San Fairy Ann

“green bursts out on every herb; the top of the green oakwood is bushy. summer has come,”

Irish, 10th Century.

When you have a garden, you have no time to call your own.  Flowers, fruit and vegetables are the most demanding of children.  In exchange for their beauty, their perfume, their usefulness and their sustenance they have learnt only two words and they use them incessantly: “me, me, me” and “now, now, now”.

Sticks and Stones
Sticks and Stones

There are many textile artists who choose to be inspired by gardens but I am not one of them.  I am happy however to use my garden in the same way as I start a piece of stitchery off on fabric.  I get an idea which develops and grows almost of its own accord.  Mine is just the hand that happens to hold the needle and thread in textile art and in the garden mine is the hand that happens to wield the trowel and spade.  In both cases, before you know it, the idea starts to look like it had planning behind it.

Green Man
Green Man

Whilst I’ve been preparing for the exhibition on 30th & 31st July at Bryngarw Country Park I’ve also been working on the garden, developing a small area to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.  Although these may seem like wildly divergent subjects, there has been a common thread running through them – the concept of San Fairy Ann.   My late and lovely Aunty Phyl used to dismiss all the awkward happenings which came her way in life with a casual toss of her hand and a good-humoured “Oh, well.  San Fairy Ann.”

The pre San Fairy Ann garden
The pre San Fairy Ann garden

Only recently when I was doing a bit of research on the First World War did I realise that Aunty Phyl had probably inherited the phrase from her Uncle Sid who had been a sapper at the Battle of the Somme.  “San Fairy Ann” is generally accepted to be an Anglicisation of “Ca ne faire rien” which means something like “nothing really matters” .  I can have no concept of how people like great Uncle Sid coped with the reality of the horrors of war and the imminent and random nature of a brutal death but it may be that accepting that life itself is imminent and random so that nothing really matters was the only way to face each day.

Aunty Phyl
Aunty Phyl

In developing the work for the exhibition ‘A Habitation of Dragons’, I’ve been thinking long and hard about dragons.  The last official sighting of a dragon in this country was in 1743 which is not that long ago.  It’s easy to think that the things which happen in our lifetimes are of earth-shattering significance and, on a personal level, they may well be but we are such short-lived creatures.  To a dragon, to whom time is an illusion that holds mankind in its thrall, the traumas of history would ebb and flow in the same way as the moon waxes and wanes, the tides ebb and flow.  One of the hangings I’ve created for the exhibition is of an old, wise dragon called Col whose expression probably reflects the same realisation that “nothing really matters” .

Col the Wise
Col the Wise

I recently read an interesting article about a woman who lost her son when he was just a young man.  She asked the journalist who was writing the obituary to keep her son’s death in perspective because it had taken him just a few minutes to die but before that he had lived for 27 years.  When I was planning the garden to mark the centenary of the Somme, I thought about that a lot.  We look back on the horrors of the First World War, at those gaunt and traumatised faces staring out from grainy black & white films and it’s easy to forget that they, too, had gardens to dig, seeds to plant, weeds to pull.  There would have been a Jack Russell to walk, a cat to stroke, a book to read, a football to kick around the park with a couple of mates.  We have focussed on their end, not their beginning or middle.  Focussing on their end may be right but it should not be exclusive.

One of my San Fairy Ann moments
One of my San Fairy Ann moments

So I called my garden the “San Fairy Ann” garden and I set about building as a celebration of all of their lives and their hope that nothing really matters.  As with so much in my garden, I don’t know the Latin names of plants and quite often, not even the English names of plants.  I know their colours, if I like them, if the bees like them and if they come back year after year or are one summer wonders.

Everyone loves a garden
Everyone loves a garden

I foraged some 100 year old bricks from the reject pile in the old brickworks near our house and I edged my little curling path that winds in and out of the dappled shade so there’s a sense of motion but you don’t actually get anywhere.  One of the roses is called ‘Absent Friends’ and many of the plants have been given to us to plant by our present friends.  There are happy plants and there are poignant plants growing side by side.  There are seashells and windchimes and little solar powered lights and everywhere there’s a sense of things weaving in and out.  To them, there probably seems no order to anything.  To me, when I was planting the garden and laying the paths, there seemed no order to anything but now that summer’s here, it has all come right.

Bydd croeso i bawb i ddod i ymweld ag ein gardd ni ym Mis Medi.  Ewch at y cadwyn isod am ragor o fanylion.  Byddaf i’n hapus i siarad yn y Gymraeg ar y dydd pe hoffech.

And that has made me realise that maybe great Uncle Sid and his compatriots may have understood the lyrics of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a deeper way:

“Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really mattered at all”.

Old friends having tea on our lawn
Old friends having tea on our lawn

Incidentally, there was a happy ending for great Uncle Sid.  He returned from the First World War, married his sweetheart, Charlotte, and went on to become a grower of the best and tastiest runner beans in his village.  I think he’d be very happy to see our San Fairy Ann garden.  If you’d like to see it too, you can come to visit when we open our garden for the National Garden Scheme between 12-5pm on Sunday, 4th September 2016.

Dw i’n gallu cofio Wncl Sid yn dda iawn.  Roedd e’n ddyn hyfryd.  Roedd e’n arfer rhannu ei ginio o bysgod a sglods gyda ni.  Roedd e’n arfer ysmygu pibell gydag arolwg o dybaco melys. Mewn storm, roedd e’n arfer cerdded lan i’r mynyddoedd achos bod ofn arno fe.

Great Uncle Sid
Great Uncle Sid

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

When my super intelligent, super talented sister decided to write a blog, her biggest challenge was not how she would find the time to write (newly retired from keeping the NHS afloat, time for personal pursuits is a novelty) or what she would write about (cooking, touring, history, walking, living in the beautiful Welsh Marches etc).  No, it turned out that what caused her embryonic career as a blogger to stutter was finding a title for it.  After trying to match the expectations of her potential readers with her own ideas and aspirations she came up with this which I think works pretty well (as, indeed, do her blogs).

Duro and Helen
Duro and Helen

When I started out as a Textile Artist I wondered whether I should use my own name or come up with something a little less personal.  There were a couple of reasons: firstly, my name is not that uncommon and, coincidentally, there’s another Maria Lalic in the art world although she is higher profile and exhibits in places like the Tate; secondly, as much as I love textile art, I also love primitive craft, writing, teaching workshops, gardening and loads of other things.  I wondered about having an all-encompassing label for these things because I thought that people who liked my artwork might think that there was a multitude of people with the same name doing loads of different things.  I couldn’t come up with the umbrella term in the same way as my sister did so I settled on giving each activity a different name.  Textiles to Treasure showed off my attempts at crafts,

Mumma Doll
Mumma Doll

Rebecca Alston wrote short stories, book reviews and magazine articles and Simple Country Folk reflected my interest in gardening, simple living and self reliance.  When Lorraine from Greenweeds Web Design got involved she was adamant that everything should come under my name because she said – quite rightly – all of the different aspects of my character affected the work I produce as a Textile Artist.

I wasn’t convinced but I said goodbye to all of my alter-egos and carried on as just me.  Nowhere is this more obvious than on my twitter account where I use my 140 characters to micro blog about textile art,

Lleuadra
Lleuadra

my cat Lily,

What now?
What now?

how the garden looks,

After weeding ...
After weeding …

the weekly Porthcawl Park Run

and my treks through the local countryside.

Early morning on River Garw
Early morning on River Garw

 

Weithiau, wrth gwrs, rydw i’n ysgrifennu yn y Gymraeg achos bod diddordeb mawr ‘da fi yn yr iaith Gymraeg ac Hanes a Diwylliant Cymru ac mae llawer o bobl yn defnyddio twitter am yr un peth.   

We pretty much get stuck with the names our parents give us but of course you can wreak revenge when you name your own offspring though that is easy compared to naming pieces of artwork.  When I had my usual pop up exhibition at the year’s Wonderwool I was struggling with what to call this piece but my problem was solved by my pal, the wonderfully talented artist Miranda Bowen , who came up with a great title.

The Guardian
The Guardian

At the same event I showed some work that I had made for an exhibition that I’ll be having at Bryngarw Country Park on the 30/31 July 2016.  Exhibitions also need names! I found a snippet of a quote from the Book of Isaiah which referred to a ‘habitation of dragons and a court of owls’ so the name for the exhibition is ‘A Habitation of Dragons’ and all of the pieces of work will be inspired by dragons or dragon-lore.

The Dragon of Cwm Garw Fechan
The Dragon of Cwm Garw Fechan

That’s a lot of titles to come up with and whilst they sound a bit fictional (Heuldra, Lamia, Sreca for example), all of the names have their roots in mythology or the Welsh language.  So whilst I was standing there at Wonderwool, waxing lyrical about the variety of Textile Art I had on display, talking about the things which inspire or interest me and giving information about our NGS open garden day to just about anybody who stopped long enough to listen, a lady came up to me and said “Is this all yours?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“There’s too much,” she said, “and it’s all too different, too confusing.  I can’t cope.”  And she walked away.

I wonder what Lorraine would have to say about that.

A dweud y gwir, does dim ots ‘da fi nawr. Yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol eleni, byddaf i’n gwneud sesiwn crefft ym Maes D yn y bore ac yn siarad am fy ngardd yn y prynhawn Ddydd Gwener.  Dewch a dweud ‘Helo’ pe basech chi yno. 

Less is More

“You can’t see the forest for the trees”

Once I make up my mind to do something I am completely committed.  It’s getting to the point where I make up my mind that causes me trouble.  Take going on holiday for example.  When I was young there was no choice when it came to destination or activity.  We had days out  when Mum convinced us that walking miles, beachcombing and swishing little fishing nets in mountain streams were the ultimate holiday pastime.  Picnics of squidgy beef spread sandwiches and  warm orange squash with the promise of an ice cream cornet for good behaviour were all we wanted – which is just as well because that was all we got.

Black Mountains Picnic
Black Mountains Picnic

These days I keep my holidays short and pack them with all sorts of activity.  Last week I combined walking part of the Wales Coast Path with, amongst other things, meeting my chum Lorraine from Greenweeds.  Lorraine tries her very best to get me interested in and interacting with social media.  To some extent, she has succeeded but not, I suspect, in the way she anticipated when she created this website.  Anyway, let’s go back to the Wales Coast Path.  The weather on Tuesday started off cold and squally and ended up like the tail end of a hurricane.  Not ideal conditions to be walking along cliff tops with waves crashing on jagged rocks a couple of hundred feet below.  Nevertheless I started walking at Llanrhystud and aimed for Aberystwyth.

Is this the way to ...
Is this the way to …

Before the weather closed in I got some spectacular views of where I’d been

Llanrhystud Beach
Llanrhystud Beach

and where I was going.

Yes,  that path is heading for the cliff edge ...
Yes, that path is heading for the cliff edge …

Photographs like this are not much use to me as an artist.  They’ve got too much detail and not enough atmosphere to remind me of what it was like to actually be in the landscape.  Diolch byth am fy llyfr sgets!  Mewn gwirionedd, dw i ddim yn dda iawn yn tynnu neu beintio go iawn ond dw i’n mwynhau sgetsio. Using a sketchbook allows me to pare down the information and give myself a starting point for a piece of textile art.  These are some of my sketches of the part of the Wales Coast Path between Llanrhystud and Aberystwyth and I don’t apologise to purists for the standard of drawing.

Sketches on Artist Trading Cards
Sketches on Artist Trading Cards

These sketches are the size of Artist Trading Cards and you can find out more about the background of ATCs here.  They are a perfect example of how working with less can bring you more.  Even if you don’t get involved in the trading aspect, restricting your design information to a small piece of card can really focus your mind on what’s important in your artwork.  ATCs are a great way to network with other artists but also help you to develop your own abilities.

Day 2 of the holiday involved a trip to Dolgellau to visit the amazing wool shop Knit One , which is run by the beautiful black cat, Bramble Murgatroyd and her assistants, Angharad and Kate.

Bramble surveys her realm
Bramble surveys her realm

Bramble, Angharad, Kate & I would never have encountered each other if it hadn’t been for Lorraine persuading me to use Twitter as a form of micro-blogging.  In 140 characters and 4 images, I can show the world – or at least the tweeting part of it – what I’m up to as an artist.  I soon realised that more people are interested in what Lily, my cat, is doing than what I’m creating.  In this example of less being more, getting a tweet from Bramble about how cats don’t like circular knitting needles, led to me spending a fabulous morning in Knit One having a lesson in how to knit using a  magic loop.  On the journey back to Aberystwyth, my sketchbook was at hand, recording less detail and more memory prompts.

Slopes of Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn
Slopes of Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn
Near Corris
Near Corris

With a rucsac packed full of fleece that Lorraine didn’t want, day 3 saw me back in Llanrhystud, this time walking the coast path south towards Aberaeron.  The weather was glorious, the terrain kinder and the views spectacular.  I could put some photographs here to prove it but my third example of less being more comes from looking for shapes and lines rather than a whole picture.

Shapes, textures, shadows
Shapes, textures, shadows
Lines and angles
Lines and angles
Balance
Balance

Incidentally on my way back from Dolgellau I called into the Centre for Alternative Technology which is where I first discovered Permaculture.  For ditherers like me, being spoiled for choice can be a real challenge because I spend too much time and effort on trying to deal with the whole picture Instead of the bits which are important.  There’s a great website describing Permaculture principles that you can view here and I’ve deliberately directed you to Principle 7 which is about designing from patterns to details – useful when you can’t see the forest for the trees .

Last word to Bramble
Last word to Bramble

 

 

 

 

Nothing Happens By Chance

“There is nothing which happens by chance; we may not see the guiding hand, discern the greater plan but it is there and it is not there by chance.”   Alfred Browne

“There is no shame in being yourself and doing what you want to do.”  MacGregor MacDonald

There is no shame ...
There is no shame …

 GETTING STARTED (Deuparth gwaith ei ddechrau)

I have been muttering about doing a course in Textile Art for ages. And ages. And ages.  I’ve scoured university websites, been to lectures and booked myself on open days.  All half heartedly because I couldn’t make up my mind what, exactly, I wanted to do, where I wanted to do it and where I wanted it to take me.  I only made up my mind because I spent some time house/dog sitting for a friend with no distractions to hand apart from a sketchbook and pencil, Betty Edwards’ book, ‘Drawing on the Artist Within’ and my Ipad.

Not what Betty had in mind
Not what Betty had in mind

So firstly, if you are even slightly interested in why some people are naturally creative and others have to work at it, Betty’s book makes good reading and some of the exercises were so thought provoking that after Chapter 3, I had abandoned thinking about my creativity and got a plan in place to do something about improving it.

 

More like it, says Betty
More like it, says Betty

Cue the Ipad and a not very long search to find details of the MA in Contemporary Crafts course at Hereford College of Arts . It took me less than 5 minutes of reading to know that this was the course for me; by the next day I had printed out and filled in the application form, got a reference sorted and arranged to visit the MA exhibition at the college.  You can see the work of the current cohort of  students and read about the vision of the course designers here.  I took a portfolio including most of the work from ‘Etifeddiaeth’ which spent last summer on exhibition at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Library.

 

Almost there
Almost there

 

Lucky I did  because after seeing the amazing workshop areas and spending time with incredibly talented and inspirational Holland Otik,  I was offered an interview (and then a place on the MA course) by ceramicist/artist blacksmith/garden gnome collector/course designer Delyth Done .

Mae’n wir taw yn dechrau unrhyw dasg yw’r peth anoddaf ond unwaith rydych chi’n dechrau, mae’r ffordd yn agor o’ch blaen.  Ewch ymlaen!

This is what Betty wanted
This is what Betty wanted

So what, you’re probably wondering has all this got to do with what Alfred had to say about chance?  Well , it’s this: the reason that I abandoned drawing with Betty Edwards was that the lap – squatter – aka Mac the dog – got himself into such a position that balancing the sketchbook was impossible.

The Lap Squatter
The Lap Squatter

The only recourse left to me was to keep googling until I found something interesting.  Which I certainly did! Edrychaf ymlaen at Fis Hydref!

 

 

 

Past Times, Pastimes

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”                                         L.P. Hartley

When I was in university first time around, I came close to being a lost cause as far as Textile Art was concerned.  As a student I under-achieved most of the time and very little of my under-achievement was due to expected student activities like too many nights out and too little work done.  No, my underachievement was mostly because I didn’t have a clue about what it meant (or took) to be creative;  Poor Mrs Parry, and Mrs Burden, and Miss Routley, and the rest of them (too numerous to mention even if my memory allowed it) – they all laboured long and hard to ignite even the smallest spark of creativity in my soul.   Fellow students oozed talent (this is the Textiles Graduate class of 1979) but I absorbed not a single drop.

Textile Art Graduates 1979
Textile Art Graduates 1979

Just as we all had given up finding a technique I was capable of, we came across the work of the Kuna Indian tribe.  Finally, something I liked, something I could do and – most important of all – something I wanted to do.  But within weeks of producing my first piece of “Molas” (brightly coloured felt appliquéd onto fabric as decoration), I had graduated as a teacher and joined the real world.  Life conspired to help me forget the Kuna Indians until a few months ago when I bought a book called Morehouse Farm Merino

Early sketches
Early sketches

The very nature of Molas means that you have to keep your designs simple.  This can be harder than it sounds for someone like me who loves a bit of embellishment.  My first attempt was “Three sleeping sheep with yellow ear tags”.

Keep your designs simple
Keep your designs simple

I’d come across an article in an old copy of Quilting Arts Magazine about cuffs so I turned my first piece of Molas into a cuff by weaving some braid as a fastener.

Weave your own braid!
Weave your own braid!

I really liked the idea of cuffs as wearable art so I kept going.

The moon smiles at the clouds across a starry sky
The moon smiles at the clouds across a starry sky
The Friendship Rose grows in the harshest conditions and flowers come rain or shine
The Friendship Rose grows in the harshest conditions and flowers come rain or shine

As the Christmas season approaches, I’ve increased the size of my Molas work and produced a wallhanging for my fellow blogger, Mrs B of At Home in the Hills (which went down quite well, I think).

Sheep dreaming of fresh hay for breakfast on Christmas morning
Sheep dreaming of fresh hay for breakfast on Christmas morning

So, forasmuch as Shakespeare described the future as an undiscovered country, I suppose it’s worth remembering that the past can be a place of adventure too.

Nadolig Llawen  a Chyfarchion y Tymor!

 

 

 

 

 

Light is a place

“Dark is a way and light is a place”              Dylan Thomas

We all have ups and downs in our lives.  If you are lucky (as I seem to be) you have people in your life who counterbalance the downs  by their presence, character or complete weirdness.  All of my counterbalances have one thing in common – something to do with the world of art and craft.

RWAS Winter Fair 2014
RWAS Winter Fair 2014

The run up to Christmas is a busy time for craftspeople.  It’s when the great, buying public are likely to crank open their purses and wallets and actually part with some cash.  That may sound a bit flippant but consider this:  a recent study said that most professional artists and artisans  are content if they are making £5000 a year.  Given they are probably working at least 25 hours a week at their chosen discipline, that means they are actually earning less than £4 an hour.  And lest we forget, out of that money they are buying raw materials, dealing with marketing and insurance costs and spending extra hours on thinking up ideas and experimenting with techniques.  As one of the craftspeople who sits behind tables at Christmas Craft Fairs, let me into some of the comments which are guaranteed to dowse my seasonal spirit:

” I’ve seen them for sale at  *insert the name of a bargain shop here* for *insert some ridiculous price here* ”  . 

My silent answer to this is “No, you haven’t.  You have seen something which has been mass produced in a sweat shop where workers have no rights, no living wage and terrible working conditions.

“I could make that for you!”

My silent answer to this is “No, you couldn’t.  Not unless you got taught to sew when you were 7 by my mother and have lived my life ever since.”

”                                                     “

That is the sound of no comment at all.  It is usually accompanied by a stare.  There is no answer to it, silent or otherwise.

So, if you should go to a craft show – whether at Christmas or at any other time of year – let me assure you that most makers are in it for something other than the money (remember the less-than-£4-an-hour?).  Most of them are there because they love what they are doing and most of them want to share it with other people.  You have the chance to be the ‘up’ which counterbalances their ‘downs’ by stopping to talk, asking them about their craft and perhaps even buying something.  On the other hand, feel free to pass by the ones who are not generous, chatty or enjoying themselves but give them a smile and a cheery “Hello” to show them what they are missing!  You can find out which shows I’ll be at over on my events page.

My second counterbalance is the wonderful Textile Artist Melissa Warren.  It was a joy this morning to spend time (and money) in her lovely craft shop and gallery, Lemon Blues.  Melissa produces wonderful knitting & silk art work, runs a craft club for anyone who wants to drop in, is a role model and mentor for enterprising women anywhere but particularly in the South Wales valleys and is one of the founder members of Made in the Valleys – a collective of artists, artisans and creatives.  Made in the Valleys are about to have their Christmas exhibition at the Giles Gallery in Pontyclun.  You can see some of my work there as well as some of the best of what is being made in the South Wales valleys at the moment.  Again there are details on my events page.

Footfall - Creative Embroidery on hand made felt.
Footfall – Creative Embroidery on hand made felt.

My third and last counterbalance to the downs of life are the delightfully named yarnbombing group, Lily’s Posse.  Like most yarnbombing groups, the members of Lily’s Posse like to remain anonymous and interact with the world through an independent ‘Communications Officer’ – in this case, me.

Agents Balaclava and Chullo
Agents Balaclava and Chullo

Agents Balaclava, Burger, Chullo, Captain Beanie, Jaja, Le Bobble, Red Hat and 007 recently yarnbombed Bryngarw Country Park to celebrate autumn and Hallowe’en.

Knitted Giant Green Tick
Knitted Giant Green Tick

If you need an ‘up’ in your life, then forming a yarnbombing group will do the trick.  Finally, there’s one other way to deal with the not so good things that go on in your life and that’s to remember the happier days.  As Dylan Thomas says:

“Yet, though I cry with tumbledown tongue, Count my blessings aloud:”

Thanks for the memories, Myfanwy.

Miss Myfanwy Price
Miss Myfanwy Price

 

 

Too much of anything isn’t good

“Nid da rhy o ddim”

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first:  Aunty Betty the chicken has made a full recovery and rejoined the rest of the flock.  I can hear your sigh of relief from here but before you get too comfortable and secure, you should know that Miss Myfanwy Price (our Jack Russell) has developed a problem in the Waterworks department.  It is like going back to her puppy hood: the familiar little crouch coupled with the guilty look – I’m talking about her now, not me – followed by a new stain on the carpet.  Is it any wonder that I’m having ‘stitcher’s block’?

Miss Myfanwy Price
Miss Myfanwy Price

Actually the reason I’ve been having ‘stitcher’s block’ is not because of a dearth of ideas but because I’ve been having too many of them.  If you’ve ready any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I’m not brilliant at keeping journals or sketchbooks which means all the ideas jostle about in what passes for my brain.  Add to the chaos a garden which demands more attention that I can give, animals with genitourinary issues and a bit too much interest from other people in my work as an artist and you have a perfect recipe to stop someone like me from threading a needle.

mumma doll

Luckily at this time of year, the pressure builds in the form of Christmas Craft Fairs.  I wish I could say that I only do these to earn the money but I don’t.  I do them because I love being part of events like the RWAS Winter Fair.  Two new events for me are the Green Fayre and the Christmas Fairs at The Wildlife Trust’s Parc Slip Reserve.  More pressure has built because I have agreed to demonstrate crafts at these last two.  I’m going to showcase my abilities (!) at needlefelting, free form knitting and free weaving.  If you’re in the area, come along and say hello.

Needlefelted Robins
Needlefelted Robins

But it’s not enough to just say you are going to do something; showing is always better than telling so I’ve decided the time has come for me to make some things too.  This means grabbing a couple of ideas and making them come alive.  I’ve found a craft that I really want to have a go at (I’ll tell you what it is next month) but I needed to get hold of some fabric, hopefully cheaply and preferably free.  I called in on Clem, a mate of mine who runs an upholstery business.  As luck would have it, he was clearing the stock room and I staggered back up the road carrying armfuls of fabric that was heading for landfill until I arrived.  This is the first thing that I’ve made out of it – cute or what?

I was nearly landfill!
I was nearly landfill!

Now that I have fabric, a garden which has been harvested and a stock of puppy pads on the floor to mop up after an incontinent Jack Russell, there should be no obstacle to me producing some craft after too much of a summer break.

All is safely gathered in
All is safely gathered in

Hefyd, wrth gwrs, mae llawer o ddosbarthiadau Cymraeg yn dechrau yn yr Hydref.  Rydw i’n hapus i siarad Cymraeg â phobl (yn enwedig pobl sy’n dysgu’r iaith) felly pe hoffech chi ymarfer eich Cymraeg, byddai’n bleser i gwrdd â chi.  Hwyl am y tro!

 

Like a Wave

“You are the lovely red rowan that calms the wrath and anger of all men, like a wave of the sea from flood to ebb, like a wave of the sea from ebb to flood”

Traditional Scots Gaelic Charm.

Aunty Betty, one of our chickens, has got a prolapse.

Now, I bet two things have sprung into your mind:  firstly, you’re probably thinking that Aunty Betty’s days are numbered because you know that having a prolapse is like a death knell to a chicken; secondly, you’re wondering what Aunty Betty’s prolapse has got to do with a traditional Scots Gaelic Charm about rowan, wrath, anger and the flood and ebb of the sea.

Porthcawl Harbour at Stupid o'clock in the morning.
Porthcawl Harbour at Stupid o’clock in the morning.

Actually, in the split second it took you to read “Aunty Betty, one of our chickens, has got a prolapse”, your brain would have generated loads of other thoughts which would have flooded and ebbed like a wave in the sea of conscious awareness.  Things like: why is she called Aunty Betty?  What sort of chicken is she? How did she get a prolapse? How many chickens are there?  Do they all have names?  Why does a red rowan calm wrath and anger? What can you do with rowan berries? And so on.  In nanoseconds your brain would have filtered through the almost infinite array of Aunty-Betty and Gaelic-charm related detritus and only allowed you to become aware of one or two of the thoughts most relevant to you.

I love trees!
I love trees!

All this makes me realise that I want to know some of the thoughts are that my brain is filtering out – the seemingly unconnected pictures give you an idea of what your brain is up to.  But before we get to that, let’s go back to Aunty Betty and the Gaelic charm and answer some of the questions.

Until last week, Aunty Betty was a chicken with no name.  There are 8 chickens in all: Dee dee, Blanche, Norma Bates, Lazy Sausage, Poppit and the 3 (now 2) un-named. She was still without a name when Bleddyn the Vet opened the door into the waiting room and called for ‘Chicken Lalic’.  Examination was swift, diagnosis obvious, treatment probably futile and definitely expensive.  But, as the great Rowli Pugh always says, what else can you do with money except spend it?  Thus, Chicken Lalic had her prolapse stitched back into position with something called a ‘purse-string suture’.   So here’s the answer to the first question.  My mum’s best friend was our Aunty Betty and her surname was Pursey.  Thus, on the way home from the vets, Chicken Lalic became Aunty Betty.  Aunty Betty is a breed of chicken called a Warren.  These are the unfortunates that end up in battery cages and are intensively farmed (but not here at Scarecrow Cottage).  They don’t live long (even without the battery cages and the intensive farming) but they are lovely, docile birds who do a lot of contented cooing and – in their short lives – lay a lot of eggs.  As a result, prolapses are almost inevitable.  One of the saddest things about a prolapse is it brings out the dinosaur in the rest of the chickens.  You can end up with a chicken run that looks like the gory bits of Jurassic Park.  For her own good, Aunty Betty is now in isolation which she is quite enjoying, thank you very much.

Aunty Betty
Aunty Betty

The Rowan Tree –  currently dabbed with scarlet berries in this wettest of summers in Wales – was once known as the Tree of Life.  Its berries were thought to prolong life (but the seeds are poisonous to children) and boiled – the berries, not the children –  they produce a strong orange colour dye.  In Scotland, particularly, the wood was thought to have magical properties and many believed it to be a tree that protects against evil and violence.  According to legend, rowan trees were guarded by dragons and dragons guarded by rowan trees.  This is very interesting to me as I’m researching dragons for my next piece of Textile Art.  It’s amazing how many books about dragon lore are available and how much of what has been written is from the standpoint that not only did dragons exist but that in some parts of the world, still thrive; that the only reason they have become creatures of myth and legend is because humans now dismiss the intangible as unreal.

Dragonshoard
Dragonshoard

The last time I did a dragon inspired piece of textile art was in 1983.  Back in those days, I wasn’t very creative.  I’d used space dyed threads to get the shading and my idea of texture was a couple of seed beads.  The dragon wasn’t even my idea of a dragon but an image that I’d copied from somewhere.  Now I’m busy collecting ideas

Carvings at Nantgwrtheyrn
Carvings at Nantgwrtheyrn

and textures

Dragon Scales?
Dragon Scales?

Then I’m going to sit in the sun with Aunty Betty and a sketchbook and slow the flood and ebb of the waves of my mind and see what happens.  Happy Dragon Hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Etifeddiaeth

“Hawdd cynnau tân ar hen aelwyd”

“It’s easy to kindle a fire on an old hearth”

I love the word ‘etifeddiaeth’.  It means ‘inheritance’ or ‘legacy’ and is the title I chose for a series of Textile Art works inspired by the tales of Cynddylan and Heledd.  I’ve written about them in previous blogs and you can read more here.

Elfan Powys
Elfan Powys

This year the National Eisteddfod of Wales is being held in Meifod, the homeland of Cynddylan and Heledd .  I was disappointed ‘Etifeddiaeth’  wasn’t selected to be part of the occasion but, it turns out, something just as exciting came along and the work is now being exhibited in a completely different context.

Caranfael
Caranfael

Dydd Llun diwethaf, ces i neges oddi wrth Rachelle Barlow yn gofyn am fenthyg o ‘Etifeddiaeth’ ar gyfer arddangosfa am yr Eisteddfod.

I once had music lessons.  After two years my piano teacher called a halt and said she couldn’t keep taking my money because nothing she did would work – I didn’t have a musical bone in my body.  So you’d have to wonder how I’d know such a talented, knowledgeable and respected ethnomusicologist as  Rachelle Barlow . I shall leave that for a future blog or possibly Rachelle’s autobiography.  Suffice to say that we spent Monday evening with me issuing forth my opinions on what makes art, art and Rachelle eating her way through a plate of Jammy Dodger biscuits.

Eglwysau Basa
Eglwysau Basa

Rachelle had done her homework and came armed with copies of R S Thomas poems – I  am particularly fond of  the imagery in The Journey and Resevoirs – and a manuscript of ancient Welsh songs which had part of Cân Heledd set to music.  It was really interesting to see the way in which two completely different creative practices could come together and find a common ground.  In this case, it started out as introducing the ethos of the Eisteddfod to the students, staff and visitors who use the Library at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama but by the end of the plate of Jammy Dodgers, Rachelle and I realised that there was a much wider appeal on the shelves of the Library itself.

Pengwern
Pengwern

So much art – of what ever genre – is interpreting another art form or reality.  I look at the poems of R S Thomas and say they inspire me but actually what I am doing is interpreting his words in a technique which I can use.  R S Thomas in turn, had used words to interpret his reality – though in some of his poems, he was clearly inspired by works of figurative art.  ‘Etifeddiaeth’ is my interpretation of Heledd’s Lament and The Death Song of Cynddylan but both of those were written by someone who was interpreting a reality.  When you understand that art can be interpretative as well as imaginative, the possibilities become endless and endlessly exciting.

Hirwaun - inspired by The Journey (R S Thomas)
Hirwaun – inspired by The Journey (R S Thomas)

Diolch i fisgedi Jammy Dodgers, penderfynodd Rachelle lydanu pwnc yr arddangosfa i gynnwys diwylliant a llenyddiaeth yn ogystal â’r Eisteddfod.

Much of the artwork has been left out on shelves so that it can be handled by the students and visitors to the Library.  I think that this is an important part of Textile Art.   One of the things that I gain from being at events like the National Eisteddfod and having a ‘pop up’ exhibition is encouraging people to touch and handle the embroidery.  I hope that the actors, musicians and designers from the College will take the opportunity to experience my work and use it to inform their own.  As I said to Rachelle, in my opinion, there are three things which make art, art:  first, it evokes an emotional response; secondly, it provokes thought; last, it demonstrates skill or good technique.

If you create something – craft, art, music, literature, dance, dramatic performance – and you can apply those three criteria, then you will be satisfied but probably not for long.  Creativity likes to leave updated legacies because you keep coming up against new realities or genres to interpret.  I love R S Thomas and Cynddylan and Heledd but I have just discovered the existence of Celtic Coin Art.  Oh my word!  I can see a whole new world opening up!

If you have some spare time between now and the beginning of September, why not visit the Library at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.  Not only can you see ‘Etifeddiaeth’ but the chances are you will come into contact with a huge range of creative people and practices, cultural resources and works of music and literature, any or all of which could start you off on a new creative journey.  Happy kindling!

 

 

If you’re going down …

“If you’re going down, go down with the band playing”

A Guide to Scarecrow Wisdom – Rule 1  by Rowli Pugh

I am currently recovering from my EPIC weekend.  It started on Thursday at Aberystwyth having a ‘business’ meeting with the lovely Lorraine of Greenweeds Web Design.  This began with lunch, moved on to Constitution Hill to admire the view across Cardigan Bay, paused with an oversized ice cream and ended on the Pier where we finally gave up on business chat having been totally distracted by the antics of a pod of dolphins.  Lorraine is constantly trying to persuade me to engage more with social media (unlikely) and is responsible for the way my website looks and behaves.  A website can actually be very useful to artists and other creatives, says Lorraine.  Finally, I have come to agree with her.  Following on from the Arts Council of Wales funded project The Keepers which tracked the development of Textile Art from inspiration to completion through this blog, I use the website as a kind of journal or scrapbook.  All my favourite (and useful) images, sketches and bits/bobs are kept here in cyberspace.

Cardigan Bay
Cardigan Bay

Back to the weekend: Friday saw the selected designers of the International  Cambrian Mountains Wool Design Challenge gathering at the Park & Ride in Aberystwyth for a bus journey to Nanteos Mansion Hotel.  And what a range of beautiful things we had made: from clothing to soft furnishings; toys to jewellery – all brilliantly staged by the incredible organisers to show off both the wool and the talent of the designers to the best.   We got to spend a couple of hours together whilst we were waiting for the guest of honour.  I’m not sure what the collective term is for a group of Textile Artists & Makers – a network? – but there were a lot of us and we talked non-stop.  It was lovely to meet HRH The Prince of Wales (surprisingly knowledgeable about wool) and the Aberystwyth experience got my epic weekend off to the best of starts!

Me, Jane Withers & HRH The Prince of Wales
Me, Jane Withers & HRH The Prince of Wales

Thanks to the help of Ruth Packham and Rebecca Connolly I caught the early bus back to Carmarthen for the train to Cardiff, was picked up at the station by mate Sarah, got home, changed and was whisked to a hotel in Heathrow Airport by other pals, Pat the Shed and her hubby, St John the Provider.  At 5.40am on Saturday morning I was on the Oxford Tube bus eventually be deposited at the grandly named Lewknor Turn Coach Interchange – though this is actually a layby, and a very ordinary one at that.  From there it was only a short journey to the start of phase 2 of my epic weekend.  No more the posh frocked, hob-nobbing with royalty, artist; from now on, I was one of 2100 lycra clad participants in the Race to the Stones.

Along the River Thames
Along the River Thames

By the end of Saturday, after 50k on Shanks’ Pony, I was at Base Camp, aching, blistered but so pleased with myself and so looking forward to the next day when I was going to achieve a life-long ambition – to visit the Stone Circle at Avebury.  If you’ve never been there, it’s worth the visit.   One of the reasons I wanted to go there is because I find the history of the British Isles a rich source of inspiration for the kind of art I do.  If you want to do something creative – whether it’s painting, writing, music or anything else – it is worth getting out and about so that you can experience what it is that inspires you.

Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury Stone Circle

Nothing I had ever seen on television did the Avebury Stones justice.  9am and I was in position on the top of a bank, sketch book at the ready.  I don’t pretend to be a good artist but I find sketching so much more satisfying that taking photographs.

Avebury Sketch 1
Avebury Sketch 1
Avebury Sketch 2
Avebury Sketch 2

By Sunday teatime my epic weekend was over – apart from the blisters and the aches.  It was amazing from start to finish. On Monday I was back to work (trying to keep the NHS afloat, weeding an overgrown garden and dealing with a surfeit of garlic).  All of which goes to illustrate the wisdom of Rowli Pugh’s  Rule 1 for Scarecrows – if you are going down, go down with the band playing – in other words, if you are doing something special, give it 100% and do it with a smile on your face.  That way, you’ll remember it for ever.

A rhag ofn i chi feddwl fy mod i wedi anghofio bod rhai ohonoch chi’n dysgu’r Gymraeg – dydw i ddim!  Roedd yr holl benwythnos yn fendigedig.  Rydw i’n dwlu ar Aberystwyth yn enwedig yr hufen iâ.  Roedd Tywysog Siarl yn hyfryd.  Gobeithiaf y byddaf fi’n cwrdd â fe eto yn y dyfodol.  Y flwyddyn nesaf, rydw i’n mynd i redeg yn y Ras i’r Brenin am hwyl – dim ond 52 milltir.  Gwych!  Ond byddai’n well ‘da fi benwythnosau gwahanol!