Sometimes I stick quite closely to my source inspiration as with the first two of my recent Edlyn series of silk scarves. Picking a panel and details from one of the panels of the St Edmund’s rood screen and working up a design.
But sometimes I get diverted.
After I have drawn out some patterns and motifs a few times I start to wander off down my own road. I think it is a similar to when authors say that their characters somehow take on their own lives beyond the control of the writer. I feel this scarf is my version of my ‘visual’ characters marching off in their own direction especially regarding the colours.
This affair is probably better shown than described. As you can see from the photographs, the outline drawing still has a feel of the medieval panels about it, but it is loosening and the choice of colours has clearly moved away from the rood screen originals.
The creative process is not entirely describable, but here is the finished silk on the frame.
Here is another of my Edlyn series. Working with the same design, but this time choosing colours from another panel.
I rather liked the melancholy of the ‘David with harp’ panel and I thought the blues, the very pale grey, and the faded lilacs seen on the surrounding woodwork would make an interesting scarf.
Adding more colour to imitate the golden feel of the original David panel.
At this stage again as with the first of this series, the colours were all looking too clean and all more 21st century than 15th century. So I used my hard bristle brush again and swept lightly across the silk with a thickish greeny-grey resist over the blue.
And, finally I added black dye to the background to give the overall design some depth.
The piece was finished and ready for steaming.
And here’s the scarf after a couple of hours in the steamer.
When I last posted about my Edlyn series I had just begun painting the first Edlyn scarf.
With continual reference to my photograph of the Isaiah panel of the rood screen, I began selecting my colour combinations and mixing up the dyes. Then I started painting.
As the colour was added the whole piece began to take shape.
At this stage I felt the painting looked too flat and clean, so with a wide stiff brush I added sweeps of thick, brown resist to give a hint of ageing. Edlyn gold is now finished and awaiting steaming.
Four years ago during the autumn of 2014 I blogged a sequence of posts relating how I was inspired by the Ranworth rood screen to create some silk scarves. Now is that time of year when I turn to looking at all those warmer, rich shades of autumn and feel the need to work with old gold and dusky damsons. Or, as Hilary Mantel so beautiful wrote “wearing theirfallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum” when describing the gentlemen’s clothing at the Tudor court.
Looking at my recent photographs of another medieval rood screen this time in Suffolk, there is much to admire and inspire. Despite its age, over 500 years old, the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold still has a wealth of medieval painted panels filled with faded colour and I have found plenty of inspiration.
Firstly, I decided to work with a delightful motif repeated on the cloak of the prophet, Isaiah. I copied the motif and worked up a whole scarf design on paper before using three templates to transfer the completed work to a square, flat crepe scarf.
This part of the process is surprisingly controlled to ensure I get balance and movement across the whole scarf. Next it is time to add the specific details, drawing lines and shapes using the gutta resist. This part is a little more loose and random as the resist flows freely and quite rapidly from the applicator pipette.
Finally, once the outlining is finished and has completely dried the softer and unfettered painting can begin. This is the first of my Edlyn Series of silk scarves inspired by the St Edmund’s rood screen.
At heart I am a visual culture purist. I say this to forewarn you about my comments regarding the rood screen and pulpit of St Edmund’s Church in Southwold.
St Edmund’s is a beautiful medieval church built in the Perpendicular style. It’s full name is ‘The Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr’. The building we see today (suggested date 1413 in the church’s guide, but circa 1430 in both Pevsner and Mortlock accounts) was built on the site of an earlier thirteen-century church, a smaller building that had been destroyed by fire. According to the church guide during 1758 the foundations of that original building were located underneath part of the present church.
The straight lines of the Perpendicular style have been emphasised at St Edmund’s by the luxury flushwork of flint and stone. The linear quality of the building is doubly emphasised by the striking effect of an inlaid chessboard decoration on the west tower that is repeated on the exterior walls of the south porch.
South porch with niche that would originally have held a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Edmund, king, saint and martyr. Statue by Andrew Swinley, 1989.
From the appearance of the grand, ornate exterior it is evident that St Edmund’s was built at a time when the parish of Southwold and its environs had generous wealthy donors. This is confirmed by the quality of the surviving medieval interior furnishings that include the rood screen, the pulpit and the font.
Of course, the splendid, painted and gilded rood screen alone is worth a visit to the church, but there is also a fine pre-Reformation pulpit and a beautifully decorated and adorned hammerbeam ceiling together with the original, though defaced font.
Now here is the issue. Between its glorious fifteenth-century heyday and today, St Edmund’s, along with many East Anglian medieval churches, has had some turbulent, destructive times, and equally, some impoverished, neglected and generally detrimental times. The visit of William Dowsing and the iconoclasts in 1643 brought the first and substantial destructive episode which included the defacing of the font.
SOUTHWOLD, APRIL the 8th. We break
down 130 superstitious Pictures ; St. Andrew ; and 4
Crosses on the four corners of the Vestry ; and gave
order to take down 13 Cherubims; and take down 20
Angels ; and to take down the Cover of the Font.
Quote from '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.
After this deliberate, seventeenth-century image smashing came the long period of straightened times for Church of England buildings as the eighteenth century saw the rise of the Nonconformists and the subsequent fall in C of E congregation numbers. A neglected St Edmund’s functioned with a series of temporary curates as the chancel roof and wood of the east window slowly rotted away.
However, with the rise of the Evangelical movement across the course of the nineteenth century it was all change again. A widening interest in re-examining the medieval past combined with the Victorian’s obsession for progress, resulted in large funds being provided for extensive renovation schemes at St Edmund’s.
The attractively painted ceiling of the hammerbeam roof adorned with painted angels we see today is one such renovation scheme. The replacement ceiling is a fine example of nineteenth-century carpentry and decorative painting skills as well as an insight into how a previous generation reinterpreted our shared medieval past. The Victorians aimed for reconstructing a perfectly finished past whilst our twenty-first-century sensibility is all about the delicately preserved, authentic original however dilapidated and tatty it looks.
Apparently, the colourful blue and painted details are very near to sketched records of the original medieval ceiling, but how fair a facsimile it is difficult to judge. That situation is brought acutely into focus when we turn to consider the ‘restoration’ of the medieval pulpit during the 1920s.
Along with providing designs for the reredos, the lectern and the font cover, an ‘inspired young church architect from Oxford’, F E Howard (1888-1934), oversaw the restoration and painting of the pulpit. Sadly, the once elegant original medieval trumpet-stemmed pulpit is almost obliterated beneath thick layers of overdone paintwork and gilding.
Curiously, the writer of the church’s own guidebook gives special credit to F E Howard for making St Edmund’s interior the delight it is today. However, even the guide’s sympathetic author informs us that any desires by Howard to renovate the rood screen were not permitted.
Personally, I am very, very pleased he was stopped.
I have nothing against Victorian art and it is as much part of the history and culture of this church as the medieval art. Nevertheless from the our twenty-first-century viewpoint the Victorians’ well-meaning yet heavy-handed painting and renovations can border on vandalism. The repainting of the damaged saints’ faces by Sir George Richmond in 1874 are bad enough, but just think what Howard would have done in the 1920s to all that delicate gilding on the rood screen given half a chance.
As I mentioned at the beginning I am a visual culture purist and as such I appreciate seeing what is left of our medieval culture when it is gently conserved, but I do realise that a little active conservation is necessary. Of course, what we have left is still only an approximation of the reality of the past. Today’s impression for a visitor to St Edmund’s is nothing like the spectacle and mystery experienced by a medieval parishioner or even a Victorian church goer as all the medieval stained glass was blown from the windows by a bomb in 1943 during the Second World War.
It was just over 18 years ago that I spent several months visiting a number of medieval churches in East Anglia to photograph their painted rood screens. At the time I was working on the rood screens as part of my research for my Master’s dissertation. Often my mother accompanied me and helped out with the photographs. I was surveying the painted details found within the cloth of gold worn by the saints and prophets. She would patiently hold a cardboard scale slightly in front of the painted motifs embellishing the robes depicted on the screens. It was in the days just before digital cameras became widely available (and affordable!) and I had to wait for my film to return from the developers before I knew if my prints were a fair record for my work.
Following my recent house move my dissertation has surfaced. Looking for fresh inspiration I scrutinised the photographs I used to illustrate my text. What a disappointment! At the time I wrote and produced my dissertation the finished printed version appeared good enough, but compared to my photos today they are, well, of exceedingly poor quality.
There are six rood screens in East Anglia that are particularly fine and are known as the ‘Ranworth Group’. These late-fifteenth-century screens include from Norfolk; St Helen’s, Ranworth; All Saints’, Filby; St Mary’s, Old Hunstanton; All Saints’, Thornham; St Mary’s, North Elmham and from Suffolk, St Edmund’s, Southwold. Maybe one day I will be back up on the North Norfolk coast and visit Old Hunstanton and Thornham again, but for my immediate needs Southwold is my nearest resource. (I have already been back to, rephotographed and worked from Ranworth – see here.)
It is the case that the Ranworth screen is by far the best preserved, but Southwold is also in a reasonable condition despite some Victorian renovation work. All six rood screens of the Ranworth Group appear to have been made and painted by a single workshop. The designs and motifs for the cloth of gold used to adorn the saints and prophets probably came from the same pattern source book. If you look carefully at the examples above (Page 27 -apologies for the poor quality) you can see a dog with collar attacking a nesting swan. This motif is found clearly on five of the painted screens, the exception being North Elmham which was too dark and damaged to see the detail clearly. All measured 6 x 7 cm suggesting the motif was traced from an original source. There are other motifs and stencilled patterns that are also seen repeated on the rood screens, including the screen at St Edmund’s, Southwold, providing consistent evidence to support the long held view that a well-respected artisan workshop from Norwich created these masterpieces during the period 1470 – 1500.
Earlier this week I went back to Southwold to rephotograph its glorious rood screen and you can see from the image below that modern technology, a better camera and a better lens have enabled me to record this treasured medieval art as it should be done.
Living in East Anglia there are many parish churches that still retain both medieval and Victorian church art. Painted rood screens and colourful stained glass provide a wealth of inspiration for my silk scarf designs.
Detail from St Lawrence, part of rood screen paintings. St Helen’s, Ranworth, Norfolk.
Decorative detail from a Victorian stained glass window. St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
I like to steal ideas for motifs and also re-work various colour combinations. Often I will just use a tiny part of a much larger stained glass window whether its from a Tudor pane or details ornamenting a Victorian light.
Detail from the Susannah Window at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Design drawn out on silk using coloured gutta and resist paint brush daubs.
And, once I have created the whole design and transferred it to the silk I then steal colour combinations from a completely different medium such as the oil on board paintings of local medieval rood screens.
The finished work may not obviously look either Victorian or medieval in style, but if you look closely you may be able to spot a motif or two and recognise the ‘dirty pinks’ from the painting of St Lawrence’s robe.
In the past I’ve blogged about the beautiful examples of medieval art in East Anglia not least the stunning rood screen at Ranworth. However, although many parish churches across the region still have their original rood screens often they have survived in much reduced circumstances.
The Church of St Mary and St Andrew in the Norfolk village of Horsham St Faith is a fine medieval building. It is essentially a 15th-century church with some earlier 13th century features such as part of the flint and freestone West Tower dating from 1290. Inside the building, separating the chancel from the nave, is the rood screen comprising of twelve painted panels. There is a dated inscription (1528) recording one William Wulcy and his two wives as the donors of the screen.
The church also has a similarly decorated pulpit with more painted panels. It’s accompanying inscription records the pulpit was painted in 1480.
Like so much of the medieval ornate imagery of saints found in churches, both the pulpit and rood screen have been subjected to the iconoclastic forces of the puritan William Dowsing (1596–1668) and his followers.
At the moment I am working on a piece inspired by both the beauty of these paintings and the various examples of the defaced and faceless images that still survive. My own preference is for work that is either unrestored with all the fury of the scraped and scored faces still visible, or, panels that have been gently restored by restrained contemporary conservators.
Obviously, in the past there have been efforts at restoration with good intentions such as these carried out in 1978, but the heavy-handed often frankly amateurish repainting of the faces significantly detracts from the whole. And, in some cases the work is so bad it looks almost comical. (Somehow my photos, below, have softened this coarse attempt, but nevertheless the faces show no interest in capturing the medieval aesthetic.)
Scrolling through a selection of recents photographs I noticed how often birds have been used as a source of creative inspiration. Using creatures symbolically is as old as human culture and even if a bird or animal representation is purely decorative, the work still offers an insight into how the maker viewed their natural environment.
There is this fierce goose-like bird from the Anglo Saxons. It is part of the metal helmet (circa CE625) found amongst the treasures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial discovered in Suffolk, East Anglia. The bird design works as part of the structure of the helmet too with the wings shielding the eyebrows, the body of the bird protecting the nose and the tail fashioned into a metal moustache above the wearer’s mouth.
Bird design on Sutton Hoo Helmet.
Bird design, wings and beak more clearly seen on the replica of Sutton Hoo helmet. Bird faces upwards meeting the mouth of a snake coming over the crown.
Then we have a simple, stylised bird on this French jug from about 1300. French pottery was popular during the 13th century when shipped as part of the wine trade to the English royal court from Aquitaine to England. Despite its age this bird motif has a contemporary ‘now’ feel.
Birds often featured in hunting scenes as shown in these paintings which decorated the late-fifteenth-century East Anglian parish rood screens.
And, birds have often alluded to the unworldly or exotic as shown by this needlework representation of ‘A Byrd of America’ from about 1570. This textile was embroidered either by Mary, Queen of Scots, or, Elizabeth, Countess of Hardwick and forms part of the Oxburgh hangings.
Then we have my recent photograph taken in North Norfolk of a black stork and the beginnings of its translation into the design for a silk scarf.
Last weekend I was very pleased when the Summer 2015 edition of the International Journal of the Guild of Silk Painters arrived in the post. It’s a great little journal that allows a widely spread collective of artist/artisan silk painters to keep in touch, share their inspiration and publicise personal and group work.
I was especially pleased as it included my article about the inspirational medieval rood screens of East Anglia. It was interesting to see photographs of my work in print as opposed to on a backlit screen, and I must say the colour printing was excellent and very true to life. It made me wonder why so often colours in clothing catalogues are wildly wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s down to the lighting.
The scarf pictured on the frame (above) has since been sold, but this one, Hilda mouse, is currently available and we took some time to get the shot and get those colours right!
Just thought I’d share my recent re-working of a design littered with medieval rood screen motifs. This time the new colour combination is – pink!
I had originally painted a pale turquoise, mushroom and sage version (below left) and after a few sketches decided that a mostly pink with a few old gold highlights would make an attractive combination.
This scarf has now been steamed and is listed in my shop – Mildred Pink.