Can I write this? It’s all part of the story so I must try.
This will be the hardest thing that I have ever attempted to write. I’m a Quaker, I’ve been one since my early thirties. Why? Because through my own personal experience of the transcendental (albeit very fleeting) I have come to believe that there is more in life than just the material world. It is very difficult to describe something that I feel in my inner being.
Almost accidentally throughout my life I had come across people that had impressed me. The first two were at art school. Jake Nicholson, son of the painters Ben Nicholson and Winifred Nicholson, came to give a talk about his time in America. In some part of his talk he must have given his favourable views on the Quakers he had come across during his time there and for some reason the memory of his words stayed with me.
The external examiner for Education at Corsham was a man called Robin Tanner who was a Quaker, educationalist, artist, illustrator and etcher. He was in the William Morris mould, a socialist and poet. He sympathised with the Austrian Professor Cizek and his views on the paramount importance of art for children. Tanner said ‘We are all born with the attributes of the artist, the designer and the craftsman. We have the power to select, to transmute the ordinary into the memorable, to see the world imaginatively or as the poet Rilke expressed it, to re-enkindle the commonplace’ To make the ordinary extraordinary. I read some of his writings and it chimed with what I was feeling. Robin Tanners own work has the same kind of lyrical quality as Samuel Palmer in his early days.
Etchings by Robin Tanner
Letchworth, where I lived during the first two years of my first marriage to Robin had been founded by the Quakers and lots of them still lived there. They founded the Settlement for further education that I have spoken about in an earlier part of my blog. I came to meet Margaret Harvey, a Quaker who was a great and influential advocate for the arts. She was a friend of Mary Hoad the principal of the nearest art college at St. Albans. She was interested in the personal work of the local art teachers and encouraged us to have a collective exhibition in the town gallery.
When I moved to Stevenage I found that behind a lot of excellent social initiatives there were Quakers. I went on peace marches and of course the Quakers of all ages were there too
Now I am not a person who would ever join an established church. I couldn’t subscribe to a creed. I am suspicious of most ‘religion’ OK for those who have ‘faith’ and ‘believe’, maybe I wish that I could, but I can’t. Having said that I am a seeker, and it seemed to me that the Quakers were also seekers. It is very difficult to pin down Quakerism, there are as many views as there are Quakers but the one thing that they would probably agree on is that they seek the ‘inner light’ and that’s what I seek too. That part of us that can experience and recognise the transcendental. The same light that impels us to make art. A meeting happens largely in expectant silence and that suits my personality.
New Forest. This natural circle of grass at the bottom of the wooded hill path is called the meeting place.
This seeking could be a rather selfish ‘in turning’ but the experience of the search has led to social action of all kinds including the peace testimony. Just one example, the Society of Friends published the forward looking ‘Towards a Quaker view of Sex’ years before the current reforms. There are Quaker Buddhists, Quaker Hindu’s, Quaker Cof E’s and even some Quaker Catholics. When I went to live with Betty she was already a Quaker and I soon joined.
Just before Easter some years ago, the C of E church at Blean invited all sorts of different denominations to come to an evening meeting during Holy Week to give their churches views on the Resurrection. They invited the Quakers too and I was appointed to do the impossible. There is no specific Quaker view. I put a lot of work into researching the views of early Quakers. Eventually I decided that the best thing to do was to take my recorder and interview a wide section of Quakers and transcribe what they had said. In the face of the confident beliefs of the other denominations I think most people in the congregation thought that the Quakers were ‘wooly’, we are often accused of that.
The New Forest. I drew this one evening as the sun was setting.
Now the very difficult bit.
I was tired when I got home, Ken and I were sitting at the table having a cup of tea and talking about the evening when he suddenly stopped in mid speech and slumped sideways against me in danger of falling on the floor. I realised immediately that he had had a stroke. I tried to hold him up whilst reaching for the phone and dialling 999. We were downstairs and it seemed like ages before the ambulance arrived though it was probably only about ten minutes. They carried him up the stairs and into the ambulance. My heart was pounding again and the familiar feeling of cold trembling was creeping over me. I gathered essentials and tried to follow the ambulance in the car. By the time all this happened it was about midnight. Going down Sturry Hill I was overtaken by a police car which pulled in front of me and signalled me to stop ‘Do you realise that one of your tailgate lights isn’t working. It is a punishable offence’ at that stage I just broke down in tears. They thought I was being over dramatic until I told them the circumstances. They then drove in front of me clearing the traffic until we got to the hospital. At this stage Ken was still conscious but it was clear that it was a bad stroke. I phoned the family. He was put into a small side ward. We congregated around his bed, I held his hand and the family spoke about the good times that they had had. The hearing is the last thing to go. He lasted a day before he died. It was a bleak and sad time. I can remember coming out of the main door of the hospital after his death and being offended that the sun was shining and that people were talking, laughing and going about their everyday business. I was going to illustrate this part with hospital drawings from other occasions but I think it would be inappropriate. Another of my drawings from the New Forest might just do.