30 November 2014

"Under the Microscope"

As children, we aren't curious about the lives of our parents, certainly not about their lives before we were born. As adults, we may never find out about their past. This is what almost happened to Mary Pritchard in regard to her mother, Olive Ackroyd. 

But through inheriting her mother's microscope, and with the help of family photos and letters,  Mary has reconstructed her mother's life as a scientist, at a time when girls generally didn't go into science careers - and in any case, gave up their careers upon marriage. Mary - a photographer and ceramicist - gathered together all her mother's original published scientific papers, photo albums, letters and drawings, and along with her own work based on the microscope slides, put them on show in a carefully reconstructed environment.

"Olive Elizabeth Aykroyd was born in Dublin, Ireland over a 100 years ago and was exceptional in many ways. She went to Trinity College Dublin in the 1930's and obtained a PhD in Zoology at a time when it was unusual for women to pursue a scientific career. Her research contributed to the expansion of the subject at that time. However, after she married and had a family she did not return to her research. 

"Mary has found her mother's original laboratory slides from the 1930s a rich source of inspiration and for this exhibition she has re-interpreted them and re-presented them in a variety of ways - using both old and new technology. From cyanotypes (a very early form of photography) to reprinting the slides of insect larva onto huge pieces of tracing paper, to manipulating the images in Photoshop to produce a homage to Andy Warhol, to decorating ceramic tiles with the slide images, Mary has breathed new life into these tiny, old objects, which have a strange beauty of their own.

"In terms of work inspired by the archive, Mary has been using her camera as a kind of microscope focusing in on details of plants to magnify them and appreciate their beauty and complexity. Mary inherited a love of nature, an interest in science and her artistic side from her mother." (via)

Here is a walk-through of the historical part of the exhibition, a re-creation of a life -

See the work inspired by the archive at marypritchard.net. The exhibition was held at Artisan80, Willesden, 4-22 November.

29 November 2014


It's good to have some knitting on the go. The wool for this "Aran" jumper is from Jamiesons of Shetland (via the Knitting & Stitching show) - it's for someone who wears out the elbows quickly, and will have leather patches from the outset.

Good cotton socks being the price they are these days, the favourite ones are worth preserving - and I'm loving using bright colours to reinforce the thinning heels and toes -
The darning mushroom is a help, but you can use a suitable light bulb if you don't have a mushroom. Work from the wrong side, and the loose ends will be hidden.

Another darning project is my favourite dishtowel, made in Sweden by Ekelund but purchased in a tiny craft shop in Denmark Hill -
The towel has a complicated weave in four colours, and it reached quite a state of wear and disrepair, front and back both. My repair re-weaves the warp threads, using a variegated cotton. The towel cost about £14 at the time - extravagant? - no, it's had a long life, about 20 years. I'm not sure how long the mending will prolong its life ... perhaps some decorative machine stitching on the worn areas will help too.

Moths again -
Large holes, some of them ... repair will need a very creative approach! At the moment I'm fixing the (many) small holes in this garment - and rotating other silks and woollens through the freezer - three days in, three days out, three days in again. Just in case.

28 November 2014

Edward Bawden and Morley College

Having seen Morley Gallery's "Edward Bawden, Storyteller" exhibition, and watched its tv programmes about the artist made in 1963 and 1983, I went to the refectory to see the "Canterbury Tales" murals he worked on in the 1950s. He had had a hand in the original (Shakesperian) murals (1930) that were destroyed in bombing ten years later.
In 1955 funding was secured to have new murals painted. My photos, taken on a sunny day, are impossible -
(better photos are here).

Some details -

Two items in the exhibition were commissioned by hotelier Tom Laughton, brother of the actor Charles Laughton - one was this peep show for the Pavilion Hotel in Scarborough -
which shows a seaside scene, in tunnel-book format. Hardly visible behind it, the large painting is of Scarborough - on a "forgotten" map that once graced the children's section of the library (via) -
Also shown were tapestry designs from 1983, sampled at Dovecote Studios (via) -
Bawden (1903-1989) is known for his book illustration and posters. He saw no difference between fine art and the work he did [nor should we...]; he blamed his productivity on habit: "I can't easily get out of it."

27 November 2014

Poetry Thursday - The Sundial by Gillian Clarke

The Sundial
Owain was ill today. In the night
He was delirious, shouting of lions
In the sleepless heat. Today, dry
And pale, he took a paper circle,
Laid on the grass which held it
With curling fingers. In the still
Centre he pushed the broken bean
Stick, gathering twelve fragments
Of stone, placed them at measured
Distances. Then he crouched, slightly
Trembling with fever, calculating
The mathematics of sunshine.
He looked up, his eyes dark,
Intelligently adult as though
The wave of fever taught silence
And immobility for the first time.
Here, in his enforced rest, he found
Deliberation, and the slow finger
Of light, quieter than night lions,
More worthy of his concentration.
All day he told the time to me.
All day we felt and watched the sun
Caged in its white diurnal heat,
Pointing at us with its black stick.
Gillian Clarke
The poem was borrowed from here - and gives the title to one of Gillian Clarke's early collections (1978). My introduction to this poem, and to her poetry, was via a tv programmer called Great Welsh Writers - if you are in the UK, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer (here) until 14 December.
What prompted her to write the poem, she says on the programme, is the feeling that came over her, watching her son - like a huge cavern inside her chest, "in which was a huge other world of the sun, the sundial, the child, the standing stones, and all of time. I had no words for it, I just had this idea, and it turned into a little poem."
Gillian Clarke has been the national poet of Wales since 2008. This biographical note is from her website: "Born in Cardiff, Wales. Poet, playwright, editor, translator (from Welsh), President of Ty Newydd, the writers´ centre in North Wales which she co-founded in 1990. Tutor on M.Phil. course in Creative Writing, the University of Glamorgan, since 1994. Freelance tutor of creative writing, primary schools to adults. Her poetry is studied by GCSE and A Level students throughout Britain. She has travelled in Europe and the United States giving poetry readings and lectures, and her work has been translated into ten languages. She has a daughter and two sons, and now lives with her husband (an architect) on a smallholding in Ceredigion, where they raise a small flock of sheep, and care for the land according to organic and conservation practice."

26 November 2014

Out of the blue

The offensive email gave few clues as to what was upsetting the writer, but she seemed to be referring to my "Textile taxidermy" article in Through Our Hands.

Quite apart from being unsigned, the email was so uninformative that I decided to ignore it ... but then wondered if someone's email account had been hacked and similar emails sent, by some malignant person, for unknown reasons, to others who had written articles in the magazine.

On contacting the editors, it transpired that they knew the writer - and they got in touch with her about the matter. She quickly sent me an apology.

But I couldn't reply to her ... I simply didn't know what to say. Either the writer was a person with strongly held beliefs who was a poor communicator, letting emotion get in her way, or else she was having things going on in her life that pushed her into unfortunate behaviour. Yet......even if either of these were true, that email should not have been sent.

On receiving another apologetic email, which gave a bit of background to the story, I finally mustered a few (rather stern) words to the effect that such emails hardly win hearts and minds ... and now I hope that's the end of it.

It's a bit of a shock to the system, and has given me a tiny insight into the effects of bad internet behaviour. May it not happen to you!

**Addendum: I was a bit hasty in publishing this post, for two reasons.

Firstly, it's not clear from what I wrote that the writer of the email had reacted to the topic - specifically the word taxidermy - without looking closely at the article - she didn't realise that "textile taxidermy" in no way involved dead animals.

Secondly, I've received further communication saying that she's not usually like this, she doesn't know what came over her. Which I believe ... and sympathise with ... who among us hasn't sent a frustration-fuelled email to someone at some time, probably more strongly worded than if we had been calm and rational?

Also, I didn't make clear the point of writing about this incident ... I've written about a personal reaction to bad internet behaviour, and my dilemma over whether to engage with the writer and the possibility of consequences. I was lucky to have an intermediary, and to have a good outcome, but in so many cases of trolling it is otherwise.

The incident has raised my awareness of the devastating effects that sustained attacks must have on people - think of teenage girls being bombarded with hateful messages, texts, and social media  and what that does to their self-esteem. We've probably all suffered some bullying at some time, and know how unpleasant that is - what makes it worse on the internet is a kind of undertone  that it's ok to send nasty emails because, hidden behind a screen, you are (a) anonymous and (b) beyond reach. Not true!

Last of the journal quilts

The basis of this 8" square quiltlet was a painting found in a magazine, which I cut into "distances" and then overlapped them, stitching as each new layer was added -
The irregular area on the left proved awkward to overlap, and had to be replaced with a suitable colour from elsewhere in the magazine.

Gives a bit of mystery, don't you think? -

The quiltlet measured only 7.5" square, so had to be "framed", appropriately in gold -
High Horizons: Harvest
The rest of this year's journal quilts have black satin stitched edges and are ready for adding to the CQ yahoogroup files -
High Horizons: Oktoberfest
High Horizons: Starry Night
High Horizons: Winter Fields

25 November 2014

Tuesday is drawing day - British Museum Islamic gallery

When you emerge from the Underground (as I did last week) and find the rain has stopped and sunshine is moving in, it raises your spirits ... and anything seems possible. This is Russell Square, which is near the "back door" of the British Museum - 
The Islamic World gallery is near the back door too. There were sounds of school groups being mustered, but they left this gallery in peace, and I settled down to draw some 700-year-old Syrian incense burners, joined later by Mike and Pat intent on their own selected objects in other parts of the gallery.
The incense burners reminded me of a row of tap dancers, with their little feet often not flat to the ground. I drew them lightly to position them, and then with more certainty to try to get the shapes right -
 and then tore bits to tissue paper and stuck them over the pencil drawings -
Then followed the detail (in felt pen) ... to the point of tediousness (and confusion) where I was ready to give up. But the blank section was left on purpose: the incense burner is inscribed (in Arabic of course) "Within me is the fire of Hell but without floats the perfume of paradise", and I think it's better to imagine the inscription than to try to replicate it.
After coffee and much discussion of  sketchbook-keeping and drawing opportunities and purposes, returning to the gallery I saw the wonderful bowl (Iran, 10th century) with its Kufic inscription sliding down, or is it reaching down, to the bottom -
Starting to draw it, I couldn't ignore the bowl beside it or those behind ... and somehow the shelving got into the picture too -
I'm not happy with the look of that drawing - the composition (such as it is) just sort of happened, and it needs a dark background? - but I certainly did a lot of looking at the peripheral things and the bowl itself. Up close, the bowl shows that the calligraphy has thin areas of white and white dots ... how long would it take to learn to do that with a brush?
"He who speaks his speech is silver, but silence is a ruby, with good health and prosperity" says the inscription.

24 November 2014

"Sacred Spaces" by Thirteen Textile Group

This exhibition opened today - and is on till 29 November at Waterloo Action Centre, near Waterloo Station - and what a visual treat.  The artists have been exhibiting together since 2012, most if not all having met in the Advanced Textiles Course at City Lit.

Some of the wall displays -
Sue Mackay, Suzie Tucker

Moe Casey, Lynne Acred, Pam Smyth
Works by individual artists -
"Figures" by Britt Proudlock

"Forgive Me" and "Protect Me" by Sally Eland

Part of Blayne Collins' installation

Sumptuous spirals by Moe Casey

Sue Mackay's "Circle" series

"Moon Night Day Night" by Marie-Clare Mawle

Petroglyphs inspired Pam Smyth

Detail from Ashokashri's "Isle of Lewis" works

Hidden in plain sight, Rose Chapman's "Highlands"
All 13 artists have pages on the group's website.

Glimpses of the Museum of London

A few weeks ago, thinking ahead to venues for "Tuesday is drawing day", I did a rekky of the Museum of London to find what might be tempting - and away from the hurly-burly, if only to have a nook for setting down a sketching stool.

The first three are on the entrance level - medieval and renaisssance -

 Downstairs is the London 2012 cauldron, including the moulds for each -
 Livery of the old City companies, and the golden Royal Coach -
 Kitchen tools from early last century -
 And somewhere is The Pleasure Garden, a very modern take on the 18th century -
Sketching stools were right at the entrance that day, and may be there still.