Further thoughts on the role of the past on the present.

Last night I was watching Simon Schama talking about art on the last episode of Civilisation. He was talking about Duchamp, Mondrian etc wanting to cast off the past because it is like a dead weight stopping fresh thinking. Of course it is always the artist who has the ideas, courage and drive to take us beyond the present in some way, that forges a new path. Those are the people we remember. The shock of the new.

But you can’t cut off the past it’s there in you even if you are reacting against it. Our present is just the tip of our past. Of course if it prevents moving forward then it could be stultifying.

There are only ever going to be a handful of artists who break boundaries in a significant way at any one time. It’s right that in art schools you are encouraged to be adventurous, to avoid hackneyed responses to go beyond your comfort zone. However it is a very sensitive thing where to draw the line. I have seen students broken, their own personal inner voice destroyed because it didn’t fit the orthodoxy of the day or the direction of the tutors in the art school at that particular time. May be ten years before or ten years after their work might have fitted the bill. A painter when painting was out, a minimalist when expressionism was in. Peoples confidence in ever making art again can be destroyed for ever.

These are the kinds of questions that I used with my students, What is your idea?…..What do you want to do? What do you want to say? Can I help? Is it taking the next step or is it standing still? Have a million people done it before? If they have do you have a different slant on it?  Is it capable of development? Are you stuck for ideas? …..These are the sort of questions you might ask students but also yourself at all different stages of your artistic life. Mind you it can be a bit soul destroying, try not to go along the line of e.g Is it any good?  But you’ll probably survive. I’m going to try it on one of my pieces, not one of my best but one that follows on from yesterday’s medieval jaunt. I will try to be honest with myself. It is life sized and is hanging on a wall


Oct18 halfmonk.jpgOct18fullmonk.jpg


The idea. In this case it came from the material itself. I went into Busy Bees, a hardware and general store that has all kinds end of factory things. I saw 8 reels of horsehair. This is a pretty unusual thing to find… too good an opportunity to miss so I bought them all. The counter assistant asked what I wanted them for and I said ‘I’m going to knit a hair shirt!’. She looked a bit bemused!  I had used thick horsehair thread in woven tapestry before, I liked using it- it was tough and had a good texture- and I had tried to get some more from the hand weavers centre in Hackney. They said they were no longer selling it because their source in eastern Europe had closed.

When it’s in your mind you immediately associate ‘horse hair’ with another word ‘shirt’.  First I though of just knitting a shirt but then I was thinking who would wear such a shirt? A monk? So why not knit the monk as well, life size! This is where the past comes in, my imagination is already alive to medieval imagery. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know I did live in what was then, the twentieth century but you can’t curb your imagination. I can remember adults saying ‘The trouble with you is that you’ve got too much imagination’ not just to me but generally as though that was something to be condemned. I started this whole blog because I was thinking about empathy. How did you acquire empathy?  I had decided it was being able to use your imagination.

I ask myself the questions.

What is you idea? I’ve already dealt with that one. What do you want to say?  Now in this case it is a bit more problematic if I’m honest. Rather weak here….Except that I am trying to show that humble domestic crafts can be subverted, but that’s not really good enough. The hair shirt is about punishing and purging oneself in order to become more worthy, I haven’t dealt with that side at all so a missed opportunity maybe. But that certainly didn’t occur to me when I was in Busy Bees!   Is it taking the next step? Yes because I have been working in unusual ways with straight forward  techniques like knitting and crochet. Have a million people done it before?  No (not at that stage I’m talking about 25 years ago, they have since)   Do you have a different slant?… Yes at that stage I think I did.  Ideas?… one thing I am never short of is ideas. I have too many. Does it work? The shape is not as soft as it should have been. I coated the side parts with PVA several times. It makes the sides stick out a bit like wings, it would have been better less rigid. The feet were a bit of a mistake, it makes it look too cartoon like. I wanted the face to look rather haunted and I think that works well.  Where will you go from here? That’s another thing I would look for is it capable of development or is it a one off. I prefer it when something suggests a further step even if it not taken. In the end the actual shape of it on the wall led me in another direction.

These are the sort of questions that people in, say, an amateur art society would probably not ask because their aim is usually different and I understand that.


On Reflection.

It’s only when you sit down to write a blog like this that you begin to see the threads running through your life more clearly. I quite obviously have a love of the art of the Dark Ages and the Medieval Period, it has surfaced so often in my life. So where does it come from?

I was born near the ancient Ridgeway, not far away from the great White Horse carved on the downland turf. Above the horse is a prehistoric encampment on a large scale and not far away Waylands Smithy, a chamber tomb. The whole area is rich in history. My father was a member of the Oxford Archaeological Society, I don’t think he went to their lectures, just helped them on digs. He knew all the legends of the area and made sure I knew them too. King Alfred was born in Wantage and I was familiar with his statue.

oct17alfred stat Dad took me to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford when I was quite young to see King Arthurs Jewel. My father’s favourite books were the stories of Sir Walter Scott with their Medieval themes. One of his jobs as a wartime fireman was to go around the area checking the fire hydrants. On one of these trips he took me to Fairford. We visited the church and saw the powerful stained glass windows of the Judgement.  I didn’t have a chance, all these things were embedded in me!

Below.  Alfred’s Jewel                                        Below. Fairford. Last Judgement




Then of course I went to Corsham and was sent to Malmesbury and Dorchester. Since then I have seen so many works of art from that period that have astounded and delighted me.


The Cluny Museum in Paris, what a jewel. Their great treasure, The Lady and the Unicorn. Apart from anything else it is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, the tapestry so finely woven. The imagery reflects the sense of chivalry and romanticism of the time. OK, so it doesn’t show the Black Death, the poverty, the warfare, the sadlife that was experienced by so many but every age has their misery including our own. These pieces do give an insight into normal life in villages and towns too.


On one of our early trips abroad (when we used to take our car on the plane from Lydd airport) Robin and I went to look at the Bayeux tapestry. Most people have seen pictures but nothing quite prepares you for the real thing. This was before the days of interpretation centres etc. I don’t remember many people being there. It really is like a medieval comic strip with some of the humour too (considering what a bleak subject it is) The embroidery is quite simple but it does the job of telling the story admirably. I still love it!

oct17 bayeux

Then there have been the later discoveries and surprises. When I started to teach textiles I discovered Opus Anglicanum in the V and A . English embroidery was a fine art treasured and sought after, all over Europe, it is still breath taking. They made the great  copes and chasubles worn to practice the rituals of the church. The shape of these garments hanging in the V and A started me off on another track in my work of which more later!



Then there have been more recent discoveries, About four years ago I found myself in Girona, I knew there was a cathedral so of course I wanted to visit it. When in there I kept seeing signs pointing to The Creation. I bought a ticket and walked into this VERY DARK room. At first I was disorientated because my balance has always been poor and darkness makes it worse, I went further round a corner and saw the beginning of a bench and sat on it. I was the only one there. Then I saw this great piece of medeival cloth divided into segments showing such lively images of animals, birds, monsters, people. It was unexpected and breath taking. I made drawings but it wasn’t easy as it was almost pitch black in the viewing space. What a surprise I had known nothing about it before.

Girona Cathedral. The Creation


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Above Girona detail. The Seasons

Below my drawing from the Burrell collection in Glasgow. Rabbiting.


Something that I have on my bucket list (which I now know I will never achieve) is to go to Anger to see the great tapestry of the Apocalypse there. There had better be another life because there is so much more to see in the world!  I know there is a Leonardo there in Anger too. I wonder if I am the only person in the world if given the choice between owning the Leonardo and the tapestry, would choose the latter?

Below. The Apocalypse tapestry. Angers.


What do all these medieval and earlier works have in common? For one thing they were done before people called themselves ‘artist’. I’m not really sure what that says about me. I do admire the philosophy of William Morris. I suppose at heart I’m just a good old working class socialist. I want EVERYBODY to make and enjoy art of whatever kind because I know how it enriches life. END OF SERMON FOR TODAY!

I have made lots of things that have been influenced by my love of this period fused with the spirit of today.

Below. Drawing. My father playing his violin at the  Waylands Smithy.


It’s really an ideal myth of all the things I want to remember about my father. He did play the violin, he did take me to the stones and tell me the old stories, he was interested in archaeology. Although he rejected me I don’t want to remember the bad side. I imagined all the good things in one image. Later I made a painting of him which I will post further along the line

Shadrach, Mishach and Abednigo in the Fiery Furnace.

I used to think I would like to own a medeieval ecclesiastical piecee. It wasn’t very likely so I decided to make something in the same spirit. This is the three holy men thrown into the fiery furnace!




In which I become a tour guide.

I have already introduced our two Christmas hosts in Freiburg.

I want to say a little bit  more about Mamotchka, real name Sophia Ivanov, and her daughter Svetlana Geier (as much as I know that is). Mamotchka lived in Kiev with her husband and young daughter Svetlana. Her husband was a plant scientist and he was shot by the communists at the beginning of the war. Mother and daughter had to flee and went to Germany, where they were considered displaced persons and put in a camp. Svetlana was very bright and quickly learnt German and the Germans employed her as a translator from Russian to German, so they had some privileges I imagine. When the war ended they found themselves destitute but someone, recognising Svetlana’s talent, suggested that she should  become a student at Freiburg University. Somehow they managed to rent a house but they were in a bad way. That’s where Betty came in. She was running the student barrack where students could get meals, clothing, have somewhere to socialise, read etc. She helped Mamotchka and Svetlana in a huge way and they never forgot.


The Quaker Student barrack in Freiburg 1944


Betty Collins running the barrack in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1944


Svetlana Geier in later years…to read her whole story, put her name in Google it comes up on Wikipedia.

Svetlana married a violinist and had two children, but it didn’t work out and they divorced. She was highly intellectual and refined in her taste, though she also liked simple Russian peasant type things as well. She had good quality but simple clothes. In her own way she was  beautiful but enigmatic. I always felt that she the air of  the faded aristocracy. Mamotchka was much more earthy and enjoyed stomping around. In her Russian way she was warm and bear hugging. She would gather you up and smother you with kindness.


Svetlana as I have said before was an anthroposophist (a follower of Rudolph Steiner) both the children were educated at the Steiner School in Freiburg. For some reason or other she longed to go to Ireland to visit the early Christian sites, it was something to do with the early Christians also embracing the sun god, I never really got to the bottom of it.  I had hitched round Ireland and had already visited some sites. She asked me (through Betty) if I would plan a summer tour.


This is Monasterboise again, it appears that the Steiner followers believe that the addition of the circle to the cross is a reference to the old sun god.

I really put my all into it and it was made incredibly easy by the quite fantastic Irish Tourist Board in Bond Street. I just said where I wanted to go and they planned the whole itinerary with bed and breakfast everywhere we wanted to stop. They did say that sometimes they would be grand houses and sometimes smaller houses but that was fine by me.

Our first stop was at Glendalough. This had been such an important monastery that monks came from all over Europe to study there. Hard to imagine in this peaceful place what a hot bed of learning it was. St Kevin is the local saint, he moved from the monastery to take up residence like a hermit in a cave above the tranquil lake. Seamus Heaney has written a poem about himoct16 glendalough

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Glendalough and St. Kevin’s Bed (his cave)

Our bed and breakfast that night was in a beautiful Georgian House set in its own grounds and approached along a long drive bordered by trees. Very gracious, things were looking good.


I may not get the exact order but it really doesn’t matter. This is Clonmacnoise. It’s very haunting as it is not near a village, but close by this atmospheric waterland.The cross is beautiful but the most interesting thing for me was the graveyard with the sculptured and lettered stones put up for the monks. I took lots of pictures but I can’t find them. This place has really stayed in my mind.

The B and B was at a farm. There was a fine farm house but they didn’t live in it, they lived in a bungalow built right next to it. I found that all over the place in Ireland, the abandonment of the real solid farmhouse for a plain little bungalow. The breakfast was fabulous, fresh eggs, fresh milk, home made marmalade; I was on a winning streak.



The primitive High Cross at Moone one of my all time favourites, it is so direct and child like. The funny thing is that when I saw it first in the early fifties, nobody in the village knew where it was, then somebody said ‘Are you meaning that old stone?’ it turned out to be in someones private farm yard. They let us come in and it was in the middle of a muddy yard…things had certainly changed.

The B and B…well, it didn’t go down very well. It was in a council house in the middle of a little council estate. It was pin clean but totally loaded with every brightly coloured knick knack you could think of, not a book to be seen.. The lady was kindness itself, she was so welcoming and made us tea and scones but clearly Svetlana didn’t like it, I could see that she was turning her nose up at what she saw as bad taste and scowling. I don’t like that in people, especially when someone is being kind. I felt ashamed that she was making it so obvious. Although Svetlana had had a refugee experience, she had led a sheltered intellectual existence and had no sympathy or understanding of ordinary working class life. The nearest equivalent that I can think of would be taking Virginia Woolf into such a place. It got worse later as the hostess got out masses of photographs of her daughters wedding. When we left in the morning Svetlana didn’t say thank you at all. I over compensated but I hoped that the woman didn’t notice.

16oct beehive hut

On to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. This is the Gaeltacht where Irish is commonly used. It is rumoured that they don’t like the English but we got on just fine in rooms above a pub in the middle of Dingle town. The curiosities here are the beehive huts along the coastal road, still standing in fields and peoples gardens. These were used by monks, I’m not sure whether they were hermits. We couldn’t visit the most spectacular ones situated on the Skellig Islands off shore. The monks really wanted to cut themselves off from civilisation much as the desert fathers did.

The next day we drove over the pass on St Brendans Mountain. We came to a magnificent empty white sand beach, stretching for what seemed like a mile. Definitely a stop for paddling. Svetlana took her shoes off to walk along by the water. She stowed them in a safe place in the marram grass, by a big rock. When we came back they were gone. Fortunately she had another pair, it was sad but there wasn’t much we could do about it. The mountain and the beach were said to be holy because of St. Brendan and we decided that he must have wanted a pair of shoes as tribute!


Gallerus Oratory

Not far away is Gallerus Oratory a tiny rudimentary church, touching in it’s simplicity. Once again when Eric and I had hitch hiked here it was in a muddy cow field with no nice wall around it.

There followed Jerpoint Abbey, left a bit disappointing because it didn’t have much in the way of sculpture, and Clonfert, right. Glorious.


Then the next disaster of a B and B it was in Limerick by the river docks. It was a dirty little run down terrace house. We knocked on the door and  a man appeared who looked as though he’d just stepped out of the Munsters. He beckoned us in, it was dark and weird inside, then his wife came shuffling out of a back room and there were cats. Both of them were a bit sinister and he kept wringing his hands like Uriah Heap. There was nothing for it, it was dark and smelly, but we had no where else to go but all three of us were glad to escape the next morning.

Monasterboice the next day, it has probable the finest cross in Ireland, and there are three of them but I have already illustrated them. Finally two unrelated things, but they were requested. My honour as a tour guide was at stake so I had complied. The first one Sligo, to see the grave of W B Yeats and then Ben Bulben, not that you can miss it, it dominates the landscape A delightful place Sligo.


One more place that I was looking forward to. Not Christian but much much older. New Grange, near the hill of Tara.

oct16new grange

New Grange burial mound, I had never seen it before and it is quite extraordinary, mainly because it is faced with glittering white square stones. This is a more up to date photograph. it wasn’t as complete as this when we were there. Obviously they have restored it to it’s original glory but is is spectacular. When you go in you are going from the light into the dark leading to the main chamber. You could well imagine watching the sunrise during the solstice through the opening. I was so glad that I had seen it.

When I went to Ireland the first time we also went searching for the ancient stones with Ogham carved on them, an ancient form of writing and the great stone of Turlough, (which was just there in the open) covered in swirling labyrinthine patterns. Well all in all I had done too badly as a tour guide and organiser……. but I decided to stick to the day job after all!

A church crawl (and more mice). The conclusion of the piece written yesterday.

It was time to leave Del and Ruth and head North towards home. Goodbye Provence.

del andruthgoodbye

Betty’s favourite thing was having visitors to stay in her home…her second best was staying as a guest with her friends. I am a bit anti-social. My favourite thing was anything to do with art in all it’s forms. Since my encounter with the stone carvings at the abbeys in Malmesbury and Dorchester at art school one of my my passions was Romanesque stone carving and all things medeival. This was going to be my part of the holiday.

The library at Corsham had all the expensive monographs of the day such as Skira and Thames and Hudson and Phaedon. I had seen photos of the great early abbeys and cathedrals in France so I had a notion of where I wanted to go. Number one was Autun and I was bowled over by the capitals (still am!) their directness, simplicity, brilliant capacity to fill a given space and the feeling of sincerity. Anonymous stonemasons telling stories that mean something to them.

Autun. The three kings sleeping has the same sweeping shape as the sculpture in the porch at Malmesbury.  It is like a bas releif. In the journey to Bethlehem the mason moves away a bit from the flat representation so that you get carved sides as well. I love them both. I have had a huge photo of the Three Kings on a bedroom wall ever since that time.



Tournus outsideTournus3side aisle

The incredible power of simplicity. You can feel the building itself as a great sculpture, no frilly decorations to detract from the form and the sense of space. It feels like a place of significance, the stones seem to hold the memory of hundreds of years of prayer and worship.


So many significant abbeys concentrated in one area…extraordinary. The masons must have been in great demand. The great solid walls of Cluny almost like a fortress.


They obviously knew what they were doing when it came to grapes, well it is Burgundy This carving is a bit unusual in the deep chiselling away of the background, a bit on the wild side too, maybe he was under the influence of the grape. Not half cut.

Small interlude.

Well, we had one more night of camping. We arrived at a site to see a vast camping area but all the tents and caravans were huddled together at one end. Strange. There were lots of small holes in the ground such as tent poles might make. We thought there must have been a large tented group there that had just left, We chose a nice spot and pitched tent. We had a clear plastic ground sheet. Someone passed by, wished us good day then grinned and said mulots. Betty didn’t know what it mean’t and I certainly didn’t. We were both exhausted and collapsed and went fast asleep on our camp beds. I woke up first, glanced down at the floor and under the clear plastic groundsheets there were scores of mice running about and coming up over the edges. I let out a scream and ran outside closely followed by Betty. The man sauntered over to us with his dog. He grinned again and said the French equivalent of ‘My dog will deal with them’ With a dramatic gesture he came to the deserted tent and let his dog off the lead. Immediately his dog ran away whimpering! To be fair human nature kicked in again and people helped us to re-pitch in the crowded mouse free area. Mulot is not the usual word for mouse if he had said souris we might have stood a chance. I expect they were all tittering at the mad English and waiting for the inevitable.


Such a peaceful place, the Cistercians certainly knew how to pick a good spot. I believe they were trying to find remote sites. It ceased to become an abbey and was bought by a family. They have done a spendid job of looking after it and showing it off in a sensitive way, it radiates a feeling of quietness and calm set in its well kept grounds. The buildings are made of pale stone perfectly constructed. In these abbeys each building had a purpose refectory, dormitory, cloisters etc and it was obvious that the architects or master masons had clearly understood their brief but also added beauty into the equation. What a harmonious space, it induces a feeling of calm and the way the light comes in helps.romanfontenay

Paray le Monial. The apsedal end reminds me somehow of Charlemagnes palace at Aachen. A solid little building with the intriguing side chapels.


Finally Vezelay. Now you’ve really got to put in some hard work here because it is in a commanding position position at the top of a hill, and you know when you’ve walked up to the top, but it is certainly worth it. The first thing you see is the powerful typanum over the entrance. Christ in Majesty with the sinners and saints. Christ is elegantly angular. I always get the feeling that masons and stained glass artists revelled in the sinners. The frieze at the bottom and the separate little scenes on the curve give some good licence for observations of daily living. Who would we put in someone on a mobile, a car driver, a rock guitarist, the list is endless but it would take real artistry to produce something so fine.


Postscript.  Years before when I was an art school it was stone carving I longed to do but it wasn’t offered in the sculpture dept. It didn’t really make much sense to me that I was studying the bas relief at Malmesbury and the stone carving of the knight in Dorchester and then rendering them in clay. It’s a completely different process in clay you are building up and in stone you are cutting away. Even when I am using clay I am happier cutting away leather hard clay. I’m a cutter away not a builder up. So I longed for the day when I could work with stone and that years later that day came. I went to Tout Quarry on Portland and did three weeks stone carving and loved it. It was helped by the fact that I had lovely digs and the landlady and I became close friends. I had taken my keyboard in the car so we had some excellent parties. She was a Portlander, they are very proud of their traditions. I also had my bike so I could do without my car, cycling to the quarry every day felt more natural.




Happy, happy with Chesil Beach behind me.




Tale of a Tent, Textiles. Snakes and Mice.

We wanted to go to Provence for the summer holiday, our friends had just bought a holiday bungalow in the hills behind St. Tropez. Betty had another friend Gilbert, who was one of the founders of L’Arche, he lived in Provence and had a converted grenier that we could stay in. Neither Betty or I had much money at that time, I still had my tent ‘We could use the tent on our way down and back’ I said. She didn’t look very keen, she had never camped before ‘You’ll like it’ I said ‘It’s fun’. Reluctantly she agreed that in the places where we didn’t have friends we would camp.

Our first site was in one of the German towns (can’t remember which one) The camp site unusually was right in the middle of town between the cathedral and the river. She was definitely not a camper completely hopeless, I was left to do everything myself, not a good omen.

However our next destination was Freiburg, our Christmas haunt where we could stay with friends. The Black Forest in summer is so different, everything leafy with watery green light filtering through the trees. The high up meadows full of flowers.


Our next stop was the camping site by the lake in Lausanne. Just behind us across the road was the museum and it announced on huge posters. Lausanne Textile Biennale. I had never hear of it. The next day we went to look, to say it was an eye opener is an understatement. I just couldn’t believe that textiles could be so bold and adventurous. Most of the pieces came from Eastern Europe or the USA.



This whole piece (Peas) was about 8feet tall.

We had to stay one more night before moving on to Provence. That night there was the biggest thunder storm, rain and gale that you could ever imagine. We spent the whole night clinging on to the main tent poles for dear life to stop being blown into the lake, the rain was driving in and it was leaking, the ground was awash. That was it, she was never going to stay in a tent again, as it happened we did have to have one more night in the tent on the way home.


It is true that I had forgotten all the bad times I had had camping and had only remembered the glorious ones. The time at the foot of the Gross Glockner when a flash flood had washed through the tent flattening it.

gross glockner

Or Lido de Jesolo near Venice, a storm was forecast (and we had already just been near an earthquake in southern Italy!) all the experienced campers dug little trenches round the outside of their tents. The storm came with a terrible gale, there was a lone woman with her two children, her tent blew over and caught fire from a camping gas lamp. She and the children were OK but they had lost everything. It was a case of instant international cooperation, within an hour enough money was collected to replace everything. People to people no intermediaries, most human hearts are basically kind and caring.

Below. Camp site at Lido de Jesolo


We drove on through the mountains to Fayence. We knew that the grenier was by the side of the road miles from anywhere, we had been given rough instructions. eventually we came to a completely tumbled down old stone building separated from the road by a ditch. There was a rough bridge leading from the road. We opened the door and it was terrible, dust and massive dusty cobwebs everywhere. On every surface there were mouse droppings and it smelt of what I supposed was mouse urine, there were two ancient beds. Now I’m quite used to roughing it but this was a bit much even for me. It was too late to do anything about it so we just had to cope. It was a dreadful night with mice running everywhere.

When we woke up and looked out, it was in a truly beautiful setting, high up looking over a valley. There was an old orchard leading on to wild country, you could smell the wild herbs and lavender. It would have been the perfect place if it hadn’t been so filthy and mice ridden.


Gilbert came along, to see if we were OK, he could see we were unhappy and offered to get us rooms in a friends house. The friend turned out to be an eccentric old lady looking like a gaunt Miss Haversham. The most peculiar thing about her was that she lived in one room, never moving from it and that she kept a pet Civet Cat in there with her.


Once again the place smelt this time pungently of cat. The cat sat on top of the wardrobe and hissed at us. However we had two nice rooms in her large chateau like house and we were only going to be sleeping there. It was a good road through the hills to Grimaud village where our friends lived (not to be confused with Port Grimaud next to St Tropez where the stinking rich pose on their their yachts waiting to be gawped at by lesser mortals)

Del and Ruth had a very desirable little bungalow, looking out across the blue sparkling bay. The little town that they used was Cavalaire. Cavalaire had a very nice little beach, it was the first time that I ever did topless bathing, and very good it felt too. Del’s wife Ruth was German, they strip off with no qualms at the slightest opportunity, I felt a bit shy at first but I soon got used to it.

cavalaire beach

Del, an American from rural Iowa had been a conscientious objector in the war and, as in England, they had to do an alternative occupation. He became a forest fire fighter, flying planes full of water to dump on out of control fires. As soon as the war was over he volunteered to join the Quakers to do relief work in Europe. He was a lovely man, gentle and good humoured. For some reason, I can’t think why now, they took us on an outing to a SNAKE FARM, Yes you’ve read it right me to a snake farm. I suppose some  would have found it fascinating. A lot of people in France get bitten by dangerous snakes apparently and this establishment extracted the snake venom and injected it into cows to turn it into an antidote. I can tell you it was the stuff of nightmares for me but it wasn’t to end there.

snake skin

The day before we were due to leave we went for a walk in the bush high in the hills and there I found a sloughed off snake skin, it was perfect and was going to be wonderful as an addition to my natural objects to be drawn (thinking back to the Corsham collection) I put in on the dashboard in the car. When we went to get into the car the next morning there was a huge black army of ants coming across the road in a line and crawling up the car and getting in somehow and on to the snake skin, they were all over it. I had to get rid of it and that was hard because they started to crawl all over me. Ugh! We kept finding ants in the car from that time on.

ants-in-line-540x540   (to be continued)


This piece to be concluded tomorrow.


My love of the the sea and the shore line.

Some of my earliest memories are of a beach… Totland Bay in the Isle Of Wight. The feeling of the soft sand under my bare feet. Paddling, but being aware that the sea was big and could swallow you up. A kind of delicious fear like the fear you get in some fairy stories.There is a saying that you are either a mountain or a sea person…I’m definitely the latter.I think I might have inherited my mothers passion.


I buried her ashes in the churchyard at Wembury (above), just beyond Plymouth Sound. My mother was born in the parish with her two sisters and younger brother. Her sisters ashes were scattered just outside the church wall, on the cliff side (she didn’t approve of religion!) My mother spent the whole of her life pining to get back to the west country . Whenever she had a holiday from her work in the civil service, she would take a cottage close by, either in Devon or Cornwall.

Wembury beach is a very important site for scientific research into the inter tidal zone, it has wonderful rock pools. I also have this longing for the west country, but at least I have fulfilled my dream of living next to the sea. This afternoon, 14 October, the weather was warm and balmy. I rode my scooter along the promenade, the sea was still and silvery the water was so clear you see the colour of every pebble, it was beautiful and I knew I was lucky to be able to experience it.

I had decided to use textiles especially threads and strings to make work expressing my experience of the Tresco beach. I had so many photographs of every aspect, the different sea weeds, the shells, the striations on the sand, the rock pools and the rocks. Many people and especially men, think that the use of textile is just for craft, or for functional purposes, I have never been particularly interested in using then in that way, I wanted to use them just as you would paint, stone, metal etc. Why not? I can remember how delighted I was when I had my first male students on my college textile course (incidentally they both came from the Channel Islands)

As usual I always use my sketch books to develop my ideas.


Above.    I wanted one part of the structure to be solid as a support for free flowing elements. Every time I go to a museum I draw things that interest me and sometimes there is a fusion of two ideas.


I had done small experimental tests with different threads, woven, knitted or crotcheted to see which ones could be most easily shaped. My favourite materials became sisal, jute, horsehair thread and the tougher wool produced for Tapestry weaving.workrockpool

Rock pool. Detail. Woven tapestry, crotcheted free elements. Jute and tapestry wool.  Sold

Below.   Tapestry plus free moving wrapped threads.  Sold


Below Sea anenomes. Crocheted Jute, dyed silks. Soldworkanenomes

Below Eddy   Layered and cut dyed cloth,  Sold


I’ve never got tired of the theme and the way in which it has developed. I’m always quite amazed when someone wants to buy the things I do, I certainly never make them with selling in mind. I always hope they will go to a good home. I have sold quite a lot that I forgot to photograph…sad.

Towards Textiles.

I have already said that I taught myself photography at home in the makeshift bathroom dark room. Now I always took my camera with me wherever I went. No sketch book at this time.

We made our usual Easter trips to Cornwall every year and almost always someone visiting us from abroad came with us, We took Harald Poelchau and Dorothee from Berlin. Anya and Wlodek, and Betty’s American friends Julia and Barbara separately plus a Norwegian, Sigrid Lund.

Julia was the head of the American Friends Relief Service. She was tall and thin with her hair scraped back in a bun and a no nonsense manner. She reminded me of some of the frontiers women photographed by Dorothea Lang in the American Depression. She was a Quaker but I could see her with a rifle defending her homestead. Barbara Graves was also a very strong sassy American woman, a kind of Katharine Hepburn.

dorothea lang

The last time we actually holidayed in Cornwall itself ,we took the two teenage children, Christian and Eva of her American friend Dell, who had married a German woman, she was a concert violinist. When Christian and Eva were were walking at Lands End we asked them if there was something they would like to do. Christian said he would like to go on a day trip to the Isles of Scilly. Incidentally Christian went on to become a medical doctor, can you believe it he has just retired. Eva married the concert pianist, Christian Zaccharias but after having children they divorced

We boarded the Scillonian at Penzance.  Fortunately it was a fine day, it can be very rough. We landed at St. Mary’s the main island, but waiting close by were the little boats to the outer islands. For some reason we decided to go further, to Tresco. Fate!


Tresco was like a dream. White sand and empty beaches at one end and majestic wild cliffs and rocks at the other end. The sky was blue and the water turquoise and transparent over the white sand. A kind of paradise. From that time on our Easters were spent on Tresco. We left our car in Penzance. I fell totally in love with one beach, Pentle which was just below the cedar wood chalet where we stayed.


The thing that fascinated me above all was the intertidal zone. I loved the way the water left the sea weed in a still form on the sand after it had been swirling in the high tide. Then there were the rock pools with different forms of transparent weed and the sea anenomes. Back home  I wanted to express what I had experienced, paint was no good too static, I wanted something that was free enough to move, that’s what started me off into several years of textiles and led onto the next move in my career. I made a photographic record of Pentle. I probably have about 300 or so that I took over the years.

Below Photo  Left water rills as the tide comes in. Right Photo.   Weed growing on rock


Below  Weed on rock. Photo

weed on rock

Photos  Left ‘popping’ weed.            Right ‘Holdfast’ weed. Similar to oar weed.


Photo Below Tracks in the sand


The textile pieces that I made as a result of my studies. Below Floating wet veils  Sold.


Below.  Oar weed. Sisal and horsehair yarn.  Sold


Headlands. Woven wool and knotted jute.  Sold


tresco poem