not for the birds

heron

A heron sat unmoved on his post. He remained stock still as, walking along the canal path in wintery wet Berlin, we chattered right by him – not even turning a beady eye on us.

I imagine a London heron would have risen and flapped away, but this fellow, hunched like a curmudgeonly old watchman, felt entitled and stayed put. It was the first time I’ve visited the city, which has so many rivers, canals and open spaces that a surprisingly wide range of birds live amongst its urban population.

The heron reminded me of one I’d drawn many years previously in my primary-school nature book; the little essay, in rather nice dip-pen writing, is followed by the teacher’s red-pencil comment ‘Quite a good start’.

As it turns out I think she was right. I have been making, drawing and painting birds ever since.

tin bird

I can’t recall that actual pen, but thought of it again seeing the most delightful red ink-well designed by Marianne Brandt in the early ’30s. We’d been to the Bauhaus archive museum in Berlin and I was then interested to catch the penultimate day of the ‘Albers and the Bauhaus’ exhibition at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. I love this little pot, about three and a half inches high, all circles and cylinders, glass and painted metal with a perched wooden top-knot knob, and a groove to lay the stylus.

red ink well

It was certainly a birthday-treat of a weekend – thank you Joe and Rohan; on the island of museums, at the Pergamon, we saw the magnificent lapis-blue glazed Ishtar gates of Nebuchadnezzar, the tiniest ancient Assyrian figures, the first tablets – Sumerian clay – imprinted with their cuneiform writings. We listened to a concert at the Berlin Philharmonie, rode the trains, ate strudel at polished wood-panelled restaurants, felt dizzy in the Reichstag dome, spotted modern classics by the Bauhaus artists, wandered in and out of the labyrinth of Hackesche Hofe courtyards with an old friend and generally enjoyed ourselves in that rich city. I didn’t take one photo I’m afraid.

assyrian gate creature

On the way home I heard that my former brother-in-law Andrew Herxheimer had died unexpectedly after a stroke; having been brought up in Berlin until his early teens he’d been rather on my mind that weekend. He was a remarkable man, a doctor foremost, an original thinker and a courageous doer – a great influence for change and best practice in the medical and pharmacological world. There are, or will be, obituaries, here is oneand here’s an extract from Sophie’s new poem written for her dad’s funeral:

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Susan began her independent textile designing career at the start of her marriage to Andrew. Our show The Art of Pattern came to an end on the 28th; on the last day, I nipped into the museum to remind myself what needed to be de-installed and packed away the next day. As usual there were plenty of visitors with memories and reminiscences to share – always a pleasure to hear; often exhibition-goers wore their special Liberty outfits in honour of the show and I got the extra pleasure of seeing our old designs moving among the exhibits, and sometimes being able to show the wearers the original paintings for the fabrics they’d so lovingly preserved. So – very many thanks to the FTM and Liberty in Fashion.

ftm art of pattern

The next show there, Art Textiles, is up and open and well worth a visit: Marian Clayden’s work is original, luxurious and beautifully made. Her commitment to colour and texture is complete, and the quality sings out.

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The weeks in which it’s showing are dedicated to a Festival of Textiles with lots of fascinating hand-made work on show and many workshops and talks. I plan to be giving one or two – including a paint-your-own-summer-outfit day on the 1st April when we’ll be designing and painting simple boxy calico tops to wear (help will be given for the make!) – details to follow on our website and theirs….

painted jacketHand-painting must be in the air. A jacket I painted a while ago has recently started to attract comment wherever I go.

At the Bradness gallery workshop we spent time exploring mark-making on paper and textiles and then painting lengths to make into lampshades – very successfully I think. And we had the time and space for students, by special request, to concentrate on the theory and practice of hand-painting designs in repeat. It’s rather meticulous work. There are further courses coming up – dates and details here.

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In fact most of my working life has been, and still is, spent making designs for commercial production. Printing in all its forms has a magic and fascination for me, though I myself don’t cut screens or handprint. I don’t have that sort of patience – potato-cuts are about my limit there. But as a designer frequently paid by royalties per yard sold – the more miles printed the better!

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The scale of commercial versus hand-printing is sometimes hard to envisage; here’s a video of a Japanese print machine at work.

This blog was going to be all about birds – it just didn’t quite happen! But here’s the famous 1924 live BBC recording of Beatrice Harrison accompanying a nightingale with her ‘cello to be going on with.

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And I know none of these are nightingales!

painted linen birds

Thanks to Molly, Steve, Knut, Joe and Rohan.

And don’t forget – you can fashion and twirl yourself a very fancy Easter bonnet from one of our gorgeous scarves – there’s a special discount until the end of the month – just enter the code EASTER at the checkout.

easter bonnet

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12 thoughts on “not for the birds

  1. Dear Sarah

    What a lovely blog sharing your inspirations. I went to Berlin two years ago and loved it although I didn’t come across such a wonderful bird. Travel is certain;y the way to experience new ideas and I am off to Lisbon in two weeks.

    I am planning my insect fashion talk for FTM so I will contact you when I know more.

    Best wishes Susan

  2. Oh Sarah1 i am so sorry to hear about Andrew. Thank you telling us. I have a lovely picture of Susan and Andrew’s wedding with lovely Dan Massy, My love to Sophie and all the family
    Pat

  3. Hi Sarah,

    Berlin does look fascinating and you have managed to make it so even more.

    I am sorry to hear about Andrew’s death and concerned one get a stroke out of the blue.

    Have just been to Ted Atkinson’s funeral in Wivenhoe, which was a sad moment
    but all arranged by Clementine, his partner and Jovan, a former student and friend,
    with dignity and charm.

    Hope to see you in London one of these days, especially now the sun is coming out.

    Love Dave and Haze xx

    • thanks David, Andrew had suffered some little strokes – TIAs – before the unexpected larger one that he didn’t survive; but strokes can certainly come out of the blue. sorry to hear about Ted too.
      See you both soon I hope – x

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