memories as a newly arrived student in 1979.

The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (2018), Michael Rakowitz’s sculpture for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London

Also, back in 1979 the fourth plinth beneath the towering Nelson’s Column was empty. In fact it had been empty for 150 years until the current series of temporary artworks was begun in 1999. The present sculpture is the twelfth artwork to top the plinth. It is a replica of an Assyrian lamassu statue that was destroyed by ISIS/Daesh at the Mosul museum in 2015. The original had guarded the entrance at the Nergal Gate of Nineveh (near modern day Mosul) from c700 BC.

Lamassus were protective winged deities with the body of a bull or lion and the head of a man. Some of these statues that stood at the gates of ancient Assyrian cities and palaces as symbols of power are nearly three thousand years old.  

The lamassu beneath Nelson’s Column and in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

This particular lamassu has been created by the Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz. He is an artist who, within his creative practice, has been considering peoples and cultures that have been under threat of being deliberately erased, and, to this end he has created counter-monuments such as this lamassu. This piece is one of his series  ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’, a project he began in 2006. His hope is to recreate many of the 7000 cultural objects that have been lost forever. Some of these were looted from the Iraq Museum in 2003, whilst many others were destroyed across the country during the Iraq War.

Detail showing the date tree motif on the date syrup cans.

From the pavement below it isn’t obvious at first glance precisely what this sculpture is comprised of. However, gradually you realise the surface decoration is tin cans. The Lamassu is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans and you can even spot the date tree motifs. Selecting date syrup cans was not a random choice. Of course not, this top decorative layer is informing us about another type of loss as a result of the Iraq War, the loss of one of Iraq’s traditional food export businesses.

Placed on a plinth in Trafalgar Square beneath Admiral Lord Nelson, the lamassu’s style and content is very much a counter to the traditional representation of wars and war heroes as seen with the sandstone Nelson atop his granite column. This lamassu is colourful, transient and recycled, literally made from the remains of everyday food packaging. I think it challenges the hubristic ideas of permanence, stability and the ‘forever’ notion that the stone Nelson monument suggests. Trafalgar Square may not be under water within the next 30 years, but much of a London that even now is a forever changing building site, will probably be looking very different. See London 2050 flood map.

A Popular Piece at the Barn

This year at Blackthorpe Barn, as usual, the scarf that caught the attention of the casual passersby was not my favourite. You would think by now I would be used to the well known truth ‘to each their own’ – and so it was on this occasion the blue was popular and yet my favourite, the rich red, was not. I realise that this isn’t quite that simple as within different cultures, particularly where colour is concerned, some colours are more popular than others. For example, red is the most popular colour in China and is traditionally considered to bring good luck and success.

However, despite red being a Christmassy colour here in the UK, and, having several of my red scarves on display, it was this blue neckerchief that received the most appreciative comments, and sold first.

Perhaps it was the way I had displayed it draped across the source photograph of my homegrown flowers, clearing showing from where the colour inspiration had come. Perhaps this little detail intrigued people.

Also, it wasn’t as though it was the biggest one on display which naturally was another one of my favourites. This scarf of soft pastel pinks and lilacs on a parchment background only garnered a couple of appreciative comments and it didn’t sell.

After the weekend’s experience I would like to be able to conclude that I have a clearer idea of what my customers want to buy. However, each year the preferences are different. Fashion trends are ephemeral, and at the same time individuals have their own favourite colours and colours that suit them, and, in the end buying any clothing for oneself or as a gift is a matter of personal taste. And, what’s more no directive from the fashion police or Pantone ‘Colour of the Year’ folk will make somebody choose peach (Living Coral, 2019), or purple (Ultra Violet, 2018), or lime green (Greenery, 2017) if they don’t already like those colours.

An Influential Mention for the Crafters at Blackthorpe Barn

As I wrote last week I will be at Blackthorpe Barn for the British Crafts this weekend. Obviously there has been publicity in the local press and for Suffolk that means a splash in the East Anglian Daily Times.

But the really good news is that the pre-eminent organisation, The Craft Council, has also recommended the British Crafts event in their list of the best eight Christmas Craft events across the UK.

I don’t actually take the Crafts Magazine myself, but I looked at their online listing and found this engaging photograph showing Margaret Gardiner presenting once of her beautiful pieces accompanying the listing for Blackthorpe Barn.

Screenshot from the Crafts Council

I think it is quite a coup for Blackthorpe Barn to be included in this feature and my fingers are crossed that all my fellow crafters will do well especially during these uncertain times.

Is Red a Winter Colour?

In just over a weeks’ time I shall be part of British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn again. Naturally, I am preparing my display and sorting out my stock and it occurred to me that I have more red scarves available this year than in previous years. Is red a colour people choose to wear in winter or just a colour associated more with Christmassy things?

My listing for British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn with the first three photos.

As part of the preparations for a show there is the publicity and this year I sent six photographs to the marketing and social media folk at Blackthorpe Barn for my listing on their site. Will the red neckerchief be chosen?

My listing with the second three photos as you scroll to the right.

It is always interesting for me to see which photograph gets selected as the ‘header’ image for my listing. I was really surprised when I first saw the picture featuring the pinks and greys of the Thomasina scarf had been picked.

However, when you see the ‘Craft Makers’ page you can see that it is the best one of the six I sent to balance their arrangement particularly when you notice the main header image features plenty of red.

Thomasina – a 90 x 90 cm silk twill scarf

I think you’d agree the picture did fit well and, luckily for once, both the model’s face and scarf are in focus!

British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn is about Christmas. Around the back of the big old barn hundreds of Christmas trees are for sale and the complex hosts a bespoke Christmas shop full of decorations as well as the main barn featuring all the craft stalls. And, somewhere in our culture red has become solidly associated with Christmas, if not particularly with winter clothing, and I guess that’s why my attention has been drawn more my red work.

Painting a Neckerchief: Freckeda Opal

It was another week and another neckerchief inspired by the Iceni horse. I have really fallen for this charming motif found struck into the Freckenham staters that make up part of the Wickham Market Hoard.

After first drawing out the basic design I had painted in the Iceni horses, but hadn’t decided on the colour combination for the overall interpretation. It was the middle of August and I had a mini glut of sweet peas some of which had been stuffed into a vase. The morning sunlight was catching the petals beautifully and I thought, yes, possibly these colours will do arranged in front of the stained glass panel. With some slight adjustments to the vase position I had a palette with which to paint the scarf.

However, when most of the colours were added I felt the overall effect was too pale and the piece had more than a hint of a gelato selection about it or even a bag of liquorice allsorts. My first thought was to fill in the background with black, but perhaps that would be too harsh. In the end I chose a darkish grey to add a more subtle contrast.

All finished, steamed and then photographed. That sounds so straightforward and simple, but I have to say that this is one of the those scarves that has been really difficult to photograph. How we see colour is a complex process, but it is most definitely affected by the quality of the ambient light, whether that’s light at dawn or dusk, or full summer sunlight, or electric light, or even candlelight! You can tell that despite sitting at my computer adjusting these photos, as I held the actual scarf in front of me, the colours in each photo look slightly different. I suppose any image is an approximation of a reality. We easily accept a painting as a visual interpretation, but often forget that a photograph is a visual rendering too, added to which the camera always lies to a greater or lesser extent!

PS – If you are in Suffolk . . . . .