Tag Archives: Mixed Media Postcards

Imagining Everywhere

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”                          Albert Einstein

I’ve been fascinated by walking ancient tracks ever since childhood when in long summer holidays, my mum would shepherd me and my sisters along the sheep trails that led from sandy dunes near Aberavon up onto the moorland slopes of Baglan mountain.  At the time I didn’t know anything about the tracks being ancient and admittedly, much of the fascination came from seeing how long any of us children could hold onto the low voltage electric fence wires that were used to keep the sheep on the mountain and not wandering through the town of Port Talbot below.  Let me make two clarifications relating to the electric fence wire:  firstly, we didn’t have Health and Safety back in the 1960s; we had health, we had safety and for the most part, we had a lot of good luck and secondly, it was my younger sister Annie, who proudly claimed the record of being able to hold on to the wire – and its associated voltage – for about 10 seconds which was some 4 seconds more than Nell and 9 seconds longer than me.

Family outing to look for electric fences

Anyway, let’s get back to the point about the ancient tracks and specifically, the ancient tracks which crisscross the bracken covered slopes that look across the Bristol Channel towards Somerset.  2000 years back this area was inhabited by the Silures tribe who held sway over most of south east Wales from the River Severn to the River Lougher.  The name Silures came from the Latin meaning “the people of the rocks” and according to Tacitus, they were swarthy with black, curly hair and a predilection for war.  It took the invading Romans of the 1st Century AD about 30 years to finally subdue them.    More recent than Tacitus, Niel Faulkner said “Ancient Siluria was a land of boggy uplands, wooded slopes and narrow valleys and plains… it was a rougher, harder and more impoverished land and its people skilled in war…”  

Now this is about as much as I know about the Silures and as I am not a historian but an artist, I think it’s about as much as I need to know.  I’ve never been one to let fact get in the way of creativity so you should understand that much that comes after this point is the product of my imaginative wanderings.  Maps show that the Glamorgan ridge is about 20 miles west of Baglan mountain and it is covered with place names which hint at a violent past: Mynydd y Gaer (the Mountain Fortress), Mynwent y Milwyr (the graveyard of the soldiers) and Gadlys (Battle Court) to name but a few.

I’ve spent the last couple of years mapping the area but it was only at the end of 2018 that I climbed onto the ridge from the south (I usually go up from the west or the north).  Suddenly I realised that all of my previous conclusions about the area being the site of an attack by the Romans on the Silurians could be wrong.  Ascending from the South would have been almost impossible for the invaders and if they did make it to the top, then it was probably because they were being lured into an ambush.  Whether hunted or hunters, I’m of the opinion that the Silurians and Romans would have fought a running battle heading towards Baglan mountain, not because they had a burning desire to see the spot where – 2000 years later – a street artist called Banksy would make Port Talbot famous (again) – but because it was a defensible stopping off point en route to the safety of the River Lougher.  Who won and who lost is buried in the mists of time but there’s a small valley north of Port Talbot known to locals as Cwm Lladdfa (the Vale of Slaughter) so clearly it didn’t end well for one side or the other.  Incidentally this is a place name which doesn’t show up on modern maps which are digital representations of topography rather that visual interpretations of place and time.  As the Ordnance Survey do what the do so well, I’ll leave the technical stuff to them and stick to my wild imaginings. 

 

 

The Glamorgan ridge is cut by deep, steep sided valleys and the first one to the west is Mynydd Llangeinwyr.  It was originally called Allt yr Esgair (the Wooded Slope of the Ridge) but in the 5th Century, St Cein Wyr (St Keyne the Virgin) stopped for a look around, liked what she saw and stayed.  By the time she died on the 8th October 505, she had caused a spring to bubble to the surface near the church which bears her name.  It was bone chillingly cold on the day I sat near the spot, painted some canvas with watercolours

and pinned the fabric to a nearby fence to blow dry in the gale force wind.  I kind of felt a lot of respect for old Cein Wyr.  I was wrapped up in lots of layers and had a flask of coffee to hand.  For her, living atop this ridge as a woman alone, with only the food she could forage, it must have been a bleak and sometimes fearful existence.

Whilst the material was drying I wandered about picking up a couple of bits of gravel and some sheep’s wool to trap into the embroidery.  As you can see above, I also did a quick field sketch of the area so that I would have a point of reference as the stitchery grew.  It’s taken me a few weeks to reach the point where I’m happy to say it’s finished.  In a world of sat navs and GPS signals, it may not be a map which will get you to a specific place but I think it’s a pretty reasonable record of a journey – though not necessarily mine.

Mastering an MA in Contemporary Crafts

“I am told that there are people who do not care for maps and find it hard to believe… here is an inexhaustible fund of interest for any many with eyes to see or tuppence worth of imagination to understand with.”

R.L.Stevenson

Back in October 2016 one of the first things our MA group did was visit the Hereford Museum Learning and Resource Centre  for a behind the scenes tour.  (Many museums, galleries and cultural venues will offer guided tours for small groups that book in advance.)  Hereford Museum LRC has an eclectic range of artefacts from archaeological archaeological bits and bobs (flint arrowheads and Roman glass beads) to agricultural paraphernalia (Victorian carts and farming tools).  Between these two extremes is a conservative collection of art and ceramics and some slightly more difficult to categorise exhibits that I suppose you could call folkloric – curse dolls and Celtic stone heads, for example.  Incidentally these traditions are alive and well in all parts of the country.

Head of The Keeper of the Meadow at Bryngarw Country Park

On a normal day any of these (except perhaps the ceramics) has enough to pique my interest but all paled into insignificance when I discovered that Hereford Museum LRC also keeps the research archive of one of my heroes – Alfred Watkins.  I was first introduced to Watkins back in the 80s when  Mrs B  gave me his book (The Old Straight Track) as a birthday present.  Watkins was one of those purposeful Edwardian gentlemen who wandered the countryside with a camera, notebook and walking stick.  Whilst you may not have heard of him, you may be familiar with one of his theories: in The Old Straight Track Watkins introduces his belief that places in ancient Britain were linked by intersecting and invisible tracks that he called ‘leys’.  These could be identified by noting the existence of certain features both on maps and in the landscape.  Using a ruler, he believed it was possible to track a ley by drawing straight lines that linked standing stones, barrows, early churches and groves of Scots Pine trees growing on hilltops.

Carn Ciwg Standing Stone

Leys got a less than enthusiastic welcome from more conservative archaeologists and Watkins’ theory took another knock in the academic validity stakes when it was suggested by some esoteric thinkers that ‘ley lines’ were actually invisible energy fields and conduits of earth magic.  Nevertheless I am nothing if not loyal to my heroes and from the very outset of the MA in Contemporary Crafts course at Hereford College of Arts Alfred Watkins and The Old Straight Track were influencing my thinking.  The first project involved selecting 50 words and 50 images which would refine and underpin all the subsequent creative practice.  My collection clearly indicated that I wanted to look at something to do with landscape or time or poetry or Alfred Watkins or spirituality or Wales or folklore or toponomy (place names) or maps or walked journeys.  I wonder what I would have added to the list if I hadn’t been limited to 50 words and 50 images!

An early incarnation of the 50 words and 50 images board

The early part of 2017 saw me abandon my intention to use felt making as the major craft technique.  That may sound calm and considered but let me tell you it was anything but at the time.  Casting around for other ways to make ‘stuff’ – what the ever-patient course leader Delyth Done called ‘craft outcomes’ – I tried everything from papermaking to pressing flowers.  By the end of term I was drifting into a state of panic which only receded when over the Easter break I returned to my default setting.  I put on my walking boots and headed out to the hills.  April saw me back in Hereford quietly confident that I was – quite literally – on the right track.

The MA project takes shape

I suspected however that quiet confidence wasn’t going to be enough.  Luckily, in June I was given the directions to find the next stop on my journey.  Reading Pete Mosley’s book The Art of Shouting Quietly and having four days tuition from him made a massive difference to the way in which I approached the rest of my time as a student at Hereford.  You can read more about my thoughts in the previous blog and eventually in the book which I intend to write about integrating multiple strands of creative practice (I bet you can’t wait!).  Perhaps I should have spent more of the summer months making ‘stuff’ – I know a lot of my fellow students did.  Instead I walked, ran and generally explored the ancient tracks of Glamorgan, subconsciously developing the ideas, theories and concepts which would form the basis of my final project.

Carn yr Hyrddod

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent that “time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” I beg to differ.  October 2017 was more doubly so.  I don’t think I’ve ever known time disappear so quickly as the autumn months of last year.  Having got my panic and stress out of the way in the Spring and having had a shot of self-belief and confidence in the Summer, I strolled calmly through the tempest which passes for the final term of an MA.

‘Stuff’ aka mixed media postcard

I sketched, I wrote poetry, I stitched and best of all, I researched and wrote.  Even though photography is an anathema to me, I took advice from the talented and generous Ruth and Oli Cameron Swan on things like light and framing the landscape.  I got up early one morning to take some snapshots of my chosen location and considered them good enough to use them as illustrations for my dissertation.

Mynydd y Gaer

The last hurdle to overcome was to convince lecturers Del and Lisa that my work would need to be exhibited in a very particular way.  Thanks to the blind faith of them both, this was done and my final project ‘Lingering Fragments’ combines all of the 10 original ideas which were on my 50 words and 50 images board back in October 2016.  It was then that I first announced that I intended to use the MA to “map both the physical and the metaphysical landscape”.  At the time I had absolutely no idea what I meant but somewhere down deep inside, the creative bit of me knew exactly what needed to be done.

Photograph by Oli Cameron Swan

If you want to see more of the MA in Contemporary Crafts exhibition, it’s open until 31st January 2018 at the College Road Campus.  Details of opening times here .