I have a small book written in the 1940’s with illustrations so readers can identify flowers when walking. (Nowadays I wouldn’t find half of them, farming methods have decimated UK flora.) I’m making these wild flowers with masking tape and graphite. They are small, in keeping with the original illustrations, with 60 made so far.
I found another small book on my shelves presented to me at junior school in 1964 – The Observer Book of Wild Flowers, once again flicking through its pages reminds me of how many I never see – excellent “progress” indeed. (A book wild flowers was deemed a suitable for girl, I wonder now what books the boys were presented with.)
The past division of natural history into professional (male) and amateur (female) pushed women’s concerns and interests into the margins with emphasis on pastimes such as drawing, watercolour and needlepoint whilst men discovered, named and exploited plants for monetary value and their professional standing.
For years the natural world has been homogenised and seen mainly as a resource. Is what I’m doing botanical art rather than illustration? The latter tends to serve scientific needs. Current research questions the passivity of plant life, botanical art can change perception of the inherent value of nature and biodiversity. Representing botanical subjects as unique living subjects helps to create a sympathetic vision of the natural world as opposed to purely a mechanistic one that exists purely for exploitation. The (mainly) male explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries were engaged in finding flora, in the 21st century I am engaged in recording their loss.
There a narrow lane not far from my home, that cuts though two fields. It’s no longer used for farm machinery (too narrow.) The earth track is protected either side by a thick mixed hedge. I say protected, as these hedges help shelter the lane from spraying on either side of it with the result that it rich in flora throughout the spring and summer. I’m waiting for the first celandines to appear.
October sun is streaming through the open studio door, Kamasi Washington’s sax fills the room accompanied by the drone of a solitary bee along with flies bouncing off florescent lights (they drive me mad at this time of year) and I’m cushioned to the right height at the keyboard.
It’s strange how an off hand comment can lodge in the mind. During Open Studios a curator friend mentioned the difficulty some artists, those that work to a commission, brief or submission, can have in initiating their own work. She thought that I (and the other artist friend present,) wouldn’t have that difficulty – put into a blank space we could make work without a brief and with what ever was to hand.
That ‘blank space’ stayed with me. And it grew into the overwhelming urge to clear my studio space.
At the end of the no through road that is West Horrington there is a gate. When we came to live here over thirty years ago we walked to the end of the village not knowing how or where the road ended. We found the gate and I was transfixed by the sudden change from village to woodland. I’ve walked these woods almost daily. I think I know them. What a presumption. There is always something new to be seen, heard, smelt and experienced. This year it was noticing leaves and how they are attached to branches. I’d been drawn to the stalks on brown ivy leaves that lay on pathways. I gathered other leaves to study and in doing so learnt the names of trees living in Biddlecombe. At least the names of all I have encountered over the past weeks …… the joy now is finding a tree I don’t recognise, looking it up with the growing understanding that any change or disturbance in the wood invites new species to colonise.
Petiole from the Latin petiolus, or peciolus ‘little foot’ – the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem.
Gallery 2 – Middle Farm
The farm is quiet. The cows were sold and the land is now worked by contractors. It was once the hub of the village. Cows walked along the lane to and from milking, farm machinery rolled by leaving the smell of freshly cut grass/slurry/feed, mixed with diesel. Hot water and steam billowed out of blue sliding doors on the corner where a tanker collected its daily load of milk.
We jumped over cow pats on the way to school, heard the night cries of mothers lowing when their calves were taken away. Watched, with a mixture of alarm and fascination, when a blaze engulfed a barn, relieved later to know that no one was hurt and the herd had been moved to safety.
The farm is quiet. I walk around it. Now a home to pigeons, swallows and bats. A green apron lies covered in accumulated debris in the tanker room. The parlour ceiling is collapsing, rubber tubing snakes across its floor, clusters lie soiled, ten years since their last contact with an udder. Trusses expose to the sky as tiles slide off old stone barns, weeds colonise cracks in concrete pathways and sunlit skylights illuminate stained walls that have all the beauty of old frescos.
I find ten dried cow pats.
Exit through the Bookshop
On going series of books – Area of Interest – documenting West Horrington over the past 15 years. All photographs by Patrick Kirkby.
I’m supposed to be getting ready for Somerset Open Studios, but I’m torn between the lure of foraging along hedgerows laden with autumn fruit and preparing my studio…….the hedgerows won today – jam, gin and jelly on the go!
Found in nearby woods, on fallen ash trees, Daldinia concentrica or King Alfred’s cakes. Started with three and added twenty five or more today. They release spores over night so there should be a complete drawing over the next few days.
I have never seen such a dense, light absorbing black.
Since we still have a farm in the village, albeit empty and increasingly dilapidated, I decided to restock it with a low maintenance herd of cattle courtesy of Ebay. Cows, calves and the odd bull (outbid on a milkmaid) are arriving every few days. With livestock transport via Royal Mail and no heavy duty paperwork or vet bills involved, think I’m onto a winner.