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.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar

Last week I had to ring an information telephone number and when my call was connected I was informed the current waiting time was 60 minutes. Interestingly the voice didn’t say one hour, but 60 minutes. Maybe, they think you’ll mishear and be hoping it was only going to be a 16 minute wait. Eventually after 57 minutes of holding on, I spoke to a human who endeavoured to help, but when they attempted to put me through to another department the advisor inadvertently cut me off.

Momentarily I was stunned. Disbelief was rapidly followed by R A G E. My blood pressure must have rocketed into the stratosphere. I felt I needed to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Breathe some fresh air. Go for a walk. Visit somewhere soothing and peaceful.

I strolled over to Christchurch Mansion which is near to where I live and at 10.15 on an August weekday morning it was open and thankfully still quiet. Of course, I have visited the Mansion on a number of occasions since I moved to Ipswich, but as yet had never investigated the Toy Room. To my surprise, along with the usual faded dolls and well-cuddled teddy bears, there was this fascinating gem. It is a Victorian Glass Dome display called the Doll’s Toy Bazaar.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is roughly 22 inches tall by 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep.

It’s difficult to understand the scale of this piece from photographs even when estimated measurements are given so I thought I’d include a sequence of photographs with ‘normal sized’ reference points.

Left, dome on the middle shelf of the case next to a doorway. Centre, dome above the antique dolls. Right – a little hard to see, but me with my phone in the toy mirror.
An aerial view of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar show it’s not as cluttered as it first appears.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is packed with miniature versions of familiar homeware. It’s relatively easy to spot candlesticks, glasses, porcelain ornaments and a few crocheted doilies.

Candlesticks, bottles, ornaments and a couple of white egg cups.

But something I didn’t notice until I looked at my photographs was this grouping of three very tiny houses. I think you can tell how small they are by the brush behind which has a head of bristles the size of a modern toothbrush head.

A model of three tiny houses – a toy for a Doll’s house nursery perhaps?

Looking at the entirety of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar made me consider the nature of the person who had collected and selected and arranged this display. Her name was Henrietta Clarke and she died in 1869. I’ve not been able to find out anything else about this Victorian woman at all. There’s no indication of her marital status or age at the time of making the display nor even if she grew to adulthood.

Mind you examining her creation we might presume that she had had steady hands and a patient temperament although lurking beneath the Victorian etiquette of feminine passivity there might have been an inner core of turmoil and vexation.

Doll’s house drinking glasses. Each glass is the size of your little finger’s finger nail.

St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich

Ipswich has twelve medieval churches and St Margaret’s is a glorious, though slightly unusual, example of one of these fine, historical buildings. From the outside it appears like many medieval parish churches you find in an English town or village, but inside it has a superbly carved, fifteenth-century double-hammer beam roof embellished with, and this is the surprise, a programme of late seventeenth-century paintings.

St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich – a Grade I listed, mediaeval beauty.

Originally part of the Holy Trinity priory, St Margaret’s was built during the course of the fourteenth century for the growing lay community that flourished around the Augustinian priory.

St Margaret’s in the bright sunlight of early spring and the soft hues of a winter sunset.

Ipswich during the medieval period was a successful, wealthy town with the East Anglian wool traders exporting to the Continent from the Port of Ipswich. Successful merchants and townsfolk, like any good Christians of the time, provided funds for the church and towards the end of the fifteenth century a double hammerbeam roof was added to the building in order to raise the roof and add a clerestory.

The fifteenth-century clerestory and double hammerbeam roof.

Several merchant families are recorded as major benefactors of the church who provided the funds for raising the roof. John (died 1503) and Katherine Hall (died 1506) and their son, William, were woad dyers and woad merchants, and their initials and merchant marks have been noted carved in the timbers of the roof. Other initials and marks belonging to the brickmakers, Henry and Isabel Tylmaker who left legacies in their wills of 1445 and 1460, can be seen together with the mark for a thatcher, John Byrd the Elder.

Left photo, the nave looking to the east, middle photo, looking to the west and finally the righthand photo shows the large, useful mirror to aid viewing the ceiling.

Looking up at the roof you can see amongst the ornate, decorative embellishments, carved saints, both male and female, unfortunately most are difficult to make out and even harder to identify in the gloom (binoculars and a very sunny day are needed).

Ornate fifteenth-century carving.

Altogether there are over 120 carvings embellishing the roof structure including on the south side symbols of the Passion. The ladder, spear, nails, crown of thorns and scourging pillar have been recorded, but without binoculars I couldn’t see them let alone manage to photograph them in the ambient light despite it being a very sunny day. A camera with more oomph than mine was needed.

Detail of the fine carvings.

Since 1700 there has been a decorative scheme of shields used to hide the damage caused by William Dowsing and his iconoclasts who visited during 1644.

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.

‘The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford, parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches.’ Journal commenced 1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.
Decorative shield pierced by metal tie-rod. The ties were installed to stabilise the nave walls/roof in the early nineteenth century.

This particular display of heraldry is explained in depth here if you’re interested. It reminded me of how far most of us have come from some of the pedantic and somewhat trivial aspects of the British class system.

Moving on from that aside, and returning to the roof and its programme of late seventeenth-century paintings, we see an elaborate tribute to William and Mary. There are 50 panels that were painted and installed in late 1694 and early 1695. Along the centre at the highest point of the ceiling run a series of ten sky panels with clouds and gilt stars. Then to either side of those run panels of heraldic arms. In this sequence above the north aisle two panels show the arms of England and Scotland and on the other side above the south aisle of France and Ireland.

The third series of panels (those immediately above the clerestory) feature texts such as ‘Feare God’ and ‘Honour the king’. Not all the panels contain words, many simply show trompe l’oeil cartouche imagery popular in the Baroque period. The painting is thought to be by local artists, with perhaps the more accomplished depictions by either William Carpenter alias Cheeseman (a painter and glazier) or Thomas Steward (a painter and engraver). Both men are in the local record as having being paid for creative work during the 1690s in the Ipswich area.

Left- cloud panels seen along centre of the roof. Right – panel trompe l’oeil cartouche with text.

St Margaret’s painted ceiling is unusual and part of Ipswich’s history, but it is still heavy-looking, dark and gloomy despite undergoing a programme of conservation and cleaning in 1994/5. Perhaps regional tastes at the time of William and Mary were for dark and heavy and not elegant interiors, but somehow I think that this was the best that could be afforded. Ipswich, at the end of the seventeenth century was no longer a wealthy town exporting wool to Europe.

Spring Greens

As we move into early summer, I thought I’d pause for a second to take you on a short tour of my local park to see the fresh, light greens of spring.

Christchurch Mansion through the trees.

The horse chestnuts have reached full leaf and underneath their canopy the reduced light supplies dramatic contrasts between bold, sturdy tree trunks and verdant, recently cut grass.

Sweeping and undulating paths.

Together with the horse chestnuts, lime trees line the paths of the park accentuating the curves and sweeps.

The War Memorial through the trees.

There’s not just fresh green but delicate coppery apricot colours too.

Mature lime with old knobbly trunk.

The new leaves in the park are most welcome, but there’s something even more uplifting when you observe the re-emergence of sea kale (crambe maritime) on beaches at this time of year. The plant’s sheer tenacity as it pushes up through the salty shingle for another season of sun, wind and rain is very pleasing.

The new growth of crambe maritime (sea kale) on Sizewell Beach.

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

Few flowers, but plenty of birds

Earlier this week it was MOT day. Not a day overflowing with excitement, but instead a day suffused with trepidation. Last year was a spectacular fail (fault with the anti-lock braking system!?) leaving me without a car for two weeks and an eye-watering bill in excess of £600. This year it was a bright and clear morning when I left the car at the garage with my fingers crossed. I took the opportunity to spend the ‘waiting’ hour with my camera in the nearby local park to photograph any attractive flowers or birds, and record this flamboyant graffiti.

Tucked away on a boundary wall street art with Climate Crisis theme. Left – change, protect, think, act, planet – and right, shown magnified ‘There is NO planet B’.

Holywells Park is my favourite park in Ipswich and I was hoping to capture some spring flowers, but despite the recent, unseasonable warm weather there was only a few clumps of cheerful daffodils and the big old magnolia in bloom.

However, there were plenty of ducks. There was a rather handsome mandarin duck diving for breakfast.

And, quite a number of mallard ducks. The males being easy to spot with their glistening green heads. (Do you not think this sumptuous shade of green with its satin-like quality is surely so luxurious it might even feature in any future Lulu Lytle revamp of Downing Street? )

Leaving the political sideswipes behind and moving on, I spotted and even managed a couple of shots of the little egret that is now visiting the park’s ponds.

The little egret sometimes known as a white heron.

I was just about to leave, when I noticed the perennial wallflower, erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, was coming into flower providing timely pollen and nectar for those early-emerging bees. It’s such a cheerful, strong pink for this time of year. And, as it turned out when I left the garage I, too, was cheerful as the old car had passed its MOT.

Gothic House – A Recent Discovery

Ipswich, like many towns, is an eclectic, sprawling muddle of buildings. Down on the Waterfront there has been a 21st-century attempt to achieve a coherent redevelopment of the old commercial warehouses and grain silos. Nowadays most of the warehouses have been replaced with a variety of residential blocks of flats and single storey boat-building workshops. The area is functional and pleasant enough, but there’s no outstanding contemporary architecture and it all looks markedly more interesting on a misty morning at dawn . . .

Ipswich Waterfront early morning view.

Or, when there’s a dramatic, fiery sunset.

Ipswich Waterfront view as the sun goes down.

However, also like many towns, there are little gems hidden away. Last November, I was walking through a quieter residential area and turned up St John’s Road

Walking up St John’s Road, Ipswich.

and came upon this Tudor-bethan style beauty.

Grade II listed house is in Ipswich. ‘Gothic House’, 5, St John’s Road.

‘Gothic House’, 5, St John’s Road was built by Henry Ringham possibly to the design of architect J Phipson between 1851 and 1857. It is a timber-framed house and was constructed reusing old materials with details copied from original Tudor buildings in Ipswich such as the Ancient House in the Buttermarket.

The Ancient House, 30, Buttermarket.
The Gothic House with the 20th-century neighbouring property almost cropped out of the picture.

I think the flint cobble ground floor works particularly well with the timber and stucco panels above. It is just such a pity that at some point in the intervening 170 years or so somebody sold off part of the grounds and allowed a disagreeable house to be built so close next door it blights the scene. Of course, if the Gothic House was swathed in mist it would lessen the presence of the ugliness next door. And, as we all know early morning mist does so much to enhance the most mundane of views.

John Constable -A Suffolk Artist

Last month I went to see the ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.

Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, John Constable (1776-1837) is known as one of the most important of all British artists with many of his famous works featuring the gentle countryside of his bucolic home county, Suffolk. Constable’s landscape paintings not only showed a new way to paint, but through sharing his visual interpretation he also encouraged his audiences to view the landscape in a different way.

I think this idea of a historical and different way of perceiving reality, as well as a historical way of viewing any re-presentation of that reality by an artist of the corresponding period, is more difficult for us to imagine than we realise. We are, after all, living in a time after the Impressionists, after the Post-Impressionists and after the Modernists, indeed, we now appear to exist in a time considered so postmodern much of our realities are viewed with deep skepticism. Please just hold this in mind as you look at the next two paintings and as you read the context for their creation.

‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’. July 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33 x W 50.8 cm

On show in this exhibition is a very special pair of paintings. In the summer of 1815 with the health of Constables’ elderly father, Golding, failing and his wife, Ann, John’s mother, having died earlier that spring, John came to visit with his father in East Bergholt. During the course of his stay he spent many hours in the fields sketching and painting. Two paintings produced at this time were ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’ (above) and ‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’ (below).

Constable never exhibited or attempted to sell these two paintings during his lifetime. Although highly finished, these were private works, records of the landscape that was precious to him at a difficult time. I think this is a fine example of the difference between the sensibilities of the early 19th century and our ‘show all, tell all’, skeptical 21st-century existence.

‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’. August 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33.1 x W 50.7 cm

Returning now to the exhibition more generally it is possible to detect that Constable believed in the necessity of being skilful at drawing. A capability in the world of art that has not always been fashionable. At the beginning of his career Constable often copied from Old master prints, to develop his technique. He continued this practice into later life, collecting prints by Dutch and Flemish artists such as this copy of Jacob Ruysdael’s ‘The Wheatfield’ (below).

‘The Wheatfield’ by Constable (top) after Jacob Ruysdael. 1818. Pen and sepia ink on paper.

Of course, the exhibition also displays some of Constable’s original drawn creations such as this pen, ink and watercolour study of East Bergholt church.

‘St Mary’s, East Bergholt Church: the exterior from the South West’. c. 1796. Pen, ink and watercolour on paper. H 25.8 cm x W 39.7 cm

On the picture it is just possible to make out a faint set of pencil grid lines drawn in preparation for the transfer and enlarging of the church into the finished oil painting.

‘East Bergholt Church’. c. 1796-97. Oil on board.

Naturally, there can’t be a Constable exhibition without at least one painting that includes some aspect of Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I had just taken the above photo and was about to leave the gallery when the Gallery Steward approached me and asked if I’d spotted the kingfisher flying over the water in the Mill Stream painting. I hadn’t.

‘The Mill Stream’. c. 1814. Oil on canvas. H 71.1 x W 91.5 cm. The building we see is Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I paused and looked. And looked closer, and closer and squinted and eventually he pointed it out to me. There it was a brush stroke of red and two of blue, the kingfisher.

A sequence ending in a spot magnification (thanks to computer wizardry) to capture Constable’s kingfisher flying across the Mill Stream.

Christmas Trees at the Mansion

The other week, before Omicron arrived, I popped into Christchurch Mansion to catch up on the latest ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition. The gallery is only a 15 minute walk from where I live and I always enjoy walking through the Mansion’s park on my visits, particularly at dusk.

A winter sun setting as seen through the old glazing.

As I said I went to see the art, but I was distracted by the fine sunset and then the Christmas Trees on display. And, as this is my last post before Christmas this year, I thought we might make a toast or two in the Servants’ Hall.

In 1923 this room was fitted with panelling and an overmantle taken from The Old House, 32 Carr St, Ipswich.

The servants’ hall was first recorded as such in the 1840s, although it was probably used in this way much earlier. The space was conveniently situated near to the kitchen, to the servants’ staircase to the attic bedrooms and to the service wing of the mansion where the work of running the house was carried out.

That’s the butler perhaps.

All the servants ate together in the hall, but it was expected that the butler and the housekeeper would retire to take wine and a dessert. These formal meals provided an opportunity for junior servants to learn how to serve by waiting on the older servants.

Yes, that is a red hat on top of the tree.

The furniture now on display is not typical of a usual servants’ hall, but represents the sort of pieces that might be found in a large farmhouse kitchen or country inn. I think the idea is to give the visitor an essence of Victorian life rather than historical accuracy. Also, I am not sure how many servants would have been offered a serving of the rather fancy apples à la Parisienne!

Pommes à la Parisienne

And, as for those toasts

Early Christmas Present Brings Mixed Feelings

Long term readers of my blog will know I am a keen gardener, but also a big moaner about the trials and tribulations of gardening in a backyard shaded by a large, mature eucalyptus tree.

Left – the big old eucalyptus this summer. Right – the day of the big chop.

Well, on Monday of this week Christmas came early for gardening me as the supremely professional ‘Acorn Trees’ arrived in the backyards of my neighbours and began the process of chopping down the eucalyptus.

As a kid I loved tree-climbing, but these days, no thanks.

It took the guys all day to carefully chop the tree down, pretty much branch by branch.

One half cleared, now to begin on the other side.

As the tree began to disappear the daylight to the rooms at the back of my house increased and, of course, my backyard that hasn’t seen full winter sun in decades, fairly glistened.

The skilful tree surgeon securing the next branch to be removed.

It wasn’t all good news though as I know that such a large tree was perch and roost to many birds and environmental me doesn’t like to see the loss of a single tree.

However, there’s no doubt it was very much the wrong tree in the wrong place. It was far, far too close to four or five nearby homes and with the increasing number of bad storms perhaps it was considered too risky to leave standing.

Left -from the guest bedroom the last moments of a leafy view. Right – view from my office the floor above just the trunk to go.

Finally, it has been a case of careful what you wish for. The view from my office window used to be all green and leafy, but now it is the ugly backs of some dreary interwar housing.

That’s it the tree has gone and the top half of my office window is now all sky.

But, but, but am I looking forward to spring gardening in my sunny backyard, you bet I am!