Edward Thomas (1878-1917), hand stitched portrait.

I have been working on this portrait for far too long and I had dearly wished to have had it completed for the 100th Anniversary of his death, at the Battle of Arras, on the 9th April, 1917. My only excuse is that life got in the way, as it does…

The portrait is part of my series of portraits of First World War poets who died during the war: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and finally Edward Thomas. I work by spending a lot of time reading and researching about the person first, as I like my portraits to have biographical elements in them, so that you ‘read’ the picture – not just ‘look’.

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The beginning of my Edward Thomas portrait and research material.

I write copious notes whilst researching, noting influences, interests, where the subject lived, loves, past times etc. I also spend a lot of time reading their poetry, to help me develop an idea of who the person really was and what I feel would be important in the portrait.

With Edward Thomas, it was his love of the countryside, how it influenced his writing, for a long time writing prose and being a major author of books about England. Later, through the encouragement of his great friend, the American Poet, Robert Frost, he turned to writing poetry.

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Stage 2 of Edward Thomas portrait, with the map of the Battle of Arras on the day that he died, stitched in the background.

This love of the English countryside and what it meant to Thomas, was one of the reasons he choose, finally, to sign up to fight in the First World War. He didn’t need to, he was older (39 when he died), but through his poems – three of which I have stitched sections into his portrait – go someway to explain why he decided to go (first and last verse below):

For these 

An acre of land between the shore and the hills,

Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,

The lovely visible earth and sky and sea

Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

……

For these I ask not, but, neither too late

Nor yet too early, for what men call content,

And also that something may be sent

To be contented with, I ask of Fate.

 

This poem was written on the day he decided to sign up, much to his wife Helen’s great distress.

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Edward Thomas portrait, detail of ‘tea’ painting into the areas of ‘fields’.

As you can see from the photos above, my portrait of Thomas, has the battle plans stitched representing the Battle of Arras on the 9th April, 1917. The different vertical lines, show the different stages: red dotted line is the front line, then there is (difficult to see in the photos) the blue, green, brown and black lines. There are also the infrastructure elements of the area, including the roads, railway lines and settlements.

I thought, once laid out and stitched onto the portraits background, the lines from the map resembled the layout of English patchwork fields as seen from the sky, which is how I developed the imagery. Linking back to Thomas’s love of the countryside.

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Edward Thomas, portrait detail of the compass.

As part of the map design, I decided to use a large compass, symbolising Thomas’s own inner moral compass but also reflecting upon his writing before the war Also linked to the compass imagery: he helped train fellow soldiers to read maps, he ‘read’ the aerial photographs and his last post was on the Observation Post, where he died.

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Working on the portrait at the BBC 3 Free Thinking Festival this year.

Besides sewing partial sections of Thomas’s three poems: For These, The Sun Used to Shine and There Was A Time; I have also stitched a small section of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No 73, as Thomas was re-reading his poetry and had a small book of them, which his wife had given him, in his pocket when he died.

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Edward Thomas portrait, detail of the poem ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ – a poem about his walks with Robert Frost.

I have also included abstract representations of some of the flowers he loved and wrote about, including tansy and old man’s beard. These his wife took to his grave to plant, with cuttings from their garden.

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Edward Thomas, portrait detail showing embroidered abstractions of the tansy flower.

This portrait holds many elements and reflections upon Thomas’s complex character. Hopefully it will intrigue and inspire the viewer to read and find out more about one of our much loved writers of the 20th Century.

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Finished portrait of Edward Thomas, stretched, pinned and ready for the framers.

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Final Day of Artist Residency at Bergby Konstcenter

The past two weeks, working as Artist in Residence at Bergby Konstcenter, has been very inspiring, productive, thought provoking and down right good fun! As you will have seen through the last 13 posts, the arts centre itself is a beautiful and inspirational place, based in an idyllic part of rural Sweden but also in easy access of Stockholm, Uppsala and other fantastic places to visit.

Visitors to the exhibition were welcomed with cake!

Visitors to the exhibition were welcomed with cake, as part of an afternoon tea party!

The last day of the exhibition was busy with visitors, many taking part and making ‘Green Pledges’ for me to sew into mini pennants when I return to England – written in Swedish and English.

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Afternoon tea party to celebrate the final day of the residency, organised by Helen and John.

As part of the residency, it had always been planned to parade the larger pennants up into the Bergby woods and hang them with the ‘Green Pennants’ as the closing part of the exhibition. This seemed only fitting, as it is an environmentally charged work about the planet and our job as ‘caretaker’s’ of it.

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Getting ready to parade the pennants to the woods…

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On parade.

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Deeper into the woods…

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‘Sea Juggernaut’ pennant.

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Hanging up the ‘Life giving bee’ pennant in the trees.

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‘Life giving bee’, ‘Haxors Trosor’ and ‘Sea Juggernaut’ pennant hanging in the trees at Bergby woods.

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Me, about to start hanging up the ‘Green Pledges’.

Once the larger pennants had been hung, we then hung the ‘Green Pledges’ which had been made so far as part of this environmental art project. Most of these pieces had been pledges by people from Newcastle, but there were also a few new ones from Sweden.

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‘Green Pledges’ hanging in the Bergby woods.

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More detailed view of some of the ‘Green Pledges’.

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‘Green Pledges’ blowing in the wind.

Besides fueling and developing new ideas, working as Artist in Residence at Bergby Konstcenter, talking to Helen and John,  and to the visitors to the exhibition, it has made me realise that I don’t want to finish this project but to continue with the ideas and ethos which has evolved from my time in Sweden. I have always fully intended to finish the now 50 plus ‘Green Pledges’ and to exhibit them in other places but I also wish to encourage more people to be part of this project and to either in writing make a pledge and/or make it into a textile piece which can be hung side by side with the others. Within each of these pledges, people – young and old – have raised important environmental issues and thought about how they can help address them in a small way.

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‘Green Pledges’ flying from a Suffolk bridge following my return to England.

I would like to thank Helen, John and their lovely family, who made us all for so welcome and comfortable in their arts centre and home, and for giving me this fantastic opportunity to be part of their work.

Artist Residency Day 13 at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

In the last few days whilst my ‘Häxors Trosor’ exhibition has been open, many of my Swedish visitors have also been keen to make their ‘Green Pledge’. During this time I have also been busy making more from the list of pledges I brought from Newcastle.

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Visitors to Bergby Konstcenter making green pledges.

I have been using local resources to make some of the pledges, including milk cartons, plastic bread and chocolate wrappers. Helen and John the artists who run Bergby Konstercenter have also made a pledge to be hung with the others.

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‘I am making a compost in my garden’.

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‘Here I write my solemn pledge to grow and eat organic veg.’

Visitors to the exhibition seemed to really enjoy looking at the craftsmanship in the environmental textile pennants, from the heavy embroidery to intensively worked beading and the sentiment in the poetry. It was extremely heartening to hear the very sincere feedback.

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A local bee keeper and her daughter looking at the ‘ Life giving bee’ embroidery.

Talking to the visitors, asking them to also make a ‘green pledge’ has made me really think about taking this project so much further. The exhibition of the work produced during the residency is going to Gateshead Old Town Hall in September and October but I feel I would like to continue encouraging people to make pledges, so that the number of pledges made grows past the 50 we have so far.

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‘I will eat less dairy and milk.’

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‘I will recycle more’.

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‘I will try to raise awareness with my friends about the issues of sea creatures’, by Rosie age 13.

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Visitors to the exhibition.

If you would like to be a part of this project, please get in touch. You can just write a green pledge which I will make for you or you can make your own to form part of the growing numbers of green pledges made so far.

Residency Day 11 -exhibition openning day!

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Bergby Konstcenter.

After lots of work, the ‘Häxors Trosor’ exhibition is ready to open. With over 36 ‘ Green Pledges’ made so far by over 20 people, three large textile pieces,  4 environmental sculptures and 4 painted artworks, plus the ‘Young Artist’s’ gallery with over 40 pieces on display. All responding to the challenges which face the environment today.

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Häxors Trosor embroidery.

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‘Life giving bee’, embroidery.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

 

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Optical Telegragh – Imaginary Messages.

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‘ Sea Juggernaut’, embroidery.

I shall blog the ‘Young Artist’s’ gallery separately as it is part of the two week ‘Digital Detox’ the children have been having!

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Watercolour and pen pictures of local birds.

 

So far, the exhibition has been very well attended but I must get around to taking photos!!

Residency Day 9 -new ‘Green Pledges’.

Before I came out to Bergby Konstcenter in Sweden, I had asked people who had visited my studio in Newcastle if they would like to make a ‘Green Pledge’ and I would make them to hang with the others in the exhibition in Sweden.

Here are some new pledges which have been made:

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‘I will encourage bees into my backyard’.

These new pledges have been made using resources I had at hand in Sweden including plastic bread bags (the tassels above) to milk cartons ( the patchwork below).

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I will stop eating beef.

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I will grow my own fruit and vegetables.

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I will turn off the lights.

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This one contains a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.’

All of the ‘ Green Pledges’ are now up in the exhibition, already more new pledges are being made. I hope to go and hang them all up in the woods this weekend! Then I shall send photos to all the people who have been involved in the project so far…

Residency days 7 & 8, at Bergby Konstcenter.

Sunday and Monday have been very intensive sewing days, like all my pieces for my residency, the ‘Sea Juggernaut’ has been very heavily worked.

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Reverse side of ‘Sea Juggernaut’ – a sperm whale.

This piece represents the issues facing creatures living in our seas: pollution (chemical and waste), sound pollution, over fishing, climate change etc. Over the years many whales have died on beaches across the world due to these environmental issues and this year, 18 sperm whales washed up on beaches in Germany. When they were autopsied, they were found to have in their stomachs: 43 foot of shrimp nets, plastic parts from car engines, even buckets inside them, as well as many other unusual objects. They were young whales who had died from heart failure.

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‘ Sea Juggernaut’, beaded, machine and hand embroidered textile hanging at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

The textile piece I have been making whilst at Bergby Konstcenter is heavily beaded and embroidered. It also has lots of ‘found’ objects seen into it, to highlight the disposal of waste from our over consumption. In the textile piece I have sewn in items such as plastic nets used for packaging fruit, items found on the floor such as a tiny ships wheels and anchor buttons!

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Mini ship’s wheel found on the floor outside a local ‘Loppis’.

Within the piece I have embroidered and beaded creatures of the deep, plus also loosely beaded the sea, these are both to represent real and synthetic things found in the sea (like microbeads used in cosmetics).

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Detail showing beaded and embroidered sea creatures as well as stiched poetry.

Each sea creature is unique and took many hours of sewing. One, I have also linked to flowers found in Carl Linnaeus’s garden, as I was keen to make links to this great Swedish scientist who was the first to use the Latin classification system for plants and animals. Within each of these pieces, the animals latin name is also stiched into the picture.

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Detail of beaded sea creature.

Each of the pieces made as part of the ‘Häxors Trosor’ (witches knickers) residency, work on many levels and as part of this piece ( and the others) a poem is stitched through:

Sea Juggernaut 

 

Dive down deep, deep down

Where the nocturnal day or night light

Eclipses the sea juggernaut.

Though, the salty sea stars

Still shine spiral bright.

 

Dive down deep, deep down

In search of balloon bursting, rich tasting

Stringy limbed squid

Sea Juggernaut penetrates past

To wrestling octopus hid .

 

Dive down deep, deep down

To find a pea souper, stomach filler

Of man’s eternal waste,

An all you can eat sea buffet,

Of gut corroding, life stealing bait.

 

July 2016

 

Residency Day 5 – The Loppis

I’ve already mentioned how great the Swedish ‘ Loppis’ is – a second hand shop which you find on the side of the road. But Helen and John had told me about a really big one which is about 10 minutes away from Bergby Konstcenter. As I am now at the point of thinking about how to ‘ back’ my sea juggernaut picture – and there was only so much fabric I could bring – a place where I could pick up recycled fabric would be great!

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A homage to the Loppis.

The Loppis we visited was inside a large barn – wish I had taken more photos – and an absolute treasure trove. For me, I got excited by the colourful fabrics, handmade lace, embroidered and crochet work. But if you needed any kind of household equipment, toys, clothes, furniture, books, etc, you were sorted and they were all good quality.

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Today’s purchases from the Loppis.

Some of my finds are beginning to make their way into my work.

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Tiny ship’s wheel that I found on the floor outside the Loppis in Bergby.

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Anchor button bought as part of a collection of blue buttons. The anchor is the symbol of this area.

This idea of sensible thrift really works with the whole feel of my ‘Häxors Trosor’ project. Humanity generates so much waste. I found an interesting quote a couple of days ago when making a new ‘ Green Pledge’:

“Earth provides enough to satisfy everyman’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Mahatma Gandhi.

Residency Day 3 at Bergby Konstcenter

An early start down the studio this morning – in by 8 am. The ‘Sea Juggernaut’ piece I am working on is very labour intensive, very much  ‘slow art’. But I do enjoy spending hours beading and embroidering.

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Beaded sea creature.

Later in the morning we went visiting some of the local coastline, islands and artists.

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Albert Engström’s Art Studio

Possibly my favourite place so far is Albert Engström’s artists studio on the edge of the sea at Grisslehamn, which is only about a 5 minute drive from Bergby Konstcenter. It is now  a museum but you can see how the artist  (who I believe died in 1940) felt so inspired to work there. With a beautiful forest walk with glimpses of the sea through the trees, past the unusual optical telegraph communication hub – used in Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries – then onto the sea. There is a beautiful little cove, with islands, sand and rocks to perch on.

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Geoff and Violet sketching by the sea.

We moved on and drove around the islands up to Singö, travelling over pretty bridges, stopping at Singö church.

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Singö church.

On our return to Bergby, we popped in to see a local artist whose gallery was open this week. Her gallery is called ‘Fru Strids’ ( I need to check the translation!) and her name is Kicki Jonsson. There was work by a sculptor called Annika Alm in bronze and carved stone. Violet was very taken with her work. Hopefully, Kicki is going to pop by when my exhibition will be on next week at Bergby, as she is a fellow textile artist working on intricate embroidery.

 

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Entrance to Fru Struts gallery. 

Residency Day 2 at Bergby Konstcenter

The lovely, fresh Swedish country air encouraged a restorative lie in for all! Once we’d breakfasted, the girls and I spent a couple of hours in the studio, the girls painting and I was stitching.

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I am currently working on a larger embroidered and beaded piece of what I call the ‘Sea Juggernaut’ – a sperm whale.

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This piece is heavily worked and I’ve been working on it for a while. Yesterday at the local ‘Loppis’ (a type of second hand shop that you find unexpectedly by the side of the road) I found a very small boat wheel which I have also sewn into my picture!

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Openning up the upstairs of the gallery/studio!

In the afternoon, we popped down to a very pretty town called Norrtalje.

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Norrtalje Old Town.

Besides being a very beautiful town, we also discovered that every year the local council ask artists to create artworks to go in the river, these stay for six months and are taken away, then replaced the following Spring! Such fun! Some very beautiful and some which bring a smile to your face!

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Art sculpture – blame the GPS!

There are also sculptures on or by buildings.

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Whilst also pottering around Norrtalje, I also found some beautiful second hand Swedish fabric, which I might use in my next artwork. Plus on the journey back to the studio, I was delighted to see Marsh Barriers, storks and buzzards!

Late afternoon and early evening was spent in my studio. Such a wonderful place to be creating artworks.

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Day 1 of my Haxors Trosor Artist’s Residency at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

After leaving Suffolk at 1 am, yesterday morning, we were all happy and excited to arrive at Bergby Konstcenter, where we shall be spending two weeks creating, making, demonstrating and displaying artwork produced during that time.

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Bergby Konstcenter

As part of the residency, there is lovely on-site accomodation provides by Helen and John who run the arts centre and gallery.

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After arriving yesterday, I set up the studio and gallery space, hanging up the ‘Green Pledges’ and the pennants made in preparation, plus emptying the two suitcases of art and textiles equipment I had brought.

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Environmental art pennants.

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‘ Green Pledges’

Already, my three girls are also getting into the digital detox, creative spirit and have started using the art materials that have brought. This is a piece below by Kitty, age 11 who has used pastels to draw this lovely picture.

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Pastel picture made by Kitty, age 11.