Sometimes what glitters is gold

In these times when curators of large, famous Western museums are grappling with the contentious issue of repatriation of cultural artefacts, it is interesting that even smaller, regional museums also have collections of objects from ancient times and very, far-flung places. This situation has partly arisen from the Victorian obsession for collecting combined with their civic movement that saw the building of museums in many county towns across the country.

Ipswich Museum is like many regional museums in this respect and has a section devoted to the Ancient Egyptians. The outstanding core of this collection is a small, dark room with at its centre a decorated Egyptian mummy that contains the remains of Lady Tahathor. She was a wealthy woman who lived and died in Luxor 2,500 years ago. She was brought to England in 1856 by George H Errington, then in 1871 she was donated to Colchester Museum and since 2010 has been the centre piece in Ipswich Museum’s Ancient Egyptian gallery.

This coffin contains the mummy of Lady Tahathor. 2,500 years old. A CT scan was performed at The Oaks Hospital, Colchester and suggested she died of natural causes in her mid-twenties.

At the head of this display and spotlit to catch the drama is a gold death mask. This is not from Ancient Egypt per se, but was in fact made between AD80-120 for a Roman citizen who lived in Egypt and wished to be buried in the style of an Ancient Egyptian god as opposed to the usual Roman manner.

Golden mummy mask for Roman Titus Flavius Demetrius. Ad80 -120.

The Roman citizen’s name was Titus Flavius Demetrius and his golden mummy mask was excavated by pioneering Victorian archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Hawara in Egypt in 1880. Only a death mask for Titus is on display and there doesn’t seem to be any record of what happened to the mummy. However, the early 20th-century curator, Gay Maynard, is credited with the masks acquisition for Ipswich Museum.

Titus’s death mask is not the only golden death mask on display at Ipswich Museum. There is another also from the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt made for a man known as Syros. It is nearly 2000 years old and is made of layers of linen or papyrus paper with plaster. It bears a gilded face of inlaid limestone with glass eyes and painted brows and has a border with painted vignettes and Greek text on top of the head.

This mask was placed on the mummy Syros who lived and died in Roman occupied Egypt. (On loan from the British Museum)

This golden mask is a longterm loan to Ipswich Museum from the British Museum who bought it in 1889 from the Rev. Walter L Lawson. Apparently, the Rev. Lawson collected Ancient Egyptian objects from excavations at Hawara in Egypt in 1889-90, but it is unclear whether he actively took part in the digs. However, there are records of him purchasing pieces from the antiquarian market in Luxor in 1889.

Nut, goddess of the sky. Ancient Egyptian goddess.

It is intriguing how the Ancient Egyptians still hold such fascination for many of us and it is encouraging that a local museum can share an interesting display of fine, original objects. The provenance and ownership of some pieces may be tricky, not least the mummy of Lady Tahathor, but maybe sharing human histories and practices can partially eclipse any ‘generating society’s’ privileges.

The two Romans, Titus and Syros, rejected their society’s death practices and in a way appropriated those of the Ancient Egyptians, maybe they were simply converts. However, for whatever reasons they had, the result for us 21st-century visitors to Ipswich Museum is to witness their choices made 2000 years ago in the form of these two gilded masks. Both are indeed finished with real gold even if technically they were not made for ‘real’ Ancient Egyptians. Oh, the delicious complexity of being human.

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

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.

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.

Share the Love

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Sutton Hoo – A Very Special Place

Tomorrow Netflix is showing ‘The Dig’, a film featuring the discovery of the early seventh-century, Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The original dig was begun on 20th June 1938 when the owner of Tranmer House and Estate, Edith Pretty, invited a local, gifted yet amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown, to investigate the earth mounds on her property. The film stars Ralph Fiennes (incidentally born in Ipswich) as Basil Brown and Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty.

The Mounds with Tranmer House, home to Mrs Edith Pretty in the distance.
Mrs Pretty (1883-1942) by Cor Visser (1903-1982) Oil on canvas, 1939. Basil Brown from local newspaper clipping.

The following year, in September 1939, the ship burial and inhumation were discovered and found to be intact as the excavation proceeded.

A hand watercolour photographic panorama of the Sutton Hoo ship by Mercie Lack in 1939. From display on ground floor of Tranmer House.

When Basil Brown began digging Mound One he had no idea that the excavation would turn into one of the most dramatic events in British Archaeology.

Angela Care Evans ‘The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial’ (revised edition 1994)

The discovery of the ship burial and a magnificent collection of grave goods is considered to be one of the most significant finds of Anglo-Saxon art to date in Europe.

The Sutton Hoo Helmet. (Now on display in the lighter, brighter Room 41, but it was so busy when I last visited I was unable to get a better shot than this one from 2013 when it was in a temporary location!)

In a startling symbolic composition, a snake body provides the protective rim across the crown. Its beady garnet eyes and gaping mouth meet the beak of a fierce bird, whose wings make the eye-brows, whose body forms the nose and whose tail forms the moustache of the implacable human armoured face.

Martin Carver, ‘Sutton Hoo Burial Ground of Kings?'(1998)
Left. Polychrome jewellery hinged shoulder-clasps. Gold decorated with garnets, millefiore glass and gold wire filigree. Length: 12.7 cm, width: 5.4 cm, length: 5.1 cm (chain) length: 5.7 cm (pin). Centre and right. Purse lid. Gold frame set with cloisonné garnets and millefiori glass encloses a modern lid containing the original gold, garnet and millefiori plaques. Length 19 cm (frame). Mound 1, Sutton Hoo. British Museum, London.

Since 1997 the site at Sutton Hoo has belonged to the National Trust and is open to the public. Recently, in August 2019 a £4 million Visitor Centre was opened to mark the 80th year anniversary of the discovery. The site now includes a cafe/restaurant and shop joining the purpose-built High Hall, exhibition space.

The full size 27 metre long rusted steel sculpture of the Anglo-Saxon ship of Sutton Hoo.
Ship sculpture with the restaurant-cafe section of the new complex behind.

Last September, when Covid restrictions eased and visitors were allowed inside public spaces, my daughter and I went for a look. Of course, she remembered her first visit when we came down from Norwich in 2005 and it had been much, much quieter.

Visiting Sutton Hoo in 2005, and visiting again in 2020. New observation tower in background not open due to Covid.

After walking round the mounds we queued briefly, donned masks and signed in (Covid protocol) to see inside Mrs Pretty’s home, Tranmer House.

Edith May Dempster marries Lt. Colonel Frank Pretty in 1926.

Only parts of the ground floor were open and the space where 15 years ago my daughter and I enjoyed a delightful and memorable retelling of Beowulf (with puppets), is now a small exhibition space. A few photographs of Edith Pretty’s life and many photographs of the 1939 dig are on display.

Not just the great and the good had the opportunity to visit the dig. This photograph shows a party of young naval cadets at Sutton Hoo.

Before leaving, we noticed the queue for the High Hall had disappeared so following the same mask and signing-in routine we entered the exhibition to be greeted by a representation of an Anglo-Saxon, highborn warrior swooping down from the ceiling.

Left. Replica Sutton Hoo helmet by Ivor Lawton. Bronze, silver and tin. Right. The suspended welcoming exhibit.

As you progress through the exhibition many of the exhibits are high quality replicas such as the complete helmet of bronze, silver and tin by Ivor Lawton. There are a few early finds from Mound 17 (the warrior horseman and horse burial site) on display. These are similar to some of the artefacts excavated from Mound One.

Horse harness made of gilded bronze decorated with human faces and patterns of interlacing animals.
Left. Byzantine bucket. Bronze. 330 AD – 900 AD. Excavated from Mound 17, but made over 2000 miles away in a Mediterranean Byzantine workshop. The decoration depicts a hunting scene somewhere in North Africa with lions and a hunting dog. Right. Modern replica of the Byzantine bucket.

A look round Tranmer House and the displays in High Hall are interesting, but all the significant finds are in the British Museum in London. However, that’s not really the point of visiting Sutton Hoo. It is about experiencing the site, knowing the history and seeing the strange Burial Mounds set within the Suffolk countryside.

As I write only the estate walks are open due to the current lockdown restrictions.

Stealing from ceramics

Like most people before the pandemic and the restrictions and the lockdowns, I used to go out. I went out locally as well as further afield to visit churches, museums and galleries always looking for inspiration for my work. Medieval sculptural details and the patterns painted on Victorian stained glass, so common in our parish churches, have been a great resource. However, for the time being most churches are locked and entry is not permitted.

Naturally, like many people working from home I have turned to the Internet and have found viewing online Fine and Decorative Art Sale Catalogues very worthwhile. These catalogues often have great photos with good colour showing off the beautiful detail that can be found on unusual antiques such as this Carlton Ware vase by Violet Elmer (1907-1988). (And, to my surprise, Violet had a link to Suffolk as her great-grandparents had lived in Scotland Street, Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, in the early 19th century. There is an interesting article in the East Anglian Daily Times about a couple of collectors from just outside Ipswich who have filled their home with Carlton Ware and hunted down some biographical details for Violet. She was born in Oxford in 1907 and moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1928 to work as a designer at the Carlton Works. Sadly, for us, she stopped work in 1938 when she got married.)

Carlton Ware ‘Fantasia’ by Violet Elmer. Lustre and gilt, 18 cm high. circa 1930/31. Sold April 2017 for £439.

This fine example of her work is vase decorated with exotic birds (disappearing round the top righthand edge), flora and foliage on a pale plum ground. I think it is both beautiful and charming and you could imagine that perhaps Violet Elmer had herself been inspired by a Victorian millefiori paperweight. The shape of those little flowers is so typical of millefiori.

Millefiori paperweight. Glass. 1832.

Inspired by or maybe stealing from artists from the past has a long tradition and I am happy to join in and make my own reinterpretation in a different medium.

It is just a pity that the silk I have painted was for those unglamorous, yet currently necessary, face coverings.

Inspired by a ceramic vase design.
And, another version.

PS – I actually painted these silk pieces during the second lockdown and have only just made them up into masks. Lockdowns have seemed to roll one into another. Sigh. And, now I hear they’ve cancelled Glastonbury and UEFA are also proposing this summer’s tournament to only take place in one country (and I have tickets for a game in Glasgow) and, well, Easter? 🤞🏻 Who knows!

The Hold

Back in July of this year the builders of ‘The Hold’ completed their part of the project and handed over the keys to Paul West, the Suffolk County Councillor with responsibility for heritage. On receiving the keys Mr West commented, “We can get on with fitting out and that’s a two to three month project. Then we’ll have a sort of phased opening over the autumn. We hope to have an exhibition in November.” Well, as we all know November 2020 brought us another lockdown.

Architect’s model of The Hold. Photograph courtesy of the Suffolk Archive Foundation.

If you’re not from Ipswich or Suffolk, you are probably wondering what on earth is ‘The Hold’. The answer is, it is the new, purpose-built complex that will house the Suffolk County Archive.

I have followed this project with interest since 2017 when, firstly and sadly, I noticed some large trees were being chopped down. Then a smart black fence of boards was erected securing the site and carrying a display of information about the development.

Over the past 18 months I have been taking the odd photograph as the buildings started to take shape. The Hold is situated on the edge of the University of Suffolk complex and is close to the Ipswich Waterfront. It has been mostly erected on part of the university car park, it was a pity about the trees though.

July 2019 – The Hold’s the two main archive buildings have roofs.
July 2019 and the front of The Hold is beginning to take shape.
December 2019 – and all the brick walls are completed and all the glass has been installed.
July 2020 – It is half a year later and we are now in the midst of the Covid pandemic yet the builders have continued working and the hard landscaping is is nearly finished.
There’s even been planting of lavender. Sadly, this was the first lavender planting which all died. Although lavender is ideal for this position and it is a pretty drought-tolerant plant, it does need some watering when first planted, oops!
September 2020 – All looking good and the second planting of lavender is thriving.
September 2020 – The old and the new.

Originally this £20 million project was scheduled to open around Easter 2020 no doubt with a special, civic event, however that date passed in the middle of the first lockdown and ‘The Hold’ finally opened in October.

October 2020 – The Hold is open to the public and there is even a café with outside tables at the entrance.
December 2020 – The Hold is open again after lockdown 2.0 and operating under Tier 2 restrictions. However, the café has not reopened and the archive will not be accessible in person until completion of the move from the old Gatacre Road site is completed sometime early in 2021.

It may have taken an extra six months to complete, but the finished building looks interesting and inviting and I look forward to visiting in normal times.