Out of Chaos…

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Everyone knows chaos is the the starting point for creation. In Andy McKeown’s light show ‘Fractured Light’ chaos was the creation. It filled one of the cavernous warehouse floors of Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury. Multiple projections of coloured lights and Flax Mill images danced on the walls and cast-iron pillars of this eighteenth century prototype of the skyscraper.

I wrote about this historic building way back in 2013 when Friends of the Flax Mill were hosting an open day.  (See Pattern For The Skyscraper ).  The place is vast, and has stood empty for decades waiting for some clever scheme of ‘adaptive re-use’ that will make restoring the building viable. It has ghosts of course – of the many poor children who once provided ‘slave’ labour here. The light show, at least, lifted the spirits after we had toiled round dank, windowless chambers, and up narrow stairwells that reminded me of Tolkein’s Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings. Luckily, we met no orcs.

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For some great exterior shots of the Flax Mill see Jude’s post for last week’s Thursday’s Special, and take a look at Andy McKeown LightWorks.

Daily Post Photo Challenge: Chaos

Bears In Central Park: Who Knew?

Group of Bears by Paul Manship (1889-1966)

There was wall to wall sun when we visited New York in early June a few years ago. In fact it was so hot we spent most of our week there in Central Park trying not to melt. But the full-on sun certainly lit up these magnificent bronze bears. They are affectionately known as ‘The Three Bears’, and may be found at the Pat Hoffman Friedman Playground at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street. The work was gifted to the Park by Samuel N. Friedman in memory of his wife – a fine dedication all round.

You can find out more about  Paul Manship (1885–1966) at this link.

 

Daily Post: Shine

‘Bench’ with a mission

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

Over at Travel Words’ Bench Series 44 Jude is charging us to find a bench with a message or an autumnal theme. This may not  be a bench as such, but it does have a message and a seasonal acorn. Also, along with the inspirational motto, it was designed to provide a perch and meeting point for the town’s passing visitors.

There are four more of these artworks-cum-tuffets sited around the perimeter of Much Wenlock’s Linden Field, the venue for the Wenlock Olympian Games since the 1850s. The works were created in 2012, the year in which the International Olympic Movement acknowledged Much Wenlock’s historical connection to the modern games by naming one of their one-eyed, androgynous mascots ‘Wenlock’.

Anyone remember he/she/it? Perhaps better not to. The mascots were apparently conceived by a committee, and delivered into the world by a company in Telford. The intention was well-meaning: not to make reference to an identifiable ethnicity, gender, or known human disability.

Here on home ground, members of our local William Penny Brookes Foundation decided to mark the town’s Olympics connection by commissioning community sculptor, Michael Johnson, to work with local school children, and Wenlock poet, Paul Francis. Their brief was to celebrate the life and work of the Wenlock Games’  founder, Dr. W P Brookes. If you click on the Michael Johnson link you can see the other four pieces. The designs on the bronze panels were derived from work by the town’s school children.

The frame is stainless steel with  stone side panels and bronze sections on top. Every tuffet has a piece of thought-provoking text, each one relating to William Penny Brookes’ major contributions to the town’s wellbeing.

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I love the idea of them, although I’m not too sure about the weathering capacity of the stone component. I just wish they were sited in places where more locals and visitors might see and appreciate them, and indeed sit on them for a spell: perhaps on the High Street, in the Square, on the Church Green opposite the doctor’s former home.

Anyway, this particular tuffet definitely has a mission to propose. Should you choose to accept it, please note, this tuffet will not self-destruct, but the world might be happier.

I’m thus leaving you with a view down the Linden Walk that borders the field and was planted by Dr. Brookes over a century ago. It is a joy to walk here whatever the weather, and whatever the season. So yes: more trees needed.

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

And here’s the answer, plus a bit of a scandal

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Earlier in the week I wondered what readers might make of this piece of public art, aka the ‘Shrewsbury Slinky’. Many of you picked up on the dinosaur bones, and the allusion to the double helix of DNA, both of which, we are told on the accompanying notice board, did indeed inform the thinking of the architectural designers, Pearce & Lal who conceived the structure. Some of you also guessed, or knew about the Charles Darwin connection.

Anyway, the work is called Quantum Leap, and as the explanatory board also states : “this geo-tectonic piece of sculpture has been designed through the influence of objects and materials central to the development of Darwin’s thought: rock, fossils, zoology…”

It was commissioned originally by Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council to commemorate the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth in 1809, and to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species , both events well worth celebrating. The original cost to the public was expected to be around £200,000. But somehow, between the concept and its physical manifestation, things went awry on the costing front. More of which in a moment.

First, though, here is the man himself, sitting in his armchair outside the old Shrewsbury School, where as a youth he was student boarder. This more traditional tribute in bronze was unveiled in 1897:

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Here you can see the 1897 unveiling. By then the prestigious Shrewsbury School had moved to larger premises across the River Severn, and Darwin’s old school become the town museum and reference library. This photograph is from the Shropshire Museums collection.

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I don’t suppose many know that Charles Darwin was a Shropshire lad, born and brought up in Shrewsbury. If we picture him anywhere at all it is probably voyaging around the world on HMS Beagle (1831-1836), surrounded by a myriad of fascinating specimens, or else lost in deepest thought, unpicking thorny issues on his Thinking Path at Down House, Kent where he lived with his family for the last forty years of his life.

The Darwin family lived on The Mount in Shrewsbury. Darwin’s father was a doctor and financier, and also a free thinker. Charles’ paternal grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, physician, natural philosopher, inventor and leading light of the Midlands Enlightenment. His maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, potter industrialist extraordinaire, and inventor. Both grandfathers were staunch slave trade abolitionists. Darwin thus grew up within the orbit of men for whom it was the norm to challenge and think outside the bounds of convention.

While his mother still lived, Charles and his siblings worshipped at Shrewsbury’s Unitarian Chapel. Charles also went to the preacher’s day school, and by an early age was already absorbed with his own natural history collections. But after Susannah Darwin’s death, Charles and his brother, Erasmus were sent off to board at Shrewsbury School. Later both would go to Edinburgh to study medicine, and Charles apparently spent the year of 1825 acting as apprentice to his father, and treating the poor people of Shropshire.

However, he found medicine dull, and seems to have spent his time in Edinburgh studying marine invertebrates and learning taxidermy from a freed slave called John Edmonstone, a man whose company he much enjoyed. An annoyed parent wisely chose not to press his son into the family profession, but sent him to Christ’s College Cambridge; he would get his degree and become an Anglican minister instead.

But once more Doctor Darwin’s plans for his son foundered. While at Cambridge, Charles continued to pursue his interest in natural history. When he graduated in 1831 he took the chance to embark on a ‘gap year’ to end all gap years, and set sail on HMS Beagle, travelling as the ship’s gentleman naturalist. The planned two year voyage turned into five. The rest, as they say, is history.

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And so back to Quantum Leap, a project that was indubitably inspired by the very best of intentions – to honour the life’s work of a native son. I’ve already mentioned the unsuitable setting, in a cramped little garden between the River Severn and the town’s busy inner ring road. It is not a part of the town where many visitors are likely to find themselves, or even wish to be. But perhaps my main objection is the material. Concrete seems such a rigidly dull substance with which to evoke structures from the natural world. I can also foresee it acquiring a slimy algal coat, which though admittedly a life form, is unlikely to add a life-enhancing effect from the viewer’s point of view. And given all the cuts in Local Authority funding, it seems unlikely that someone will be paid to come along and scrub the thing. Where would you begin?

I’m trying to think, too, what that magician of installation, Anish Kapoor, could do for it, if called on to do some remedial work. I’m imagining something in cast iron here, or in wrought iron, or polished steel. Or even wood. Or perhaps, as Marilyn Armstrong suggests in the comments on So what’s this all about?, people will just hate it so much it will be taken down. My own feeling is that it will simply be forgotten, and that is the worst outcome of all. So much for commemoration.

This brings me to the most shocking aspect of the project. As we headed into the unveiling year of 2009, Shropshire was becoming a Unitary Authority, and the Borough Council passing into obscurity. There followed various problems with the contractors assigned to construct the monument. Costs rocketed. There was a court case. According to press reports there was a chance for the Council to settle the bill when it hit £600,000. They declined. In the end the 2012 accounts revealed that the final cost had amounted to over £1,000,000. As one Labour councillor acidly pointed out, this was considerably more than the cost of Antony Gormley’s epic, acclaimed and truly colossal Gateshead landmark,  Angel of the North.

However you look at it, the final bill is staggering. In the face of austerity measures that have reduced some Shropshire residents to relying on Food Banks, and threatened so many social services, it is appalling to think of so much wasted money. But money aside, the whole enterprise now seems rather sad and silly. The original design concept for Quantum Leap has much to be said for it, but when it comes down to it, public art should serve the public who paid for it. It should be placed where everyone can enjoy it. It should be life-enhancing, spirit-raising, thought-provoking, a piece of wit or wisdom that becomes a point of attraction for locals and visitors alike. In other words, there should be returns on the investment, material and immaterial. It doesn’t of course mean that everyone has to like it. That would be too much to ask.

My other thought is that the town already has its monument to Charles Darwin. They got it right back in 1897. And although the statue might these days seem unadventurous, not to say a bit stuffy, it does at least show us the man – his intelligence, modesty and humanity – qualities that cannot be too highly valued. Not even the town’s incontinent pigeons detract from them. And so christened with bird lime he may be, but Charles Darwin looks a pretty decent old gent. His thinking changed the way we think. It took on superstition, and narrow-mindedness, and continues to challenge the scientific world to explore ever new ways to understand life on the planet. We Salopians can feel justly proud that he is one of ours.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This is a follow up on my post for Paula’s Black & White Sunday theme of sculpture:  So What’s This All About?

So what’s this all about?

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I truly would like to feel more enthusiastic about this monumental piece of public art. I mean I can see it is interesting – in its way – and the more so with the application of some photo editing. This has at least relieved us of the sickly mud-brown colour. Also the cast concrete takes on a little more texture than seems apparent in the original. But perhaps the most serious problem with this sculpture is its setting – squeezed into a little triangle of municipal garden between Shrewsbury town’s inner ring road and the River Severn.

And so given that its siting was down to town councillors, and not to the artist whom they commissioned to do the work at great public expense, I tried approaching the work from different angles. As you can see, it is incredibly well made:

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I even tried including some human interest, but this next shot only added to the sense of crammed in-ness, with too many planters, and a poorly situated  explanatory panel:

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And so what do you think this work is commemorating? (I know that at least one person who reads this blog knows it person). Otherwise, all answers on a postcard to the secret WordPress post box.

Before I go, I will at least tell you that it is something very important, and relates to all of life on this planet, and that all may well be revealed in an upcoming post.

 copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Please also drop in on Black & White Sunday, where this week Paula’s theme is sculpture.

All the colours of the rainbow in the creations of poet-painter Marc Chagall

“My hands were too soft. I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.”

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Noe et l’ Arc-en-ciel       Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice

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Le Paradis     Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice

 

I took these photographs in the Musee National Marc Chagall in Nice. This gallery has to be one of the finest little galleries in the world: the setting, the building and the art fusing in dreamy synergy that captures the humanity, joyousness, and all round good spirits of Marc Chagall. He was a man who created in all media. He saw his work  “not the dream of one people but of all humanity”.

Or as André Breton put it, “under his sole impulse, metaphor made its triumphal entry into modern painting.”

And then there is his use of colour. Picasso probably has the last word on that: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

ROY G. BIV

The Monkeys’ Wedding: where rain meets sun

 

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Photo copyright 2015 Tish Farrell. Art copyright Kathleen Collins Howell

The Monkeys’ Wedding  was my first children’s short story. I wrote it while we were living in Zambia (see Letters from Lusaka 1 & 2) . It was also the first piece of work accepted for publication. This stroke of luck was due to my good friend, artist and illustrator, Kathleen Howell. At the time she was Professor of Children’s Illustration at SUNY Buffalo, and had received several freelance commissions from America’s well beloved children’s magazine group, Cricket.

Unbeknownst to me she had sent a copy of my story to the then Art Director. He liked it and, after much editing, I received a contract. Time passed. Quite a lot of time in fact. Things, as I was to learn from future contracts, can move slowly at Cricket Magazine. They like to do their best by their writers and illustrators, and in each monthly edition of their magazines, combines submissions that complement one another, or follow a theme. In the meantime, Kathy said she would like to illustrate it, and finally in 2001, some 7 years after I’d written it, the story saw the light of day in Spider Magazine. It was also given a re-run in 2009.

The thing that sparked the story in the first place was the colloquial expression ‘a monkeys’ wedding’. It is possibly of Zulu origin, and I found it in my South African Pocket Oxford Dictionary, the only dictionary I could find to buy in Lusaka. (There were hardly any books in Zambia in the early 1990s).  The  phrase means simultaneous sunshine and rain, and I was so pleased to discover it, I set about creating my own folk story to explain it.

And so evolved the humorous tale of the monkey chief who was about to marry off his daughter, but made the tactical error of inviting everyone except Rain to the wedding.  Rain, in a big sulk, then drenches the forest for days. Something has to be done, or the wedding will be a wash-out.

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Copyright 2001 Spider Magazine: August 2001 and September 2009

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It’s interesting re-reading the text some 20 years on. I probably wouldn’t write it quite this way now, but Kathy’s illustrations are still brilliant. The top photo is some of her original artwork done with mixed media collage.

And now here’s a photo of an actual ‘monkeys’ wedding’ taken at Hunter’s Lodge, Kiboko, in Kenya during a sudden brief and sunny deluge. This place, with its many vervet monkeys, was also a source of inspiration for the story. Aaah. Happy days of finding monkeys under the bed, or rifling through my bag.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells  Please go here for more bloggers’ rainy renditions in the One Word Photo Challenge

Reflected glory? Putting myself in the picture

P1000801 P1000806 - Copy Well it had to be done, didn’t it – that selfie. Besides which, my hat matched the reflected paintings. Anyway, this is the wonderful work of  Jacob Chandler Shropshire Artist and Sculptor, and it’s on show at Jenny Gunning’s  gallery, Ironbridge Fine Arts and Framing Limited.

Jenny has recently moved into these new premises, one of the nineteenth century warehouses on the banks of the River Severn in Ironbridge, home of the world’s first cast iron bridge (see previous post). It’s actually on the site of another world wonder, the Merrythought Teddy Bear Factory, the family-run business that since the 1930s has been making the best bears ever. But that story will have to wait.

For now please enjoy Jacob Chandler’s Layers of the Mind complete with passing strange woman in a hat. Also, if you can, visit Jenny’s gallery. Not only does it show the work of local artists, but Jenny and her father, David Gunning are both famous print makers. You can see their latest work there, and buy one of David Gunning’s bespoke printing presses.

This week at Lost in Translation Paula’s Thursday’s Special challenge is reflection.

 

#JacobChandler  #JennyGunning  #DavidGunning

One of my treasures ~ introducing Kapp 1890-1978

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I stumbled on this print almost literally. It was years ago and I was treading warily around a rackety riverside warehouse in Shrewsbury. The place called itself an Antiques Centre, and as I climbed the stairs to the ‘showroom’ the chances of sudden building collapse loomed large. Having reached the first floor, I remember creeping around on tiptoe, trying not to challenge the timbers. So it was, in mid negotiation with  uneven floor boards, my hand reached down to an old picture frame. It was propped against a cardboard box underneath a table. When I turned it round, there it was – a caricature of The Rt. Hon. Viscount Cave, signed by Kapp.

I’d never heard of either the subject or the artist, but who cared. It was love at first sight – the colours, the ‘cut-out’ two-dimensional form,  that two-thirds frowning, pasty face of the viscount.  The whole thing made me smile, inside and out. Best of all, the price tag said £2.50. What luck – to find something so pleasing for such a paltry sum.

My tracking down of information about the work and its creator has continued off and on ever since. I discovered first (and long before the days of Google) that my ‘print’ is an offset lithograph, and one of a series called Ten Great Lawyers  created in 1924 for The Law Journal. I also learned that Edmond Xavier Kapp was an artist, and caricaturist of note, born in London in 1890, and a Cambridge graduate.

I came across him again when reading poet, Edmund Blunden’s World War 1 memoir Undertones of War. Kapp, already well known for his drawings and short stories before the war, was serving on the Western Front, a 2nd Lieutenant, in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He provided some of Blunden’s lighter moments in the trenches. Blunden himself was only twenty years old at the time of their encounters, and newly arrived at the Front:

Second in command, Edmond Xavier Kapp appeared, ready with scribbles and charcoal drawings not unworthy of his reputation as a satirical artist…[He] was a lively hand to have in a dugout; his probably imaginary autobiography, peeping out at intervals and enriched by other versions, was also a diversion; but one day he was called away to an interview with the Colonel, and soon he disappeared into the irrelevant air of GHQ, far beyond the stars.

Kapp was twenty-four when he enlisted and, until his promotion to Intelligence and the rank of Captain on General Haig’s Staff, had withstood three nightmare years in the trenches. In Time Will Tell: Memoirs  his first wife Yvonne Kapp says that he witnessed the wipe out of his own platoon twice over, and never was able to lay the ghosts of lost comrades.

That he survived at all is remarkable. Because he spoke German fluently, he was sent out alone to occupy a dug-out in No Man’s Land, the objective being to interrogate German prisoners as they were brought in. On one occasion, in the bloody chaos of shifting lines, Command forgot he was out there. Under constant bombardment and gas attacks, he survived for several weeks on tins of bully beef. When he was finally rescued he was deaf and half blind, and almost dead, and thereafter spent several months in hospital. Later, he apparently relished his senior officers’ less than whole-hearted commendation of his military service: “his zeal sometimes outruns his discretion.”

In the light of all he must have endured, and in what he described so sparely as those “five long dreadful years”, it is astonishing that he went on to serve as Official War Artist in the World War Two. Between the wars he produced many drawings of well known personalities, both for periodicals and exhibitions. He also ventured into oil painting after working with American artist, Maurice Sterne. Then in the 1930s he deployed his lithographic skills to produce portraits of the twenty five members of The League of Nations, and this led to his meeting and friendship with Picasso who sat for him in 1938.

Kapp himself disliked being called a caricaturist . He considered himself to be a “character-portraitist”, producing works of psychological rather then satirical intent (Chris Beetles Gallery ). And perhaps, now  that I look again at The Hon. Viscount Cave, this is the quality I most admire. After all, the stuffy old gent is rendered with such gentle humour. It speaks, I think, of the artist’s humanity, and of a good, and kindly eye.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Post inspired by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Melon

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