About three years ago a friend and fellow gardener told me of a wonderful book she had read called The Morville Hours . Written by Katherine Swift it tells the story of the creation of a garden at the Dower House in Morville, Shropshire. The Morville Hours is not your normal gardening book of Latin plant names (don’t do them), pests (got too many of them) and so on; rather it is an invitation to follow the author on a very personal journey of self-discovery with digressions into planting, history, nature and the priniciples of the Benedictine Rule. I know this because three years after Susan lent me the book, I have reached page 164 (which means there are 184 to go: at this rate I will finish the book in October 2019).
I should now apologise to those who lectured on the Creative Writing Course at the University of Glamorgan, in particular Maria Donovan , Barrie Llewlyn and Rob Middlehurst because my speed and enthusiasm for reading books is no further advanced now than when they despaired of me between 2004-2007. Maria instilled the values of sharp editing and good punctuation into me, Barrie taught me objectivity and quality control while Rob and I shared a fondness for 1940s detective stories and surreal humour. None of them persuaded me to read for the sake of reading.
For a little while I considered whether I should continue my embryonic career in writing but when push came to shove, I found that I could either write or sew – there wasn’t enough in my creative reservoir to do both. The call of the needle and thread proved stronger than the pen or keyboard and the rest is history. Except, that is, for me nurturing a small disappointment that I never did the MPhil in Creative Writing. At the end of this month however, I embark on the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts which should satisfy my postgraduate tendencies for a bit.
I was accepted onto the MA course by virtue of embroideries like ‘Carnedd Cynddylan’ and ‘Dark Tonight’, and tempted by the prospect of learning how to blow glass and forge metal that I could use on pieces of Textile Art.
Over the summer my idea for the MA project has developed and spread like one of the plants in Katherine Swift’s garden. At first I intended it all to be inspired by my interest in landscape history. Then I thought about how I could incorporate myth and legend; next came the need to include artefacts and relics; now I realise I have the opportunity to include all the things I learnt through studying Creative Writing with Maria, Barrie and Rob. Whether all my ideas and plans will ripen into fruition is another matter but I am nothing if not optimistic.
Back at the start of the year I set myself some goals (as opposed to New Year’s Resolutions). The first was to do some form of further education so I think that one can be ticked off as achieved (or at least a work in progress until December 2017). Another was to end the year leaner and fitter than I started it. To this end my sister and I have been doing a 500 mile challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. (You can track our progress here .) It started back in March with the Carmarthen Mayor’s Race and
our challenge finishes next weekend at the Swansea Bay 10k. In between, my quota of 250 miles has seen me doing a fabulous run around the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, trekking miles along the wonderful Wales Coastal Path
and completing the iconic Severn Bridge Half Marathon.
Sut ydy’r her o deithio 500 milltir cysylltiedig â Chelf Tecstilau? Oherwydd fy mod i’n cael fy syniadau gorau drwy bod y tu allan. Does dim ots a fydda i’n rhedeg, cerdded neu eistedd a chael picnic! Mae rhaid i fi fod yn yr awyr agored i gael syniadau ac ysbrydoliaeth am waith creadigol.
In much the same way as Katherine Swift and the garden at Morville came together to produce a magical book that was as much about the human condition as it was about gardening, I find that just being outside is a huge inspiration to my Textile Art. I saw the glistening raindrops on moss covered stone walls that edged the lanes I was running through at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, I felt the sense of isolation and aloneness along parts of the Ceredigion coast and I smelt the swirling muddy waters of the Severn Estuary. These are memories which no camera could capture as an image. The next time you find yourself short of inspiration, try moving through the landscape whether it’s a worked garden like the one at Morville , the wild and rugged hills of Wales or anything you are within reach of!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
“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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
“Here All is One”
Rydw i wrth fy modd cerdded neu redeg dros y wlad. Bob dydd, byddaf i’n ceisio treulio rhyw amser y tu allan, i werthfawrogi’r byd naturiol. Rydw i’n cael llawer o ysbrydiolaeth gan y byd naturiol fella mae wedi bod yn wych i dderbyn cymorth o Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru. Hefyd, mae’n wych i few mor agos i le hyfryd fel Parc Gwledig Bryngarw. Continue reading Get inspired!
” Within this land, a story sleeps. The world you see is a dream. This story, the ancient Keepers keep and always has it been.” Continue reading Here All is One
The Coblynnau are Welsh Mine Fairies: they are good-natured, helpful creatures who dress in rags and live – for the most part – underground. They are fond of making stone sculptures.
The Coblynnau were mine goblins who signalled where the richest seams of coal were by tapping out messages to miners or leaving trails of stones underground. Their story provides a starting point for many of the Art Dolls that I make. Living on the edge of the scarred and rugged South Wales coalfield means that you are never far from history. It is not beautiful in a chocolate-box way but it is a land rich in legend and magic – just perfect for a Textile Artist and Dollmaker like me.
“The longest journey starts with a single step.”
And never was a truer word spoken when it comes to starting something creative off – in whatever discipline or craft. As this project will be set alongside The Keepers in Bryngarw Country Park, I spent some time there on a very wet afternoon last week. I find that being outside helps me to form ideas about colours, lines and textures that I want to use. Continue reading The Single Step