First Days at School

My sister and I. Left, her first day at primary school, middle, identically dressed as usual (but ?) and right, her first day at secondary school.

It’s the beginning of September and it’s that time of year again for some – the return to school. I have a vague recollection of being instructed by my mother to make sure my sister arrived at the correct classroom on her first day at primary school (picture above left).

Fast forward a generation and this is my daughter ready for her first day at school. The bunch of sunflowers was nearly bigger than her.

My daughter ready for her first day at school. She doesn’t look it, but she was very keen and excited.

Recalling another family photograph I dug out this old picture below. It seems flowers for the teacher was a tradition embraced by our family.

If you were wondering what the grotesque puppet I am holding is supposed to be, well, it was Queen Elizabeth I. A junior school papier-mâché project that took all term and was finished at home during the holidays – oh what fun!

Is this still summer?

It’s late August and across the local park it is looking more like late September. This situation is all down to the drought of course. The grass can be dried to a crispy brown and it will still regrow with the first serious rainfall, however not so for the trees. Some of the big ol’ mature trees in Christchurch Park have decided to cut their losses for this year and drop their leaves early.

A false autumn in Christchurch Park.

I think you can see from the photographs that some varieties are coping better than others. It is mostly the horse chestnuts, possibly weakened by disease, that are taking the biggest hit and are already standing amongst a carpet of dead leaves. I hope they are strong enough to make a full return next year.

Horse chestnuts giving up for this season.

Somethings that won’t be in the park next year are the decorated model owls of Ipswich’s art trail for summer 2022, ‘The Big Hoot‘. This owl might have been named ‘Skool’s Owt’, but with its questioning expression and smart uniform it now stands before an empty playground littered with fallen leaves, and instead appears to be heralding the arrival of autumn and the return to school.

‘Skool’s Owt’ created by Peter Poole is part of ‘The Big Hoot’ Ipswich’s Summer 2022 art trail.

Borders: A Creative Collaboration

The River Stour rises in Wratting Common in Cambridgeshire and crosses into Suffolk near Great Bradley in the far west of Suffolk. From there the river forms the county boundary between Essex and Suffolk. As the Stour meanders across the soft rolling countryside it flows through some of the most beautiful, iconic English landscape made famous by Constable and Gainsborough. With the river boundary in mind the Ipswich and Colchester Art Societies decided to collaborate in exploring their mutual border and present a joint exhibition celebrating the flourishing creativity of the region.

Earlier this week I popped along to see the exhibition ‘Borders’ and photograph a few of works created by the artists as they considered what are borders, what are their purpose and what do they mean to people politically and emotionally?

The earliest known habitation on the River Stour dates from 5,000 years ago at Great Bradley and I’d like to begin my sequence optimistically looking forward to a further 5,000 years of responsible and considerate habitation with a painting titled ‘Hope’.

‘Hope’, Sarah Milne. Oil and pastel on canvas. £550

The pictures from here flow on downstream all the way to the North Sea at Harwich in a personal selection beginning with ‘The Stour at Connard’ capturing a melancholy scene.

‘The Stour at Cornard’, Carol Webb. Oil on board. £140

Then we have ‘Wiston Mill in Nayland’ showing the river waters flowing passed the mill. A situation which is not always guaranteed these day. In July 2019 the river in Nayland temporarily ran dry in the hot weather and drought of that year.

‘Wiston Mill, Nayland, Suffolk’, Christine Thompson. Oil. NFS

Not all the pictures on display painted realistic imagery for their ‘borders’ interpretations. There were several striking abstract works such as this crossing of the river at Flatford, a route that Constable would have known.

‘East Bergholt to Flatford Crossing’, Annabel Ridley. Mixed medium acrylic paint with screen print. £1,200.

An interesting painting that tackles the politics of borders very clearly is ‘Borders and Barricades: Mistley Quay February 2022’. The painting shows the tall metal fence denying access to the river at Mistley Quay. The most recent update (local newspaper, March 2022) on the ‘Free the Quay’ campaign reports “An eyesore fence on a picturesque quayside is still spoiling the view for residents despite being deemed an unlawful obstruction in Supreme Court a year ago”.

‘Borders and Barricades: Mistley Quay February 2022’, Wendy Brooke-Smith. Acrylic on canvas. £1,700

Eventually, the River Stour merges with the River Orwell and flows out into the North Sea between the Port of Felixstowe on the Suffolk side and Harwich on the Essex side.

Detail from ‘A Sail on the River’, Cherry MacGregor. Oil on canvas. £450

And finally, I’d like to finish with my favourite from this show, a painting that sums up the river border between the two counties.

‘The River Flows Through’, Valerie Armstrong. Acrylic on canvas. £1,150

No. 143 for Ipswich Art Society – Part II

In last week’s post I looked at two artists’ retrospectives which featured as part of the Ipswich Art Society’s 143rd Open Exhibition. This week I thought I’d post a few photographs of other works on display that caught my attention.

As this exhibition was an open show there were pictures and sculptures by both members of the Ipswich Art Society and also works from members of the general public. In my opinion the outstanding work of the whole event was this garden sculpture, ‘Curled Figure’ by Kate Reynolds.

‘Curled Figure’ Kate Reynolds. Stoneware ceramic.

Across the exhibition there were a variety of media and techniques on display from the two dimensional, wall art category including paintings, drawings, prints and enamels to textured relief work to full sculpture. As far as media was concerned along with traditional oil, watercolour and acrylic paintings there were works created and expressed in pastel, gouache, pencil, ink, graphite, charcoal, conté, wood, cloth, stoneware ceramic, bronze, copper, steel, wire and even ink with gold leaf.

There were pictures for every taste with strongly coloured abstract paintings,

figurative works,

bucolic scenes,

‘After the Snow, Blythburgh’, Mary Gundry. Oil.

a handful of textile pieces

and even a social commentary textile installation.

‘Abolish Snobbery’, Hannah Aria. Textile installation.

However, my favourite of the ‘paintings’ in the show was an atypical expression of the English countryside, ‘This Green and Pleasant Land’ by Dave King working in a traditional, Japanese style with more than a hint of ukiyo-e about it.

‘This Green and Pleasant Land’, Dave King. Acrylic and Ink. 2022

No. 143 for Ipswich Art Society – Part I

For the last four weeks Ipswich Art Society’s 143rd OPEN Exhibition has been on at Ipswich Art Gallery. The exhibition showcases the visual artworks of a variety of creative folk who live in and around Ipswich.

The Ipswich Art Society has been in existence since 1874 with a membership that has included Alfred Munnings, F.G.Cotman, Harry Becker, E.R.Smythe, Tom Smythe, Edward Packard, John Duvall, Colin Moss, Anna Airy and Leonard Squirrell. 

The 143rd Open exhibition showed a selection of works created by members of the public as well as Members and Friends of the Society. The Society has a tradition of encouraging artists from all walks of life to join and be involved in the making and appreciation of art.

Some of the work on display at Ipswich Art Gallery.

The Society also has a convention of including a Special Feature Exhibition to run alongside the Open submissions and this year it was a retrospective for two well-known Suffolk artists, Claire Lambert and Judith Foster.

Suffolk-born Claire Lambert works in ceramics, lino cut, etching, mono prints, painting and drawing. She worked between 1957 and 1975 as a member of Atelier de Ceramique de Dour in Belgium. She was taught by Roger Somerville at the Academy des Beaux Arts de Waterfall-boitsfort, Brussels, and subsequently studied printmaking with Ken Roberts and Judith Lock at Suffolk College.

She has taken part in joint exhibitions in Belgium, France, Italy, Poland and Canada and many UK exhibitions including the Broughton Gallery in Kirkcudbright, Peckover House Wisbech, Norwich Castle and Gallery 44 in Aldeburgh.

Claire’s work is represented in a number of collections including the Musee de Verviers and the Michael and Valerie Chase Collection and further collections in Australia, New Zealand and Belgium.

Sadly, I only managed to get one decent photograph of her work as the combination of a small gallery room and large, darkly coloured monoprints or linocuts behind reflective glass did not make for good photos.

‘Three Friends’ by Claire Lambert. Monoprint.£350

However, I did have more luck photographing the work of the second artist of this retrospective, Judith Foster.

‘Cherries’ by Judith Foster. Oil. £620

Judith Foster was born in London and went to school in Bath. In 1955 she came to study at Ipswich Art School and in 1959 entered the painting school of the Royal College of Art. She then travelled through Europe on an Abbey Minor Scholarship before returning to Suffolk. 

She taught foundation studies and adult education drawing and painting at the High Street Art School from 1963 until its closure, and subsequently at Suffolk College until 2000. 

Judith’s professional life has included many solo and group exhibitions, starting with the Ipswich Art Club in 1958 and including the Young Contemporaries , the Royal Academy, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Cleveland Bridge Gallery in Bath, Lady Lodge Art Centre in Peterborough and many galleries across East Anglia. 

Her work is in private and public collections in the UK, USA and Europe.

‘Quinces’ by Judith Foster. Pencil. £285

I have to comment that I really appreciated her work and, in particular, her still life paintings ‘Cherries’ and ‘Pear Diptych’. I find her loose, free brushwork with smaller, discrete areas of focus very appealing.

‘Pear Diptych’ by Judith Foster. Oil. £425

It’s always good to see a few still life paintings in an open show and I noticed this delightful little gem, ‘Pears in Conference’ by Hilary Bartholomew, a current member of the Ipswich Art Society. I think you can probably see that the artist is a fan of the French Master, Chardin.

‘Pears in Conference’ by Hilary Bartholomew. Oil. £225

Last Week for Exhibition ‘Creating Constable’- Ends 24th April 2022

In January I posted a few comments about the ‘Creating Constable‘ Exhibition currently on at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Along with many works by Constable himself and his Suffolk contemporaries, there are also sketches and paintings from artists influential and important to Constable during his formative years. However, something I did not mention in that post were the few 21st-century works by Suffolk artists currently working in Constable’s county such as this engaging work by local artist, Hayley Field.

‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’ – Hayley Field. Watercolour on paper.

Hayley Field has been painting the colours, light and landscape that can be see from her studio window by the River Deben since 2017. Below in her own words she describes her work and the process of painting colour maps.

I began making ‘colour maps’ nearly three years ago when I was working in residence in Mary Potter’s house and studio in Aldeburgh, as a response to the surrounding landscape. Once back in my own studio I began to make them of the view from the window, across the river Deben to Suffon Hoo. I gradually developed their format to become an analysis in one sitting of the colours I observed, making a vertical journey – river to sky or sky to river – including the water, mud, islands, river bank, land, trees and sky. I enjoy the complexity of understanding and describing the colours and the intense, deep focus it requires.

The pencil notes record the pigments I have mixed to make the colours, and the date. What started as documentation has become an ongoing, cumulative piece of work. I have exhibited it three times to date – each time in a different way – gridded, a section of the whole, and in a line.
During lockdown I have been making colour maps from a room in my home, with a view to the river Deben, through trees and across fields.

Hayley Field, article for an exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk.

When you take in ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, as a whole you can see that it is a visual diary, a year in colours.

The subtle changes across the watercolour map impressively detail the changes of hue resulting from the varying quality and type of light associated with different weather and the different seasons.

Detail from ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, colours for 18th June 2021.

Very much on a personal level as colour is central to my work, I find this visual record makes a fascinating piece. And, the delicate yet precise changes painted, for example, 18th June above and 26th September below, beautifully capture the essence and difference of an English summer’s day to a Suffolk day in autumn.

Detail from ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, colours for 26th September 2021.

In Need of Some Colour – Part II, The Maldon Embroidery

Last week, we took a brief tour of Maldon in Essex, but I failed to mention the specific reason for my visit which was to see ‘The Maldon Embroidery’ on permanent display at the Maeldune Heritage Centre.

The Maldon Embroidery. (Photograph from the Maeldune Heritage Centre website.)

The Maldon Embroidery was initially called ‘The Millennium Embroidery’ as it was commissioned to celebrate 1,000 years of Maldon’s history.

Left, depiction of the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, one of the oldest churches in England. It is just down the River Blackwater from Maldon at Bradwell-on-Sea. According to Bede it was built by Bishop Cedd in AD654. Right, sculpture of Bishop Cedd in a niche of All Saints Church, Maldon. The text PANT is the word used for the River Blackwater in the Old English poem ‘The Battle of Maldon’.

It was unveiled over 30 years ago in 1991 to mark the millennial anniversary of the Battle Of Maldon in 991. The whole work is 42 feet long and 26 inches wide and is formed of seven panels. It was designed by the famous photographer, artist and textile designer, Humphrey Spender (1910-2005) who lived locally in the village of Ulting four miles from Maldon.

Left, Earl Byrhtnoth sculpture by Nathaniel Hitch (1845–1938) in a niche of All Saints Church, Maldon. Byrhtnoth died at the Battle of Maldon and, right, is shown in the embroidery fighting the Viking invaders. His name in old English is beorhtnoðbeorht (bright) and noð(courage).

This textile work falls within the tradition of a ‘Bayeux tapestry’, and like the Bayeux original it isn’t actually a tapestry (woven), but is embroidered (hand stitched).

Left, Maldon is granted a Royal Charter by Henry II in 1171 and, right, a photo of the unusual triangular church tower of All Saints Church, Maldon also featured in the embroidery.

Furthermore, Humphrey Spender felt the term tapestry was associated with something “faded and dun-coloured”. And, as we can see this intricately detailed, colourfully vivid work is anything but faded.

Thomas Plume (1630–1704) famous for his library which he had built in the 1690s on the site of the collapsed nave of St Peter’s church. At the time he also had the church’s surviving West Tower restored.

The content of the embroidery is partly chronological and partly thematic. The significant Battle of 991 is near the left end and we then walk along its length and across time with depictions of noteworthy local events and well-known landmarks.

The finished embroidery of the warfare panel, corpses and all. Image from the official Instagram account ‘humphreyspender’.

Unsurprisingly, as the embroidery was made to mark 1,000 years since the Battle of Maldon, warfare is one of themes. The war panel flows from left to right in a transition from ancient to modern warfare.

Part of the original design on paper for this panel. Image from the official Instagram account ‘humphreyspender’.

When we reach the end we have travelled through time to 1991. The final panel shows vignettes of Maldon’s twentieth-century highlights such as the 1980s construction of new roads and roundabouts around the town.

This is the final panel. Top right in the mouth of a lion you can just read Lee Cash (the driving force for this project) and at the bottom right the beginning of designer Humphrey Spender’s name (apologies I didn’t capture the full panel).

Working together with Humphrey Spender, Mrs Lee Cash and Andrew Fawcett, a further 85 embroiderers took three years to create this work of art.

Edward Bright (1721–1750) was the ‘fat man of Maldon’ at 47.5 stone and was famous as the fattest man in England during his relatively short life.

May I just at this point apologise for the multiple reflections in the photographs and the lack of pictures of full panels. It is a physically long piece of work and naturally it is protected behind glass, but sadly opposite large windows. I am not sure if the glass is of a special quality, but the display room is brightly lit with damaging daylight.

Left, the tugboat Brent moored on Hythe Quay and again featured in colourfully glory on a panel of the Maldon Embroidery.

Discussing his love of bright colours, Humphrey Spender, who lived in a Richard Rogers steel and glass residence for over three decades, once commented on the fading of domestic textiles in his home saying they’d faded substantially in just 15 years. Well, the Maldon Embroidery is already 30 years old and so far it is still very colourful, let’s hope it stays that way.

The Coat of Arms (crest) of Maldon.

In Need of Some Colour – Part I

It’s the end of January. There is much to be hopeful about, perhaps we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic. However, here in East Anglia it is still an on/off cold and grey affair as far as the weather is concerned and so I’ve been hunting around for colour and found these photos of a summer trip down memory lane.

Thames Barges moored down on Hythe Quay near the Promenade and Marine Lake area of Maldon, Essex.

A while ago I was in Essex visiting the village where I grew up and afterwards I drove to the town where I went to school, Maldon. It was strange to be a tourist in a place I had known well as a school pupil. I hadn’t been back since I walked out of the school gates and caught the bus home over 40 years ago. Let’s just say my school days were not the best days of my life.

Through the barge rigging and across the River Blackwater to the Prom (as us school kids called it). Despondently, now reborn partly as The Promenade Park – not my kind of thing.

Anyway, back to the town. Naturally, there’s been many changes in the intervening years since my ‘I’m never going back’ exit. Maldon is a strange mix of a once local rural population (reducing in number) combined with an influx of London overspill (even these days), hosting a small yet noticeable boating and sailing clique (resident and visiting) whilst at the same time tolerating a few quirky, slightly alternative folk. Thinking about it I suppose it didn’t feel that dissimilar to when I was at school, even then, those of us travelling in from the villages further afield, were considered outsiders.

It’s quite a long High Street before it splits into Mill Road and Church Street. A walk down Church Street takes you to Hythe Quay on the River Blackwater. The church visible in the distance is St Mary the Virgin Church complete with white shingled spire. It’s located on, not surprisingly, Church Street.

Today, the High Street has changed and not changed. Some of the old buildings I remember are still standing. That’s the churches and the Moot Hall. There are three church structures with medieval traces, All Saints, with a triangular tower, Old St Peter’s, now Thomas Plume’s Library and the Maeldune Heritage Centre and just down Church St, St Mary the Virgin, also known as the Fisherman’s Church.

Clock and summer flowers decorate The Moot Hall.

So, the obviously old and worthy buildings have survived however, the cinema has gone. The Art Deco ‘Embassy’ cinema designed by David E. Nye was built in 1936 and then demolished in 1985. One wonders why it couldn’t have been repurposed or partially conserved as the old redundant St Peter’s Church tower was saved when Thomas Plume built his Library around 1700.

Archive photos.

Instead on the site now is a retirement housing complex called Embassy Court. I understand with an ageing population more purpose-built housing is required, but I think losing the cinema building is a pity. Embassy Court is functional, clean and tidy looking, but as a structure it’s not in the same class as ‘The Embassy’ was in its heyday.

Embassy Court on the site of the old Embassy cinema.

Embassy Court is not the only newish redbrick building in the locality there is Maldon’s first Town Hall. This is another less than engaging building situated just off the High Street. Built in the last century opening in 1998 at the cost of £642,000 it has the expected council offices, community rooms and hall, but, architecturally speaking does not exhibit the confidence and flare of a successful town. The architect, local Terry Wynn, said at the time of the building’s opening “We were very concerned that when it was finished it didn’t look like a brand new building, we wanted it to fit in straight away”. Well, he was certainly right on that point, it fits in completely and is unremarkable to such an extent I failed to notice it at all. If you’re interested to see what I missed, you can take a mini tour here with See Around Britain – Maldon Town Hall.

Spotted the Town Hall from the visitor shop of the Maeldune Heritage Centre located opposite in the Thomas Plume Library.

Finally, there is one other old building still standing I remember only too well. It is the Blue Boar Hotel just off the top of the High Street on Silver Street. It has been a Grade II listed building since 1951 and according to Historic England the oldest part of hotel dates from the late 14th century. When I was at school, in the late 20th century, the hotel’s small bar tucked around the back was a favourite haunt for sixth formers.

The formal entrance to the Blue Boar Hotel, Silver St, Maldon.

However, it is the view from just outside the Blue Boar across to the White House on Silver Street that is significant to me. It hasn’t changed that much since I spent five hours painting it for my A Level Art exam. That year the theme for submissions was ‘Seen on a Quiet Street’. This was long before the days of mobile phones or even digital cameras and so there’s no record of my finished picture. However, I do remember during the course of the day several people stopping to look, chat and watch my progress. It was early May and the pink blossom on the cherry tree was only just past its prime. Concluding my memory lane tour on Silver Street felt apt.

The White House on Silver Street, Maldon.

Festive Promenade, Felixstowe

During those recent festive in-between days the weather here in Suffolk, like much of the UK, was grey and wet.

Cranes, a pier and beach huts – what more could you ask for?

In fact it rained and rained and all eyes checked various weather apps to catch a time when rain was not forecasted. We looked at maps and wind directions and tried to estimate when rain would finally clear the east coast.

Plenty of painted beach huts, but only a couple as bright as this green coat!

We usually go up the coast to Orford, Aldeburgh or even Southwold, but there was only a short afternoon window with no rain and enough remaining daylight to make a visit to the beach worthwhile.

If you look carefully you can also see the containers piled up behind the houses.

With time an issue the 20 minute route to the beach at Felixstowe became our destination by default.

Time for off the lead and on to the beach with the dog too.

We were lucky the rain stopped as we arrived. There was some gorgeous light and gentle, shimmering reflections off the wet pavements.

Lumps of rock sea defences, the sea wall and a well-maintained walkway.

And, I loved it.

Almost at the end.

I only wished I’d taken my camera.

Across the River Deben estuary and bar towards Bawdsey.

Fortunately today’s phones make forgetting your camera less of an issue than in ‘the olden days’ as the youngsters like to say.

Heading back.

It might still have been too soggy to sit awhile and appreciate the view, but

And walking off into the sunset . . .

the walk back along the prom into the shimmering sunset was delightful.

Please don’t leave me behind.

Five Sunsets and a Daybreak

As I write this the jury is still out on whether the Omicron variant is making people more or less sick. However, there’s already been confirmation that this new variant is more transmissible than our old enemy Delta, sigh. With all the gloom I thought it was time for a glass-half-full blog post.

Dawn lighting up the view from my office – Stratocumulus?

Okay, it’s winter, there’s already been a couple of nasty storms and the days are short, but, oh my, when the sky is not overcast the winter light is gorgeous as the sun rises and sets.

Golden skies above the Old Cemetery – Altostratus ? perhaps

Add a few clouds, and there’s mystery and drama. Who can resist a slightly eerie stroll through the Old Cemetery as the sun sets whilst absolutely making sure you reach the grand, iron gates to exit before lock up.

A pink mackerel sky at sunset – Altocumulus, I think

And, when was the last time you walked down a bog-standard, terraced street transformed by a pink, mackerel sky into the dramatic backdrop for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film.

A very still Ipswich Waterfront at dusk – some Cirrus in the upper sky

Of course, not all winter weather is stormy. There are those surprisingly still days and, with the sunsetting as early as 3.45 in the afternoon, there’s plenty of opportunities to capture some inspirational sunset photos.

That’s the sun going down on Sunday, 5 December at 15.38 (precise time from my phone’s photo info [don’t you just love technology!])

It may only have lasted for a mere five minutes or so, but the rich, fiery orange of the setting sun reflected off the low clouds was most dramatic and in a way uplifting too.

November in an Urban Park

The full palette of golden yellows and hot oranges that makes for an autumnal scene has arrived late this year as we can see in this series of photographs from Sunday, 14th November.

As my sister and I walked around Christchurch Park in Ipswich we noticed the varied selection of deciduous trees were at different stages of their end of season show.

Some trees had already lost all their leaves,

some were at the height of their high autumn colour

War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

and some trees still had leaves of green.

All things considered it has been a reasonable, if not a vintage year for colour here in East Anglia.

The Round Pond, Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

We are now in mid-November and in this sheltered park not that far from the town centre there’s only been two or three frosts. And, as the experts suggest, it is frosts and cool nights that are two contributing ingredients for good leaf colour.

Needless to say, in an urban park like Christchurch Park, there’s a diverse range of specimen and non-native trees, but as we wandered away from the more formal area of Ipswich’s War Memorial, the planting became more natural, with a wilder feel. You could even believe you were in the heart of the Suffolk countryside and not sandwiched between the town centre and the busy ring road.