It may rain stair-rods or cats and dogs over these isles, but in France it’s frogs, ropes, or lances, depending on the force of the downpour.
We got caught in quite a torrent of cordes – that really soaking type – shopping in the weekly market. Clutching a little hord of purchases – local honeys, brightly coloured plastic hair-combs and some old french stripey linen, sweetly darned – we dripped our way to the café and restored by hot chocolate we scanned the sky for signs of a break in the clouds. The traders were beginning to pack up early as fresh hallebardes forced buyers to scuttle from awning to awning. The traditional way to collect water from the roof in rainy Japan is to direct it down a chain into a holding tank, making a real rope of rain. This building has a curtain of links which also encourage plants to grow up as the water runs down.
These red orchids, or something like them, flowered vibrant in a neighbour’s plot. And on a balmy evening there’s little as nice as a warm walk along the fringe of the sea splishing in the shallow lap of atlantic waves.
In London I visited Oliver’s newly set up The Carpentry Club in Bethnal Green. Open to all it offers space, tools and patient guidance to practice and make woodwork; and for two days a week it operates a Men’s Shed specifically for blokes to meet, have a cuppa and make things. The previous day members of the local play scheme had been building go-carts from salvage; we trundled a couple of them round to the playground, passing bus shelters with built-in insect hotels as we went. The workshop will be open for business during the London Design Festival in September as part of the Maker Mile, so you can pop in, brush up your carpentry skills and make something to take home.
The archaeological remains of the Chapter House of Merton Priory are now to be found beneath the A 24 in Colliers Wood. Dipping into the tunnel from the supermarket carpark we can see the flinty foundations. The Priory itself had been a grand and important building, dismantled during of the dissolution by Henry VIII, who used the stones to build himself a pad in nearby Cheam – Nonsuch Palace.
In Merton, alongside the river Wandle, the site had more recently housed the printworks and calico trenches used by both William Morris and Liberty, and their presences were to be seen at the open day in July. Thinking about our forthcoming part in the Liberty in Fashion exhibition at the FTM I’d remembered some scarf packaging designed by Alastair at the time of the Liberty centenary; but I couldn’t track it down. There in the corner something in a little display cabinet caught my eye: amazingly it was that very peacock-feather packet complete with the famous scarf! And I’m lucky enough to be able to borrow it for our show, The Art of Pattern, opening on October 9th.
Barbara Hepworth’s workshop is in evidence at the exhibition currently at the Tate Britain. Though I found her actual deserted studio rather melancholy when I visited St Ives I enjoyed this exhibition tremendously. I would so love to touch the works; their surfaces seem to invite our hands’ caress, just as the sculptors’ hands worked at the process of revealing a form from within a mass. And on the way home on the bus a noisy little girl looked over at the catalogue open on my lap. She couldn’t take her hands from the image in this lower picture – stroking and stroking it, she was sure it was made of cheese!
Imagine Barbara tackling those gigantic guarea tree trunks sent to her by a friend, making the first chisellings and carvings and smoothings – how? And then, after those intense and massive pieces, I liked the sudden openness of the last room, the re-presenting of the Rietveld Pavilion, with its airy air. Great to see some beautiful Nicholson works too.
The grand stone pillars of Quimper’s St Corentin Cathedral stood solid in the dusk, housing the fading light of the day as it softly flooded through the coloured glass windows high in the granite tracery. We sat and listened to the little choir and orchestra giving us Handel, the soprano’s voice burst floating and swooping in that huge volume of air, lingered and then disappeared, suddenly a memory. We had supper beforehand with friends at their flat right on the cathedral square; in their first winter they’d had the tremendous pleasure of seeing the windows lit from the inside sparkling in the darkness. Sadly austerity has put paid to that for now.
We left for home from the old walled town of St Malo, largely rebuilt after the war, and sailed across the Channel on the warmest, calmest day of my holiday. I wonder why islands excite such curiosity? I remember as a child drawing fantasy islands, including one in the shape of a footprint to illustrate Stevenson’s Treasure Island!
In Birmingham at the NEC the halls were devoted to the skills of piecing and stitching at the Festival of Quilts, and some of the feel of the intricate assembly of many different coloured shapes to make a whole was echoed in those cathedral windows – rather the opposite process to the sculptor’s revelations. Textiles are my ‘thing’ and it’s fascinating to step into a new world, full of fabric-lovers and users. Colour and cleverness were everywhere. Much of the pleasure I get in seeing a sewn and pieced quilt is in the surprising accidents of association. I admit I felt exhausted just comprehending some of the very controlled minutiae of the techniques; though without doubt extremely skilfull, perfection risks dulling creativity. One of the treats of the day was to meet my associates at EQS who are the UK distributors for the Michael Miller Fabrics ranges; and another was to spend time with my twitter friend modflowers and get the chance to discuss further makeries together.
And I’m so looking forward to showing off about some new projects – more MMF fabric, a collaboration with an entirely new made-in-London clothing collection using ethically sourced materials, and some lovely new giftware….but they all remain under wraps at present. But I can tell you that the workshops at Bradness Gallery are all but full (one place left in October) so we’re hoping to run another in the next lovely spring.
I’m planning some new workshops too – one painting flags and banners, and one for children making something to wear – I had a lot of fun experimenting with a young friend of mine recently. Just need to find a London venue…