I’m delighted to be working as poet in residence for Secret Severn Art trail in 2019 and 2020. The first part of my work is visiting artists, seeing their processes and understanding the influences and inspiration behind their work. On this page you’ll find a record of my visits, and I’ll be adding poems and other writings as they evolve. Happy reading, and feel free to like, comment and share on your favourite social media.
Shropshire hills, and swans in Prague – a visit with Maggie Humphry
I’ve admired Maggie’s paintings for several years, so I was really excited about the chance to spend some tine with her. Maggie’s studio is unassuming and bursting with beautiful work. She showed me her huge range of styles, moving from vivid, almost abstract pieces to delicately detailed country scenes and charming festive illustrations.
Two of my favourite pieces are in this downstairs gallery; a piece based on her experience of a choral rendition of A.E. Housman’s Blue Remembered Hills, and Shadows of Moon a swirling image of the hills. Both of these pictures make me feel as though I’m travelling through the landscape, and give a sense of there being a world waiting to be discovered beyond the frame.
Maggie explained that her career began as a ceramicist and she has produced many ceramic murals all over the country, including the fabulous blue dragon that welcomes visitors to the Dragon Theatre in Barmouth. Working with clay takes it’s toll however, and Maggie now works with oils, as well as creating detailed line drawings and illustrations.
One of Maggie’s many ceramic murals
I also spent a little time in Maggie’s beautiful garden, which is a paradise for bees and nature as well as humans. She explained that she loves to be here in the early hours – that secret time of day before people are up and about.
Next, it’s up the stairs to Maggie’s work room, past a mural of geraniums that covers a patch of less than perfect plaster. There’s a sense of energetic chaos in the room, enhanced by a soundtrack of Mahler, which Maggie described as mirroring her work with its combination of movement and precision. Maggie showed me some of her most recent pieces, based on a friend’s memory of seeing swans in Prague. I really fell for these, and Maggie was kind enough to let me spend some time just sitting with the paintings.
There’s a mystical, magical quality to Maggie’s work and it’s this that I find captivating. As we talked about various pieces, she explained how they evolve and develop, and create their own dialogue. This chimed with me as a writer – creating a poem or story is very much about allowing the words to emerge, and allowing the poem to breathe itself into life. There is an idea and an inspiration, but there also has to be a sense of trusting the work itself.
You’ll be able to see Maggie’s work as part of Secret Severn Art Trail in the Footprint gallery at Fusion, where she will also be Artist in Residence, no doubt wearing a marvellous hat. To find out more about her work, visit http://www.maggie-humphry.co.uk/
Kathryn Anna Marshall is poet in residence for Secret Severn art trail. Find out more at https://kathrynannasite.wordpress.com/secret-severn-art-trail-poet-in-residence/ or on https://www.facebook.com/KathrynAnnaWrites/
Visit https://secretsevern.co.uk/ for a map of the trail, as well as details of open studios and workshops.
Hedgehogs of the sea
Do you know how sea urchins got their name? No? Well here goes. Hedgehogs used to be called urchins, sea urchins are spiny (like hedgehogs) and live in the sea (unlike hedgehogs), so the logical name is, of course sea urchins. Why am I telling you this? Because it’s a cheery fact, and it was part of my research for my fifth Secret Severn visit, to Emma Brownlow, a ceramicist based in St Georges.
Emma explained her skill as a ceramicist is about actualizing the image she has of the end sculpture. Part of the joy for her is puzzling out how to make this visualisation into reality, and her work shows an incredible range. She showed me her Shrewsbury pot, a homage to her home town, resplendent with images of the duck race, timbered buildings and the much maligned market clock tower. It’s a three dimensional collection of memories that brings the town to life.
Emma showed me the first piece from her newest project, a series of elemental pots exploring the power and complexity of the earth.
I’ve been a bit in love with Emma’s sea urchin sculptures since I first saw she them, and I loved having chance to see one being made. They start life as a lump of clay, which is shaped into an urchin-like sphere. They’re then marked out with what I grandly called dowel (Emma later told me it was a kebab stick – ceramicists are experts at finding just the right tool for the job). Spaces for spines are marked out, and texture is added with slip. The whole process is deceptively quick.
After their first firing, the urchins are ready to be glazed. Emma uses a combination of colours and takes care to show a hint of the natural bisque, so there’s an echo of shell shining through.
We talked about the ancient nature of pottery, and I was taken by the inherently environmentally responsible nature of the process. Emma showed me how any old clay is reused. It’s smashed up, rehydrated in an old pillow case, and then wedged, an exhausting type of kneading, so it can be used again.
This was another different visit for me, and it was great to see each aspect of the process, and see the preparation too. The thing that shone out was the amount of love that goes into Emma’s work. She spoke of wanting to honour the sea urchin, and this really comes through, and sits well with the sense of this being an ancient craft.
I came away with a strong sense of what I want my finished poem to look like – it’s going to take a little while to emerge I think, but it’s been yet another level of inspiration for my work.
As ever, please, please help me get the most from social media. Liking the posts on my pages, adding comments (this works really well), and sharing them helps more people see what I’m doing, and helps boost support for my work. Thank you all so much!
You can find out more about Emma’s work here https://www.facebook.com/Emma-Brownlow-Ceramics-714814132207188/ and see her beautiful sculptures at the Footprint Gallery in Jackfield as part of the Secret Severn Art Trail which runs from 20th to 29th September.
Swans, antimacassars and journals from Sinai.
I’m fizzing with ideas after spending the morning with Jayne Humphreys a.k.a. The Strolling Stitcher. I spent my time surrounded by fragments of memories, which Jayne transforms into beautiful story boxes, wearable art and intriguing pictures, and left with a host of thought and images to put into words.
Jayne is influenced by her Grandmother, and by her environment, especially the River Severn. She explains more below.
Jayne is passionate about breathing new life into precious things, and many of her pieces feature things like safety pins and curtain hooks from her late grandmother’s sewing boxes. I asked her how she felt about giving away these things, and she responded gently that she like the idea of passing them on. There’s an thread of continuity though Jayne’s work, of harnessing and sharing the life of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.
One of the most common images in Jayne’s work are swans,which have been a major inspiration to her since she moved to Ironbridge three years ago. There’s an anthropomorphic quality that is enhanced by the story boxes she creates for each piece. Continuing the practical element, Jayne’s swans double as brooches and the story boxes are designed to display jewellery.
If you look closely at Jayne’s work you’ll see fragments of journals or scraps of receipts. One of the most fascinating things she’s found is a notebook acting as a photo journal from the WWII campaign in Egypt. Looking up at her window I see a flock of house martins made from the deeds of her old house, and inspired by visits to the Squatter’s Cottage at Blists’ Hill. Reinventing finds that would otherwise be lost in a drawer or attic brings a new aspect to make do and mend, and brings a real depth to Jayne’s work.
As befits a collector, Jayne is constantly gathering inspiration for her work. She loves exploring flea markets, which are brimming with fabrics and oddities that are crying out to be part of her creations, and she’s also inspired by the Back to Back houses in Birmingham. Jayne showed me books, chatted about films that have had an impact, and we talked about her travels, most recently to Romania. One of the most fascinating influences comes from the work of Maud Lewis, a folk artist from Canada, famous for her painted house which has been reconstructed in Nova Scotia art gallery.
On a deeper level, Jayne is inspired by visits to the Foundling Museum in London, which tells the story of the first hospital for foundling children. Jayne talked about the tokens mothers left so their babies could be identified, if circumstances changed and they were able to reclaim them. This fits well with Jayne’s eye for rescuing scraps of life that would otherwise be lost in a drawer.
Visiting Jayne has given me yet another aspect to my writing as poet in residence for the Secret Severn art trail. I’ve connected with Jayne’s work on a more personal level, and it’s tapped into my tendency to be fascinated by the things that get thrown away (I sound like a womble don’t I?). The swans in particular have sparked my imagination, and the poems that are bubbling up have a feel of a dark fairy tale journey. I was particularly inspired by the piece above, a swan with a pocket for a poem. I’ve named her, and I’m enjoying exploring her journeys. It makes for exciting writing, and has given me a new swathe of inspiration.
You’ll be able to see Jayne demonstrating her skills alongside Caris Jackson in the Art Zone in Dale End park during the Festival of Imagination on 21st September, and her work will be on display as part of the Secret Severn Art Trail from 20th-29th September.
Thank you as ever for reading. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, please share on social media, like any posts you see, and give me quick comment on Facebook – it all helps beat those pesky algorithms.
You can find out more about Jayne’s work on https://www.facebook.com/strollingstitcher/
For maps of the trail, and details of workshops go to https://secretsevern.co.uk/
Visit www.ironbridge.org.uk/news/ironbridge-news/exciting-events-at-the-festival-of-imagination/ to find out more about the Ironbridge open day on 21st September
Baobab to Beech trees – Sandy Densem
Baobab to Beech trees – Sandy Densem
I’m enjoying my work for Secret Severn so much! Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with Sandy Densem, who’s work I’ve admired for many years. She explores texture and tone and creates pieces that are intrinsically multi-layered. Sandy describes how growing up in Zimbabwe has given her the lens through which she sees the world and it’s fascinating to see this in action.
Much of Sandy’s work is inspired by trees, expecially the mighty Baobab. This is a tree that lives for thousands of years, but if it’s knocked down can fade away in a fraction of the time. The pull between permanence and fragility is interesting thread to me and it’s reflected in the range of materials Sandy uses.
For yesterday’s visit we focused on creations built from collage and print. Sandy begins with lino and tissue to conjure her starting shapes, then uses oils, water and oil pastels to layer, define and refine the images. The layers reflect what Sandy describes as an internal landscape, and seeing her work build and grow was a captivating experience. I was amazed at how quickly she works, and how much work is that combination of instinct and deliberate action that gives an artist their own style.
We talked about Sandy’s recent work in Uganda as part of the Xavier Project, which provides sponsorship to refugee children in East Africa. She showed me her concertina sketch books, produced by the light of a mobile phone, as well as artwork produced by her students which she hopes to auction as part of a fundraising exhibition.
Sandy explains, “I’m originally from Zimbabwe, where I lived most of my life. I’m fortunate to have been born with the right to a British passport, unlike so many millions of others who now spend their lives in the ‘no-man’s land’ of refugee camps around the world.”
Sandy’s produced a series of works called Migration, that are rooted in the refugee crises around the world. There’s an intensity and pull to these pieces that I want to spend more time with, and I’m already putting together plans for another visit.
From background, to process, to product, for me this was a writer’s dream. Ekphrastic poetry is a joy to create, and I’ve come away with layer upon layer of notes to fashion into finished poems. A good day.
As ever, please share this if you’ve enjoyed reading it, whether you’re on twitter, Facebook or you just want to reblog. It’s a great way to support me and build interest for this project and for the art trail.
To discover more about Sandy’s work go to http://sandydensem.com/work/
To discover more about Secret Severn go to https://www.facebook.com/Secretsevern/
Learning to see the spaces
Amanda Hillier – Illustrator and Printmaker
My second visit for Secret Severn Art Trail was to Amanda Hillier in Coalbrookdale. If you’ve been to previous trails you’ll recognise Amanda’s distinctive lino prints and some of the landscapes she’s inspired by. Much of her work mirrors the unique landscape of Coalbrookdale where industrial architecture and natural features sit side by side.
As well as gaining inspiration from Coalbrookdale, Amanda escapes to the seaside. She challenges herself to create quick sketches of structures and rock formations, perhaps imposing a time limit, or working in shades of just one colour. She uses her sketchbooks in the same way as I use my notebooks (and scraps of envelopes when I’m not organised). Thoughts, ideas and impulses are captured, before being distilled into the final piece.
My morning with Amanda was spent seeing the re-imagining of a fragment of seaweed collected from Aberdaron. Amanda explained how the pieces are created in reverse, and showed me the carving of the lino, as well as the process of printing. It’s a process that owes a lot to Japanese woodblock printing and uses many similar tools and techniques.
I felt quite different today, compared with my visit to Both in Stitches and I think it reflects difference in process. I’ve come away from this visit with a strong sense of how I want my finished poem to be. The rhythm of the poem is there – I want to mirror the feeling of the print roller and ink on paper, and I’ve got a strong theme. I’ve already written a very rough draft, and the essence of the poem is there. This is a contrast to my work earlier in the week, where I was seeing the preparation and groundwork for a long term creation. My notes for that visit are more measured, with threads of ideas gradually coming together.
Things I’ve learned, like being sure that the form I choose mirrors the meaning, are bearing true, and helping to guide what I write. I think writing about something that isn’t entirely driven by personal emotions or strong beliefs is tapping into a different set of skills, which is another level of development as a writer. I can’t wait to see how the language and rhythms of the pieces will develop. I know I’ve already got two very different poems brewing
Amanda is running family friendly lino printing workshops as part of the Secret Severn Art Trail which you can book through this link ticketstelford.com/whats-on/festivals/
Creating viaducts from calico
I’ve had the best morning. My first visit as poet for Secret Severn art trail was to Both in Stitches, a collaboration between local artists Jo Clarke and Angie Silkstone. Their work is a blend of embroidery and painting and they create pieces that reflect the unique landscape of Ironbridge Gorge. This was an industrial area that is fast returning to a place of natural beauty and work like this that marries the two is something that interests me a great deal. A thread that seems to be running through my research is developing from my reading of Colebrookdale by Anna Seward. This is a poem that rails against the damage of the landscape at the hands of the ironmasters. Three hundred years on, the industrial landscape is being replaced with housing and curiously the same sense of mourning, especially in the case of our beloved red brick cooling towers, is emerging.
Back to today. I was nervous – my plan for this role is what could be called loose, and those who know me well know I am a planner and list maker, rather than someone who’s happy to just see what happens. I’ve no choice in this though, and I kind of like it.
I’ve had the normal fears of anyone starting a new project, can I do it? Am I good enough? It turns out I can do it and I might well be good enough. For Jo and Angie, today was all about preparation, measurement, planning and cutting. They’re creating a piece inspired by the Coalbrookdale Viaduct and seeing the level of precision involved in translating this structure to calico was a joy. I’ve three pages of notes, focused on the sounds, the small actions of expert hands that are going to make this piece happen. I feel privileged to have been able to see the start of this creation, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to go back a couple more times to see the progress. I’m pinching myself a bit that I’m part of this, and able to combine my love of visual arts with my love of language.
I’ve several more visits, to lino printers, potters and painters as well as graphic artists and collage makers. If each one is as good as today, I shall be delighted.
You can find out more about Both in Stitches on their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/bothinstitches/posts/
And more about Secret Severn here https://www.facebook.com/Secretsevern/
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please, please like, and share. If you’ve got chance to comment on the facebook post that’d be even better. Thank you as ever for your support.