Sunday 5 October 2014

Harvest bread

Having made an August loaf of bread, incorporating Brindle grain, I offered to make some for our Harvest Festival.

The ‘harvest bread’ made for Brindle St James Harvest Festival 2014 (approx. 80cm x 40cm) is in three pieces and depicts the haloed Christ, amongst foliage, between a sheaf of wheat and fruits on a branch.  The face is inspired by a roof boss in St Andrew’s church in Sampford Courtenay, Devon.  Some of the flour was grown and hand-milled in Brindle.

While making it many thoughts came to mind . . . . . about its significance
  • Stemming from Christ’s mouth is the breath of life, flowing throughout the natural world (including yeast)
  • Bread is both local and universal - bread in different forms, is made in every country 
  • Communion too is intensely personal but is a communal partaking
  • Offering can, and often does, stand alone but is made more complete by receiving
  • The simple fact that we are here, making an offering, is huge reason for thanksgiving
  • Labour - by definition all labour is effort, but it need not be depleting it may be life affirming - giving a heightened sense of value . . . . 
  • Within this beautiful parish are those who work incessantly with both plants and animals - gratitude to them and hope that they find it life affirming

Friday 29 August 2014


I have had to make September's husk before September.  Although the assessment week is week beginning 1st September the show had to be in place today.  I know it makes practical sense - but I find it hard to make a documentary label that tells a lie.

I have been advised that should mould grow on the bread, or jelly, that they will be thrown out.  Such a pity when they are essential indicators of constant change and the passing of time. 

On Monday 1st September I will make a replacement jar of jelly, and have frozen an August-made replacement loaf of bread. . . . . 

Tuesday 26 August 2014

The mice have been!

When I came to set up the exhibition I found changes to July's husk - the corn figure - the mice had chewed every single ear of barley from her dress and tresses.   Also her face area had turned from light green to pale pink.  Is she blushing at being so ravaged by the mice?

The mice left droppings, stalks and chaff.  University health and safety regulations prevent me from showing the ravaged husk with the droppings, which is what I'd have liked to do.  However it is a nonsense to make a 'replacement for July - in August' so I have decided to show the figure with some of the debris around her and just nudging off the edge of the table.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Threshing about

Threshing is the labour of the month for August.  Presumably it is threshing the grain that was planted in October and harvested in July.  Perhaps it is grain to be ground into flour for bread.  It seems to me an extraordinary laborious process - but one I wanted to try.

First find my wheat (since I haven't grown any myself).  No-one in Brindle appears to have grown milling wheat this year - there's plenty of barley but its low gluten content means its not a first choice grain for bread.  However there's plenty of wheat in Breamore just now being harvested.  Sir Edward kindly let me cut a sheaf from one of his fields, which I threshed (in a pillowcase beaten against a wall).  The winnowing wasn't so easy, there wasn't much of a breeze, so I huffed and puffed to remove the dust and chaff.

Sunday 3 August 2014

'Flower Bed' joins the World War I Commemoration Event at Brindle Village Hall

The turf on the campaign bed has survived, with regular watering, from November.  Some docks and dandelions have grown quite tall.  For the event in the village hall I wanted to replace all the poppies that had been placed on the bed following the service back in November but didn't want to pretend they had not been moved/to place them just as the congregation had done.  So I made a poppy-chain and replaced it to form the outline of a sleeping figure.

Friday 25 July 2014

Clockwise or anticlockwise?

I'd have expected the layout around the table, of the twelve monthly husks, to have been clockwise - and when looking at paper pinned to the wall that looked fine.  However when walking round a table reading I am so conditioned to move left to right, and thus anti-clockwise.  So I am going to place them that way for the exhibition installation.

Monday 21 July 2014


I have to choose a title for the installation for the MA show.  Although my project is focussed on English countryside the Cuerden Psalter is thought to possibly have been made by French craftsmen as it shows considerable French influence.  I have decided on tableau -  

A group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history; a tableau vivant.

Origin:  late 17th century (in the sense 'picture', figuratively 'picturesque description'): from French, literally 'picture', diminutive of table.

Sunday 20 July 2014

June - mowing with a scythe - Bell Sykes Meadows

The 'labour of the month' for June is frequently depicted as a figure mowing grass with a scythe, to make hay.  Lancashire's Coronation Meadow is at Bell Syke's Farm, Slaidburn within the Forest of Bowland AONB.  A variety of activities have been organised by the AONB, through the Haytime Project, including a Marvellous Meadows Day and Scything course tutored by Steve Tomlin.  So I have learnt about the grasses and wildflowers as well as drawing the mowing of the meadow.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Pastoral Plays

Having made the grass figures they demanded to be allowed to interact with another.  I was reminded of a few grainy sepia photos of Pastoral Plays put on at Mottisfont Abbey (probably between the wars?) in which the village children took part, dressed up as fairy folk and flowers.  D's Gran had told me that she had deliberately fainted so that she was taken inside (into the Whistler Room) to recover.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Harry Becker

Having signed up to join the scything course at Slaidburn I started looking at drawings and paintings of folk scything.  Harry Becker (1865 - 1928), a Suffolk artist, made hundreds of drawings, paintings and prints of agricultural labour - including mowing.  They all have an enormous immediacy about them.

Monday 2 June 2014

Pressing plants

I have always seen pressed flowers as individual specimens, as in herbariums, or, sometimes in a carefully organised arrangement in a picture frame.  What happens if one presses flowers en masse - as one experiences them in a verge or hedgerow?

Monday 19 May 2014

May - We Go Hawking

The 'occupation of the month' for May, depicted in the Cuerden Psalter, is a man on horseback with a falcon on his right hand.  Sometimes sheep-shearing is the image for May.  I was surprised at how much falconry activity is going on in Lancashire right now.

At Cuerden Valley May Fair on Sunday there were flying displays and the opportunity to look more closely at a range of Cuerden Birds of Prey. I was able to set up my easel and draw them, inside the walled orchard.

There was a moment when Chris, one of the falconers, sat quietly talking to one of the Harris Hawks.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

A is for Ash

Of all the prunings gathered during March it is the knobbly twigs from the upper branches of an old ash tree that came down in Miller Wood that I've most wanted to use. . . .

Friday 7 March 2014

Mole parchment?

The moles, and molecatchers, have been busy in Brindle.  I understand parchment can be made out of all kinds of animal skin.  So I skinned nine moles and soaked their skins in lime water.  After removing their fur I stretched them on hoops made of willow.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

March - and the MA Interim Show

The Cuerden Psalter's roundel for March shows a figure pruning vines, and another carrying small pieces of wood.  At this time of year I am always out and about with my secateurs cutting the pliable one year's growth from the hedge tops before the hedge cutter arrives.  I tie each bundle with a cable tie so as to be able to tighten them when they shrink.  I label each with the plant species, date and location where it was harvested.  In Hampshire I have a long established list of my favourite foraging spots; service stations, industrial estates, neighbours' gardens and lanes, but here in Lancashire I have had to create a totally new map, and research local place names.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Falling into the Psalter

The February page of the Cuerden Psalter shows a rather leisured 'labour of the month'; a man warming himself inside by a fire, one boot off and in his hand.  Near the bottom of the page where the Pisces roundel should be there is a circular hole instead.  

This space is the place I feel I have been inhabiting recently.  I was admitted to hospital with a raging fever and infection invading my face and I stayed there for the next twelve days.  Prior to my sojourn I was immersed in medieval images, particularly of death, as I had been reading Michael Camille's 'Master of Death: the Lifeless Art of Pierre Remiet Illuminator'.  

In November I wrote 'The first full illuminated page of the Cuerden Psalter, following the twelve calendar pages, shows the couple (for whom the Psalter was made) at the feet of the Madonna who is suckling the Christ child.  Identifying with the small kneeling figures, vulnerable in this intensely intimate moment; I enter each day acutely aware of being at the mercy of this fleeting world beyond my control, having done my best to prepare but sure only of the here and now flooding my senses.'  I now have an infinitely better understanding of what it was I was saying.

Sunday 16 February 2014

The marginalia of animal skins

The two calfskins, and one sheepskin, have been soaking in the lime solution for well over the one to two weeks recommended, so I have been fearing they might be spoiled.  Today we rinsed them and set about removing the hair.  The wool pulled away from the sheepskin easily.  The smaller black and white calfskin was very unevenly loosened; we returned it to soak with tufts still attached randomly across it.  The hair on the larger brown and white calfskin came away when briskly plucked.

While pulling away handfuls of stinking hair from the very edges of the skin I got to thinking about the strange goings on in the margins of illuminated manuscripts, including the Cuerden Psalter.  Cynthia Johnston's wonderful talk about the Hart Collection manuscripts for the Friends of Blackburn Museum on Thursday had raised the question of 'why are these images there?'.  There are various theories on the subject, including those of Michael Camille, but as I scraped and plucked I started having my own. . . . . . 

At the very edges of the animal skin one confronts nipples, 'pockets' (that held the testicles?) and orifices such as the anus, and tubes of skin where the legs once were.  The sanitized folio of vellum has these trimmed from its borders but the parchment makers were acutely aware of the life, death, and sexuality just beyond its margins.

Friday 14 February 2014

St Valentine's Day

We seem to be losing the 'saint' reducing today to just 'Valentine's Day'.  St.Valentine is noted on the 14th February in the Cuerden Psalter and I wonder how the day was observed. . . . in the 13th century when it was written, but also since. . . how observances might have changed throughout its long life?

On 14th February 2013 I carved simple hearts into red 'Desiree' potatoes and placed a basket of them in the UCLan library so that anyone could take one.

Friday 17 January 2014

Mistletoe and Bones

Sadly I have still have not heard back from the Pierpoint Morgan library with permission to use images of the Cuerden Psalter in this blog so I cannot display the roundel for January that shows a three-faced Janus, looking back to the past year, looking forward into the coming year and full square facing (and feasting!) the present.  However this miserecord in Whalley Church looks a lot like him but the description, in the church pamphlet, describes it as 'the Trinity'.

He also has me thinking about the threefold Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of Hindu mythology.
The high winds brought down a poplar, laden with clods of mistletoe.  An unusual opportunity to spend time with a hemiparasite, observing how seamlessly it is fused with the host plant.  I am busy combining these pieces, along with gifts from family and friends, of bones from the new year family feasts, to commemorate the start of 2014.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Skins - for parchment

I have two calfskins and one lamb skin to make into parchment.  I have soaked them for two days in water. . . Now one to two weeks in an alkaline lime solution.