Portrait to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Death of War Poet Isaac Rosenberg

This weekend is the sees the 100th Anniversary of the death of war poet and artist, Isaac Rosenberg. Over the last few years, I have been working on a series of portraits of poets who died during the First World War: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and here are photographs, with a bit of background about my portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg

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.)

Isaac Rosenberg

‘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, he therefore found that doing jobs such as a stretcher bearer gave him more of a gritty reality of war and this is reflected in his poetry.

Isaac Rosenberg - 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 them.
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.

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.

Isaac Rosenberg poetry poppy

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

I have also included imagery of Whitechapel Library where, before the war, Rosenberg spent many evenings with his fellow artists and poets, in this portrait Whitechapel Library is positioned in the place of no man’s land, where he would die.

Isaac Rosenberg, framed portrait at the Sage Free Thinking Festival, March 2018.

Framed portrait of Isaac Rosenberg at this years Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival, at the Sage Gateshead, March 2018.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Charles Darwin portrait, finished.

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The Man from The Mount (Charles Darwin)

My textile portrait of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), is part of my series of ‘Cultural Hero’ portraits, including William Morris and W. G. Grace.

I chose Charles Darwin to be part of my series for many reasons including: he was a very cool naturalist, he had a great beard, he was born in Shrewsbury (where I am from) and he had a very interesting life! Simply, he has always been a hero of mine.

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Charles Darwin portrait, first phase.

When I am working on a portrait, I never have a finished overall plan of how it is going to look. It evolves, over time as I am working on it. I tend to do quite a lot of background reading and like to find out more about the person, where they lived, so that I can drop in links to their background in the portrait. So when I first start, I machine sew the initial portrait onto white cotton, then paint it with tea!

Phase 2 Charlie

Charles Darwin, with hand stitched background.

The background was drawn on and hand sewn, it includes images of the Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice butterfly which he found 1834; Scymnobius Galapagoenis found in the Galapagos in 1831; the Vermillion Flycatcher, also found in the Galapagos and sundew heads, which are found near where he was born at The Mount, in Shrewsbury.

Phase 3 Charlie

Working on a tapestry frame, hand sewing and painting the details.

Once the lines are stitched, I start to paint in with acrylic whilst working on a tapestry frame. This keeps the textile portrait taught, as I am not working on a canvas and the fabric would very easily start to shrink and stretch in all the wrong places.

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Vermillion Flycatcher, Charles Darwin portrait detail.

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Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice. Found by Charles Darwin in Chile in 1834.

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Detail showing the Scymnobius Galapagoenis (the Ladybug Beetle) and Sundew heads, embroidered onto Charles Darwin’s cloak.

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Detail from Charles Darwin portrait.

Since finishing my portrait of Charles Darwin, I have started again working on my portrait of the War Poet, Edward Thomas, which I hope to get finished by the middle of March, ready for the anniversary of his death during the First World War, on April 9th, 1917.

 

About ‘obsesivcreativ’

Rupert Brooke poet

Hand and machine embroidered portrait of war poet Rupert Brooke

Louise is a Newcastle based textile and three dimensional artist making unique pieces, working with traditional north east techniques such as hooky and proggy matting, as well as spinning, quilting, patchwork, embroidery, felting, batik as well as upholstery and lino print.

William Morris

Hand and machine embroidered portrait of war poet Rupert Brooke

Louise is particularly influenced by nature and environmental issues. Inspiration and influences include the Arts and Crafts movement, costume of all eras (but particularly military, late C20 and theatrical), contemporary quilting and fibre arts in the US, subversive crafting and textiles.

AWAS chair 1

Hand and machine embroidered portrait of war poet Rupert Brooke

A constant maker, Louise sources materials from across the country. She is keen to react against mass production and uniformity.

Recently, Louise was very pleased to be involved in the exhibition of Grayson Perry’s ‘A Vanity of Small Differences’ at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. Louise worked with local community groups to create three large textile wall hangings in response to his work, these hung alongside the exhibition.

'The First Aspirational Tea Party' made with young mums for Grayson Perry's  'The Vanity of Small Differences' exhibition in Sunderland.

‘The First Aspirational Tea Party’ made with young mums for Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ exhibition in Sunderland.

Louise believes that passing on skills is very important and welcomes commissions involving school and community work, teaching textile crafts in formal and informal settings.

'All We Are Saying' blanket for Peace.

‘All We Are Saying’ blanket for Peace.

This year, with her family, Louise is heading to Sweden for a two week artists residency at the Bergby Konstcenter. The underlying theme for her residency is about the environment and she have come up with the working title of ‘Häxors Trosor’ for the residency. This is Swedish for ‘Witches Knickers’! This is a humorous term for the shreds of plastic bags stuck in trees and bushes which are such a common sight in our landscapes.  These are symbol of the sad condition of our planet, much of which is a result of a throw-away culture, with rubbish found dumped in beautiful landscapes, plastic floating in the seas and chemicals seeping into the planet’s ecosystems. Watch how the project develops here and on instagram.

Portrait project with Hadrian Primary School

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This picture is made by an extremely talented Year 4 pupil.

 

As part of the Drawing? exhibition at the Customs House in South Shields, Illustrated Stitch I was asked to work with a local school looking at the way I work, developing my portraits using drawing and stitching.

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I worked with 12 children aged between 5 and 11, who had been chosen as they all needed extra help developing their communication skills.

Through the discussion about the artworks in the exhibition, looking at how my portraits also used words and imagery drawn from a persons life, the children were encouraged to think about themselves and how they would like to be represented, what images they would use.

The two pictures above are made by young identical twins, one was interested in nature and bugs, the other robots.

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We worked together during two, one hour sessions, working with six children at a time, to ensure each child felt they had my absolute attention and I could help them throughout.

The children had photographs of themselves to work from. We worked on natural calico, drawing out the portrait, looking at scale, then discussing which areas the children would like to hand stitch to create extra detail.

On the second week, the children added more colour using pastels and painting parts of the fabric with tea.

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Once the children had completed their portraits, I finished they off by hand quilting sections of the portrait and creating a ‘frame’ with the stitching.

The portraits have all worked out beautifully, the colours and tones they have chosen, as well as the lovely lines they have used to draw out not only their wonderful portrait but also little key images which tell you a little bit more about themselves, are delightful. Such a fabulously talented group of very young people!

W. G. Grace portrait – work in progress.

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the death of one of England’s greatest amateur cricket players: W. G. Grace. To commemorate this and my families love of cricket, I decided to make a portrait of the great man. The portrait is not quite finished yet, there are still a lot of little details I wish to stitch further into it. Symbols and visual metaphors which honour and celebrate his life as an outstanding cricketer but also as a physician will be embroidered into his waistcoat and shirt.

Since my last posting on W.G, here are some more images of his progression:

Hand stitched 'cricket' themed 'wallpaper' background.

Hand stitched ‘cricket’ themed ‘wallpaper’ background.

Building up the cricket wallpaper background.

Building up the cricket wallpaper background.

Lapel badge, symbolising W. G. Grace's career as a physician.

Lapel badge, symbolising W. G. Grace’s career as a physician.

W. G. Grace portrait, almost finished - though not quite!

W. G. Grace portrait, almost finished – though not quite!

Over the next couple of weeks, I shall be finishing a couple of other projects off for delivery but hope to find time to do the finishing touches to the portrait, ready to be framed for Ouseburn Open Studios at the end of November.

Current projects

Currently, I am trying to juggle a number of projects, which in an ideal world I’d be able to finish them all asap!

Final 'layout' decision on the Peace Blanket - ready to be sewn together.

Final ‘layout’ decision on the Peace Blanket – ready to be sewn together.

The ‘All We Are Saying’ Peace Blanket is coming on well. Today, I finished hand sewing all the knitted and crocheted pieces together – which we decided will be placed on the first row. All the other fabric rows have now been sewn together, so tomorrow I can piece all the verticals, ready for it’s backing and tabs for hanging.

W. G. Grace portrait- work in progress.

W. G. Grace portrait- work in progress.

I am also hoping to crack on with my portrait of W. G. Grace this week, too, as he was put on hold for the World Mental Health Day hanging (below). As you can see, I have been having a great time with his beard – very different (hadn’t noticed the different ‘textures’ beards had until now!!) to William Morris’s which I completed earlier this year.

W. G. Grace's beard!

W. G. Grace’s beard!

On Friday, I ran a workshop as part of World Mental Health Day in Cullercoats, North Tyneside. The day was for all members of the community and I was working with people to create a large hanging which will be used for similar events in the future. Everyone was invited to sew or design a square to go in the hanging, expressing their thoughts and feelings. It was a really great event and over the next month or so, I shall be taking the finished squares and envisaging their designs, to make the hanging.

World Mental Health Day 2015

World Mental Health Day 2015

The creative process, as many of you will know, is very good for relaxing the mind, reducing blood pressure, for meeting and making like-minded friends and stimulates the brain’s synapses.

World Mental Health day 2015

World Mental Health day 2015

National Poetry Day

Listening to the radio this morning, it’s wonderful to be hearing about poetry through the ages in Britain. Unfortunately, whilst rushing around, I know I’ll miss some of the celebrations for National Poetry Day but Radio 3 and Radio 4 will be reading poetry until 10pm tonight. Just wonderful!

Founded in 1994 by William Sieghart, National Poetry Day is to encourage reading, performing, promoting poetry in schools and to the wider community.

I have now started researching my fourth First World War poet portrait, which will be of Edward Thomas, then followed by W. N. Hodgson. But to celebrate National Poetry Day, my contribution is my portraits of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, if you ‘click’ on their names you will find links to their poetry to read.

Giclee prints of the Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits can be found in my Etsy shop (see link on top of the page).

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

‘Super Heroes’: W. G. Grace

Besides the series of First World War poet portraits, I am also working on a series of portraits of ‘Super Heroes’. The first in this series was William Morris and although I had planned to work on Charles Dickens next, that plan has been changed to W. G. Grace whose 100th anniversary of his death is coming up next month on 23rd of October.

William Morris part of the 'Super Hero' series portrait.

William Morris part of the ‘Super Hero’ series portrait.

When I was growing up in Shropshire, cricket played a massive part in our family life. My Dad and my brother were both very good cricketers, playing for Wem and Acton Burnell, so every Saturday was spent going to the match, my Mum making the cricket teas (which were always very popular as there was always a lot of cake involved) and I was often volunteered to be the teams scorer – not always an easy job. Whilst a student studying art in Shrewsbury, I then worked on a series of large scale cricketing inspired paintings. So, it seems quite fitting to create a portrait of an amazingly talented cricketer.

Born in 1848 near Bristol, William Gilbert Grace was certainly part of a cricketing family (his father and brothers all played) and he believed his great skill came from hard work and lots of practise. Playing as an amateur, training as a medical practitioner in 1879, he played Marylebone Cricket Club, Gloucester and England. By the time he was 27, he had 50 first-class centuries and once Grace scored 839 runs in 3 innings in 1 week (344+177+318)! The statistics are amazing!

I have just begun his portrait and so far, I have machine stitched ‘W.G’s’ head and shoulders. I shall embellish the portrait with acrylic and further hand sewing. I haven’t quite decided how I shall tackle the background but I must admit I am really looking forward to starting his wonderful beard!

Stitched line drawing of W. G. Grace.

Stitched line drawing of W. G. Grace.

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.