An On/Off Project

As many of you know I have been painting silk for years and mostly selling painted silk scarves, but that was until Covid.

First the lengthy job of painting the long, long piece of silk.

When the pandemic arrived and with it, eventually, the wearing of masks in crowded spaces and on public transport and during a lockdown or not, there was an explosion of homemade masks of every shape and colour. And, as some of you know, I started painting and making silk versions. All that was until the arrival of working vaccines and the gradual reduction of mask wearing.

After painting and steaming the silk a backing was add with a layer of wadding between the silk and the backing to give a richer, thicker slightly quilted appearance.

Now, anybody who knows me in real life knows that I view sewing, by hand or machine, as a means to an end. Getting my old sewing machine out to make masks was an interesting experience for me. In the end sewing and making joined painting as part of my everyday work.

Random flowing machine embroidery make swirling shapes and loose gold stars.

All this prattle brings me to the point that for some bizarre reason at the beginning of this year I decided to embark on a large painting and machine embroidered piece of work. Yes, I did just write ‘at the beginning of this year’, because this has turned out to be a very long drawn out endeavour. And, I am now at the stage where I have picked it up and started and stopped so many times I am wondering whether it will ever get finished. The working day routine of sewing masks pretty much ceased back around last Easter and in between periods of scarf painting, this long, involved project began to take more and more time. Now, as we move into autumn my patience for machine embroidery on this scale is seriously running out of steam.

It is easier to see the freehand machine embroidery on the reverse.

Anyway I thought I’d share my progress so far and I will blog about it again if it ever gets finished.

Exhibitions Tell Stories Too: ‘Power of Stories’, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

This week I visited the latest exhibition on show at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. ‘Power of Stories’ is a collaborative endeavour and melds the loan of three of the Oscar-winning costumes from the Disney/Marvel film ‘Black Panther’ with historical pieces already held by the Ipswich Museum. Together with a team of Community Curators made up of local people, the exhibition also tells the story of how and why the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) was formed during the 1970s.

From the left: Costumes for T’Challa, Okoye and Shuri from the Disney/Marvel film ‘Black Panther’.

It is not a new idea that human beings express their lived experiences and histories in narrative forms. Storytelling is and has been an essential part of human existence and as the anthropologists inform us it is present in one form or another in every community and culture across the world.

Queen Hatshepsut (1507-1458 BCE)

To begin with there was the storyteller and the story listener, but each time humankind discovered or invented a new medium for expression then a song, a cave-painting, a stone carving, a stained-glass window, a book, a photograph, a play, a film, a computer game or even an exhibition told a story.

Children’s history book. Circa 1950 (My note – an outdated yet ‘interesting’ storytelling of English history.)

As you enter ‘Power of Stories’ there is a large block of text written on the wall introducing the exhibition. It states:

A world of stories.

Sharing stories is something all people have in common. The more stories we know, hear and share, the wider our view of the world becomes.

Museums have historically presented a European view of history, which has excluded many voices and ways of knowing.

As Community Curators, we have woven our perspectives into this display, recognising that everyone has valuable stories to share. This is part of a developing collaboration around history, community and belonging.

The exhibition begins with a series of cabinets containing objects from the Ipswich Museum collection including puppets, metalwork sculptures, books and comics.

Puppets are part of a long and worldwide storytelling tradition. Punch from Europe and traditional Indonesian Wayang Golek (translates as theatre rod puppet).
Exhibit note – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – John Foxe wrote this book of people who were killed for their faith by Queen Mary I between 1555 and 1558. Foxe, a Protestant, hoped to convince people that Catholicism was bloodthirsty and dangerous. (My note – the text and imagery persuasive storytelling or obvious propaganda?)
Exhibit note – Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward Fitzgerald. By translating ancient Persian poetry into English, Edward Fitzgerald encouraged fellow Victorians to think beyond their Christian mindset. (My note – this text placed next to Foxe’s Martyrs is perhaps the storytelling of the exhibition in action broadening the visitors outlook despite this being a Victorian English translation.)

There couldn’t be an exhibition about stories that didn’t include comics. Naturally this exhibition includes some of the most iconic Marvel issues, including copies of editions from ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Iron Man’ series. And, of course with the main draw for the exhibition ‘Power of Stories’ being the three costumes designed for characters from the Marvel film, ‘Black Panther’, there’s versions of the earliest Black Panther comic book appearances.

Exhibit note – All of the comic books in the exhibition have been kindly loaned by Matthew C Applegate. These comic books are part of a collection of over 40,000 Marvel comic books which is believed to be one of the largest and most complete collections in the UK. (My note – Iron Man first appearing in 1963 a troubled, wealthy, individualistic superhero played in the films by Robert Downey Jr an equally troubled, wealthy, individualistic Hollywood star!)

I have not seen the film, ‘Black Panther’ but I know it was critically acclaimed and heralded for its mostly black cast especially for the lead actors’ strong performances and, notably, an all-female army.

Okoye’s Final Battle Scene Costume. Exhibit note – Marvel Studios’ Black Panther (2018). Worn by Danai Gurira. Okoye is the head of Wakandan armed forces and General of the Dora Milaje, an elite group of all-female soldiers. She represents heritage, tradition and loyalty.

Predictably from a film franchise based on comics that revel in the mythic superhero, Thor/Loki, Iron Man, X-Men, Spider Man amongst others, and, with only 12 percent of the superhero comics having female protagonists, it is not surprising that ‘Black Panther’ is about a king, T’Challa, and his kingdom of Wakander. Despite two of the three costumes on display being those for the female characters, Shuri and Okoye, the story is not primarily their story, but the king’s.

Shuri’s Final Battle Scene Costume. Exhibit note – Marvel Studios’ Black Panther (2018). Worn by Letitia Wright. Shuri harnesses the powerful fictional metal Vibranium to create Wakanda’s technology.

The film costumes for fictional characters are, no doubt, the crowd-drawing, eye-catching spectacle and next to them the real life, local story of how and why the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) came into being feels quiet in the telling.

The ISCRE Story – Portraits by Loleitha Evelyn and Cartoon Strip by Dan Malone

However, there’s no doubt though that the loan of the ‘Black Panther’ costumes has offered an exciting opportunity for the wider community of Ipswich to be engaged with the presentation of the town’s heritage, identity and culture. And, this sentiment was expressed by Carole Jones of Ipswich Borough Council when she said:

“The exhibition is a thrilling collaboration between museums and Ipswich’s community. We did not want to tell people how to get the most out of Power of Stories – we wanted them to inspire each other and visitors with their stories and, hopefully, to bring new audiences to the mansion.”

Carole Jones, Ipswich Borough Council (portfolio holder for planning and museums).

The exhibition as a whole is offering a variety of stories to coax the visitor to consider how storytelling can either unite or divide peoples. However, one of these stories more in focus than the others is the predictable ‘individualistic hero’, particularly as told through the hereditary king. In the 21st century perhaps we need dramatic tales of collaborative governance and democracy as surely this is the way forward for a united and peaceful planet regardless of gender or race. We are, after all, all members of one storytelling species.

From the left: T’Challa (king), Okoye (general of elite force), Shuri (princess) Exhibit note – Costumes are one of the many tools a film director uses to tell a story. Ruth E. Carter understood each character deeply before creating clothes which brought them to life on screen. Her research drew on many traditions and features of life for different people across Africa. She won many accolades for her work on these costumes, including the 2019 Oscar for Best Costume Design and the 2020 Gold Derby Costume Design of the Decade award.

‘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.

Look Away Now

If you’ve not already seen the film ‘The Dig’ (currently available on Netflix) and would like to come to it fresh and with an open mind, then don’t read on.

Views of the River Alde were used in the film although the actual ship burial was overlooking the River Deben.

Where to begin? The disciplines of archaeology and history are concerned with the substance and interpretation of the past, but interpretation of our past is not the preserve of the academic. This stuff, this substance of the past, provides material for the work of writers, artists and filmmakers to make their own reinterpretations as they create offerings that enrich our lives and entertain us.

However, there is a confidence bordering on audaciousness in taking past events, particularly people’s lives, and re-presenting them in a manner that distinctly departs from the factual, historical record. The question is how far does an interpreter go with invention to bring a history to life? Does it really matter if a film, that in no way suggests itself as documentary, changes the maturity and physicality of a central character. This is the primary difficulty for me with the film, ‘The Dig’. It is a film that retells the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial by Basil Brown and his working relationship with the landowner, Edith Pretty, who commissioned his excavations.

Portrait of Mrs Pretty painted in 1939 and newspaper clipping showing Mr Brown in 1939.

‘The Dig’ has made no claims for historical accuracy and itself is a film drama based on a historical novel (‘The Dig’, John Preston, 2007) which itself is a dramatised retelling of the actual events of the discovery of the ship burial in 1939. For example, in the novel a fictionalised RAF officer, Rory Lomax, photographs the dig replacing the original amateur photographers Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack, who were two visiting school teachers on holiday in the Woodbridge area during the excavations of September 1939.

Literary licence is sanctioned in historical fiction to bring a story to life and when a book is made into a film that licence is often expanded to accommodate other constraints such as, let’s say, a film’s marketability. The long held view from the film industry seems to be that for commercial success well-known stars are required. The brilliant casting of Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown (with the best Suffolk accent I’ve ever heard from a screen actor) is met with the odd casting of Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty.

Portrait of Edith Pretty painted in 1939. Still shot of Carey Mulligan playing Edith Pretty in ‘The Dig’, 2021.

My response to the whole film is coloured by this choice. Casting Carey Mulligan (35 years old) as Edith Pretty (56 years old and unwell at the time of the excavations) was possibly a choice for marketability at the expense of any vague nod to the lives of the real people in this historical drama. The sidelining of twenty years of a woman’s life and experience is seemingly of no consequence. In fact this woman, Edith Pretty, had had an unusual life for her class and times; she had travelled extensively, married late at 43 years old and had her only son, Robert, at 47 years old. However, this (dialogue below) is how her full and colourful backstory is summarised in the film. Using one scene Mrs Lyons (the housekeeper and cook), describes Mrs Pretty’s life for the benefit of Mr Brown:

She’s only been here 12 year. Came down from Cheshire. Then she married the Colonel. He first met with Edith when she was still at school. And then on her 17th birthday he asked her to marry him. She turn him down. She say she can’t possibly leave her father. She care for her father another 13 year, until he died. She finally accepted the Colonel’s proposal. He’d been asking every year on her birthday. Just after they had Robert her husband went and died too. Imagine that.

Mrs Lyons, Cook & Housekeeper. Film ‘The Dig’, 2021.

During the course of the film there were also a couple of scenes where Edith Pretty experiences episodes of illness and a trip to a London physician for her to receive a diagnosis of serious heart disease. The film gave no indication of her previous adventurous life at all and sadly, all the melancholic staring across the Suffolk landscape together with make-up to both age and make Ms Mulligan look poorly, still did not make her interpretation a believable Edith Pretty. Perhaps actors such as Saskia Reeves (59), Helen McCrory (52) or Tamsin Greig (54) could have brought some depth and drive to the role of Edith. This was after all a woman who had visited excavations in the Nile Valley, served with the French Red Cross at Vitry le Francois in 1917, became one of the first women magistrates and turned down a marriage proposal over 25 times.

Modern times and the River Deben not far from the Sutton Hoo ship burial site.

If filmmakers are going to paint a watercolour of a central character rather than give us the oil painting and thus alter the dynamics at the centre of a story why not just make a different film. This film is based on the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial where the word ‘based’ is doing the heavy lifting, particularly where the female characters are concerned.

Still from ‘The Dig’ showing Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown watching Thames Barge Cygnet from Snape on the marshy waterways of the River Alde.

The best part of the film was the gorgeous shots of Suffolk’s coastal waterways. The most surprising and unexpectedly disappointing aspect of the film was there was no grand reveal at the very end showing the treasure found on the Anglo-Saxon boat which is now on display at the British Museum thanks to the generous gift of Edith Pretty.

Snow in Town . . . Less Than Picturesque

The last time the Beast from the East visited Suffolk was back in late February 2018. I remember it clearly as I live on a hill, on a residential street that never sees the gritters. Vexingly, early on the morning of the initial heavy snow I was one of the first residents who had to drive down the treacherous road on my way to a 7.45 am appointment for an MRI scan at the hospital. I had been grateful that I was parked facing down the hill. It was an unpleasant and tricky few minutes behind the wheel.

This time the Beast from the East has turned up courtesy of Storm Darcy. It arrived as I walked down early on Sunday morning to pop in to see my father and drop off his Sunday newspaper. The arrival of a snowstorm and the subsequent whitening of the town does unite the disparate untidiness of the urban view, but it could hardly be called picturesque.

Just beginning to snow.
St Clement’s Church, Star Lane, Ipswich.
Walking down Grimwade Street to the Waterfront.
Turning into Neptune Quay, Ipswich Waterfront.
That’s not fog in the distance, but snow.
View from my father’s flat as the snow sweeps in.

By the time I had walked back home my backyard was covered. I don’t consider it looks particularly picturesque either, and by Tuesday it simply looked comical.

My backyard Sunday morning left, Monday morning right and ‘peak snow’ by the end of Tuesday, beneath.

It’s now Thursday afternoon and still the temperature hasn’t risen above freezing today even though it’s sunshine and blue skies, but at least it isn’t as cold as Braemar’s -23 Centigrade!!!!

Winter Walk in the Park

Last Saturday, we had blue skies with winter sun in Ipswich from dawn to dusk and despite the temperatures hovering all day around freezing, plenty of people visited the local parks for their permitted exercise. I was walking through the park as the sun began to set and stepped away from the busy paths to stand for 10 minutes to capture the sun doing down.

You can see there were both family groups and joggers making circuits of the pond,

My favourite photo from Saturday. All taken on my phone as only space for food shopping and not camera in my rucksack.

and also plenty of dog walkers too, but everyone began to rapidly vacate the park as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Nobody wants to be locked in by mistake in these freezing temperatures.

The sun almost behind the buildings on the horizon and time for me to leave.

When I got home and scrolled through the pictures I liked the ‘through the big old trees’ shot so much I am now using it for the background on my phone. Even though it’s a winter scene and the trees are dark and towering, there is a warming glow (much more noticeable on my phone than it appears here) which I find genuinely uplifting each time I open the phone. For me this is an example of the usually insignificant aspects of daily life that have become those brief pleasures helping many of us get through these grim days.

It was the night before the Covid Christmas

Twenty-twenty, what can you say? Goodbye and good riddance I suggest.

On the topic of watershed years I have found some photos from the last century when all we were concerned about was the possibility of the Y2K bug wiping out technology as we knew it.

A worried angel circa 1997

First I dug out a couple of grainy prints of one of my daughter’s contributions to school nativities. Then to my surprise I found another Christmas photo from a now forgotten Boxing Day trip to an Old Time Music Hall evening in Norwich. The event organisers had suggested the audience might like to attend in ‘Good Old Days’ attire. We had a go donning long skirts and velvet chokers. I seem to remember we were in the noticeable minority.

‘Say cheese’! My late mother, daughter et moi.

On that note and with smiles all round, I’d like to wish everybody the Season’s Greetings and a very, very Healthy New Year.

V-Day – 2020

The first person I know to get the Covid vaccine has been my father. I took him to the GP’s surgery this afternoon and the whole process ran very smoothly. All the staff and nurses were pleasant and kind. The ‘Covid Vaccine Clinic’ was well organised especially considering the need to keep the elderly folk, many with walking sticks or wheelchairs, the appropriate two metres apart. And, of course, it was masks for everybody.

After the nurse ran through the usual health questions with my father I asked her how many people they’d vaccinated so far. She said they had been allocated a batch of 900 doses and had already vaccinated over 600 elderly Ipswich residents this week.

Reading the Covid Vaccination leaflet.

As you probably have already heard in the news everybody has to sit and wait for a further 15 minutes after the jab. This is a precaution in case of an adverse allergic reaction. It soon became obvious that waiting for 15 minutes was more bothersome for some people than the actually jab, but helpfully they were all given a Covid Vaccination information leaflet to help pass the time.

“Can I go yet?”

It’s Tiers and more Tiers

Last week with all the recent positive vaccine news there was a sense of relief and from some folk a hint that it’s nearly all over. However, although there is most definitely a strong light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a long way to go dealing with this virus.

Explaining the tightened Tier system . . . Tier 1 . . . Tier 2 . . . Tier 3 . . .

Today, following government presentations and briefings it appears that it’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 for most of England. It is only the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight that will be in Tier 1. There are also, we now know, rules for Christmas and all those that are going to do Christmas this year they can go ahead with preparations for their own ‘Covid safe’ arrangements.

What, sorry, you mean you don’t understand. Well, for example take West Suffolk, it has the lowest case rate for over-60s in the whole country, yet will be in Tier 2 with the rest of Suffolk.

Family and friends that know me well, will know I like to root around behind the managed political announcements and simplistic headlines. I am not sure if any news outlet in the UK has uploaded a similarly helpful sequence, but this ‘Aerosol transmission of Covid’ in English published by El País, is fascinating. This is by no means a peer reviewed science paper, but an enlightening visual representation of how this virus spreads so efficiently inside rooms. I thought it was worth sharing before the Christmas get-togethers.

So when travelling during the festive Covid season it’s wear a mask. And, perhaps with visitors inside it might also be wear a mask. And, it should most definitely be all about ventilation.

Note. I would just like to say thank you to Sophie Mitchell Photography, London, (top three images) taken as part of a commission for UCL.

A Media Storm: the Covid Christmas

Shall I just begin with saying that I find it disappointing to be writing about Christmas Day in November, but this year the issue of the ‘Corona Christmas’ is all over the media. You can’t switch on the news, pick up a paper or scroll down your social media feed without being bombarded with headlines and commentary on what could be the situation come the 25th December and what rules may be in place. There is plenty of speculation, but mostly it looks like it’s going to be a numbers waiting game for the government before plans are announced.

Whatever the authorities decide the Covid vaccination programme will not be up and running to any significant extent for us ordinary folk. Individually it will come down to how risk averse people feel about spending hours indoors with relatives and friends. Of course there are alternative possibilities, you could meet up for a festive walk somewhere beautiful or failing that reach for your screens for a zoom Christmas catch-up or even postpone the whole Christmassy thing until February, March, April . . . . or even Christmas 2021.

Our annual Christmas Day walk 2014 – sadly none of those gorgeous dogs were mine.

Regardless of our personal choices at least here in Ipswich the usual Town Centre and Waterfront Christmas trees have been installed. On my way home last night after checking in the weekly supermarket order for my father, I noticed the Waterfront Christmas tree was lit and twinkling.

This contemporary Christmas tree changes as the baubles cycle through a sequence of colours.

There was a slightly strange moment when the colours changed through the blues to turquoise, on to the pinks and then the top bauble beneath the star turned red and, to me anyway, it had an eerie resemblance to models of a certain virus!

Cultural Norms

Who would have thought a year ago we’d walk down our local High Street and into any shop to find customers and staff alike wearing face masks, and, not find that strange. It appears that for the time being this state of affairs is going to be the norm. Whichever ‘tier’ you find yourself living in, there is going to be the requirement to wear a mask sometime, somewhere, at some point.

Since May there have been articles in the press about masks becoming fashionable and one early adopter of the ‘colourful’ mask has been the American politician and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. However, putting aside the medical and the ultra cheap disposable options, have you noticed, more often than not, chaps where plain masks and most commonly, black ones, especially in public life. Or, is this just a phenomenon of those we see in the spotlight? Does anyone know?

Travelling on the Tube a face covering is mandatory.

Now, I am not sure about you, but I find there is something slightly menacing about black face masks. They bring to mind highwaymen or special forces and it’s already bad enough simply not being able to see faces fully. In these gloomy times wouldn’t it be more interesting and more fun and, just more cheerful if guys wore coloured ones. There is so much choice out there; every type of fabric, every colour, every type of pattern. There’s bees or trees or animal prints and ones with text, or symbols or musical notes or just plain colour. If it has been a cultural norm for men to wear coloured ties what’s the problem with a coloured mask?