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’.

Edward Thomas 1

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.

Edward Thomas 2

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.

Edward Thomas 4

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.

SAMSUNG CSC

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.

Edward Thomas 3

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.

SAMSUNG CSC

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.

SAMSUNG CSC

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.

SAMSUNG CSC

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

Advertisements

Moral Compass (Loving you, I need to make a difference)

Happy New Year!

Many apologies for the radio silence over the last couple of months but I have continued being busy, busy, busy…

MP1

Machine stitched World map and compass, painted with tea.

Today, I was working with a number of AWAS (All We Are Saying, Artists for Peace) colleagues hanging a new exhibition at Gateshead Civic Centre. The star attraction is the Peace Blanket but there are some fantastic pieces in the exhibition and photos will follow over the next week or so of the new hang. the exhibition is running from 15th January until 26th February 2016.

MP2

Hand beaded compass.

As I was unable to use my original AWAS pieces in this new exhibition (as my three war poets have been at the Customs House Drawing? inspired exhibition), I have created a new piece over Christmas called Moral Compass.

MP3

Compass painted with fabric inks and seed stitched.

My new piece is inspired by my children and the need to care for them, as any other parent and carer across this mad World. As you will all be aware of the terrible positions many desperate parents have been put in trying to keep their family safe and the measures they will take. We would all do the same to protect those we loved dearly.

MP4

Compass further seed stitched, including gold and silver threads.

Starting with a play on words, I was drawn to the idea of navigating the World geographically but also spiritually and emotionally.

MP6

Detail of the hand embroidered poem.

Once I had decided on the composition of the piece, it was a fun and relaxing piece to work on.

MP7

Moral Compass detail.

The text on the piece reads:

Loving you, I need to make a difference

Make a World for you to grow up

A place of joy and happiness

A World where people care.

 

Loving you, I need to make a difference

For a World as beautiful as ours

Where life is sacred and respected

A World for us to share.

MP8

Finished compass internal beading.

I look forward to showing you soon, the full exhibition shortly, once the last pieces are hung and the labels placed – it was looking fantastic when I left today and the many people walking through the exhibition seemed to really enjoy interacting with each of the pieces.

MP10

Moral Compass finished and on display at Gateshead Civic Centre as part of the new exhibition.

 

 

 

 

Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918, hand stitched portrait.

As part of my series of portraits of poets who died during the First World War, I have just completed my third hand stitched portrait. This portrait is of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Rosenberg came from a deprived, working class background. His parents were pacifists who had fled from Lithuania so that his father could avoid conscription to the Russian Army, first moving to Bristol then onto the East End of London. He was the eldest son of Orthodox Jews and “for his part Rosenberg claimed that Jewishness gave him and his fellow Jewish artists ‘that which nothing else could have given'”. (Jean Moorcroft Wilson, ‘The Making of a Great War Poet’, page 3.)

'Daughters of War' detail.

‘Daughters of War’ detail.

Rosenberg was a painter and a poet, he attended the Slade School of Art and trained as an engraver. Due to his background, he was automatically enlisted to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment (a Bantam regiment) as a Private rather than as an Officer, which doing jobs such as a stretcher bearer gave him more of a gritty reality of war.

Daughters of War

Daughters of War

Within this portrait, I have used hand stitched references to his poetry and his life. A number of his poems I found very pictorial and as I was reading his biography by Jean Moorcroft Wilson as preparation for the portrait, I was noting ideas for imagery. One such poem was ‘Daughters of War’, which drove my I need to find a way to illustrate these ‘spirits’ taking the souls of the dead and dying soldiers to be their partners. I stitched frenzied figures dancing, with a section of the poem hand stitched around.

The figures of the Daughter of War, also symbolise the soldiers who also dance around a flame in ‘Louse Hunting’. This poem depicts some of the terrible issues the soldiers had to put up with day to day, besides fighting in a war.

Detail from portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

Detail from portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

 ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’  and ‘In the Trenches’  were two poems which I have also used to aid the composition of this portrait. ‘In the Trenches’ talks of a poppy at the top of a parapet, not far from the barbed wire of no man’s land, and the terrible aftermath of a shell with the poppy strewn on the floor.

Detail from portrait, poppy on the parapet of the trenches.

Detail from portrait, poppy on the parapet of the trenches.

I have included imagery of Whitechapel Library where, before the war, Rosenberg spent many evenings with his fellow artists and poets, in this portrait it is in the space of no man’s land exists and he will never return to.

Rosenberg died at dawn on the 1st April, 1918 during a German raiding party but his body was not recovered until the 16th April near Arras. His war poetry is now considered to be some of the finest from the First World War.

 

 

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), stitched portrait

Rupert finished

Framed, finished hand stitched portrait of Rupert Brooke.

I have today finished my portrait of Rupert Brooke, an English poet, who died during the First World War. He is famous for writing five War Sonnets, including The Soldier and I have hand stitched a section of this poem around the map of the World, as British soldiers died and were buried across the World.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England…”

I have also chosen to include a section of an earlier poem also in this portrait. The poem is called The Beginning, a poem which I have always found moving. Below you can see a close-up of Rupert’s tie, which I hand stitched the poem onto.

Rupert tie close-up

Detail from the poem ‘The Beginning’, hand stitched poetry.

Within the portrait, there are elements of symbolism: the olive leaves to represent the olive grove where Rupert was buried in Skyros; the lilac flowers and leaves which play part of the setting in The Old Vicarage, Grantchester; hollyhocks were found in a photograph of Rupert whilst he was convalescing and the yellow hibiscus flowers symbolise the poem Tiare Tahiti.

Rupert Brooke flowers

Hollyhocks and hibiscus flowers.

The portrait is now to be framed and I have started to plan my portrait of Wilfred Owen, as I aim to create a series of portraits of First World War Poets. I am looking forward to working on his portrait as he spent many years living in Shrewsbury, where I come from and it will be interesting to research his background as well as read again through his poems.