Always on the lookout for captivating visual imagery with which to work, a trip to an exhibition often yields a good collection of useful photographs. Mind you it is surprising how often I go thinking I know what I need to photograph and find something else entirely different awash with fascinating and inspirational details just waiting to be worked up into designs for my scarves.
This was certainly the case when I saw the Parham Fire Surround. It is an impressive piece of Tudor woodwork intricately carved with monkeys, birds, foliage and fruit.
This beautiful yet functional example of early sixteenth-century carpentry was on display as part of the Thomas Wolsey Exhibition held at Christchurch Mansion earlier this year. The fire surround came from a superior house in Parham near Woodbridge in Suffolk and would have been installed in one of the principal rooms. The elegant detailed carving indicates the status, wealth and taste of the homeowner.
It also features the specific detail of pomegranates, a visual reference to Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. The exotic quality of the pomegranate motif signifying Katherine’s Spanish origin as well as being a symbol of fertility. By the time of the Tudor period the pomegranate, with its many seeds, already had a long history associated with fecundity. It is poignant that this particular symbol should be associated with a queen whose paucity of viable offspring became her downfall when she failed to provide a male heir for Henry and the English throne.
However, the detail that especially caught my attention was the berry eating pheasants. Pheasants were most likely brought to England by the Romans, but it isn’t until the eleventh century that there is mention of pheasants in the historical record. They were a bird for the nobleman’s table and as the Normans spread their power and influence across England so pheasants became part of the English countryside.
By the fourteenth and fifteenth century they were a common sight and are mentioned as part of ecclesiastical celebration feasts too. At the time the Parham pheasants were carved the records indicate that Henry VIII appeared to have kept a French priest as a “fesaunt breeder”.
Nowadays driving round the lanes of Suffolk it is not a rarity to have to take action to avoid a cock pheasant confidently strolling across the road.
Enough of Suffolk lanes and wildlife and back to the silk which I trialled on a small square of silk, before translating the whole design to a 90 x 90 cm silk twill . . . to be continued in Part II.