Elizabeth I Portrait – Inspiration For All Ages

Elizabeth I glove puppet
Proudly exhibiting Elizabeth I glove puppet with my sister holding flowers for her teacher.

I expect like me you have various memories of childhood, some of them more vivid than others. Floating around in the back of my mind there has always been a memory of a glove puppet I made at my primary school in East Anglia. The puppet was left at school and the memory took on a kind of mythic quality. I even wondered years later if I’d made it up and then last weekend whilst going through my late Mother’s photos I found this picture – a somewhat grotesque version of Queen Elizabeth I as a glove puppet. I vaguely recall messing around with papier mâché, but that’s it. I’d like to think that my teacher had shown us this postcard as I think it could have been my inspiration!

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I, The Darnley Portrait unknown artist c. 1575 at the National Portrait Gallery.

I have always loved the rich and intricate portraits of Elizabeth I for their visual impact, but as an adult I truly admire the skill and intellect of the Queen, her artists and her courtiers who together fashioned such great, yet beautiful propaganda pieces.

More about Elizabeth’s life with her courtiers can be found at Elizabeth I

Fancy dress Elizabeth I
School Fancy Dress Competition
First Prize
Model – My Daughter
Costume – By me

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Partying at West Egg 1922

Callot Soeurs
Callot Soeurs dress from the Cecil Beaton Collection now at the V&A.

“When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it.”

From Chapter Three of ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The fashion house Croirier’s was Fitzgerald’s fictional creation, but in Paris in 1922, the year Gatsby’s guests danced away summer evenings, the Callot Soeurs maison de couture were busy designing stunning evening gowns. That year they created this party dress which was worn by Winifred, The Duchess of Portland.

The dress has since been given to the V&A Museum in London by Lady Victoria Wemyss.

Further information can be found here.

Through the centuries and across cultures nature has inspired human beings, and many people have endeavoured to catch and recreate its beauty.  It is unachievable, but every now and then a few artists come close and I think this enchanting dress comes very close.

Ninety years in a blink of an eye seems another world away and yet this Callot Soeurs dress could easily be a contemporary piece.  Below is a present-day, personal reinterpretation of the style in floral pink and lilac silk chiffon.

No doubt one of many Jazz Age dresses that will party through this Great Gatsby year thanks to the new Baz Luhrmann film and the enduring, mysterious Gatsby.

Lilac Clematis Textile
Silk chiffon inspiration clematis and poppies by Agnes Ashe.

Guest Shuns Hedgehog House at 1 The Wild Corner

Wildlife shelter
One, The Wild Corner
5 Star luxury experience

About five years ago my daughter and I constructed a 5 star hedgehog residence in the wild corner of the back garden.  I  remember it vividly as I borrowed my father’s circular saw to cut up a wooden pallet left over from a delivery of paint.  Now, I’m not a great fan of power tools as for me they shout danger, danger, danger and they are usually so loud that the noise is disorientating, but the job got done.  One deluxe residence for hedgehogs, spiders, mayflies and any other creatures that took a fancy to moving in.

Now, five years later and I’ve just seen a hedgehog stir from its winter hibernation and it wasn’t from the deluxe residence, but from my pile of prunings, leaves and twigs discarded under the apple tree – oh well.

Hedgehog caught on camera
from wildaboutgardens.org.uk

'You can't see  me now'
‘You can’t see me now’

Memory and the World’s Oldest Brand

Earlier this week I heard a fascinating and lively debate on a programme on BBC Radio4.* One thread of the discussion dynamically pursued the idea that everyday objects can be thought precious when imbued with intense personal significance for an individual.  And, they didn’t just mean that crumpled ticket stub from the first date!

Lyle's Golden Syrup
Lyle’s Golden Syrup

It was fascinating to think about how a commonplace item can trigger an emotional response in a similar way that a certain aroma evokes a poignant memory.  I think it doesn’t even have to be a big, powerful memory attached to a commonplace object to momentarily flip you from the present to some other instance when you suddenly find yourself caught by the clarity of the object you have involuntarily brought into focus.

Empty Golden Syrup Tins
Useful as well as beautiful

Recently for me it was a tin of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. There’s always a tin on my kitchen shelf and several empty tins floating around my home filled with pens or paintbrushes or random office bits and bobs.  The green and gold of the tin, the Victorian design and the Biblical quote together forming this remarkable brand that has remained virtually unchanged since the 1880s.  And according to the Guinness Book of Records is the world’s oldest brand.

Nanna 1935
Nanna out for a Sunday walk with my father in 1935.

But for me it means homemade treacle tart, very short, crumbly pastry and my exceedingly precise Nanna who was the queen of pastry making in our family.

*The broadcast I’ve mentioned is available online for a year at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s46g5

Treacle tart
Treacle tart made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup 2013.

Hellebores in Spring

After our somewhat extended winter this year in East Anglia it has been simply glorious to pause in the garden with the April sun warming my back. Enduring months under a relentless grey blanket drains the spirit so any signs of colour are gladly cherished.

Caught from the cusp of Winter to Spring.
Caught from the cusp of winter to spring.

Mostly I leave my flowers to grace the garden where their blooms will last longer, but yesterday I found a self-seeded hellebore in full magnificence hiding itself away behind a large terracotta pot. I couldn’t resist bringing a few stems into the house where I could continue to appreciate their subtle tones and pleasing structure. It’s easy to understand why flowers and foliage have provided such delightful sources of inspiration over the centuries.