Sunday, 11 April 2021

Choosing a place and two visits.

 After a very productive discussion with Sian, about Nevada deserts and Norfolk fields, I found myself abandoning a simple plan for something more ambitious, more free ranging.  These new ideas involve finding a location, a field, to study; the intention being to acquaint myself gradually with its texture, its colour, its atmosphere.  To spend time looking.

I visited where I'd driven before only to discover access to these places was an issue, thick hedges edged one place, the gate padlocked on another, farm watch notices on a telegraph pole  Looking for a farmhouse associated with a field I particularly liked, I drove up the track where dilapidation met my eyes.  Any of the explanations that sprung to mind for such seeming despair left no room for someone looking for textures.  I turned round and drove back to the road.  My second thought and the one I am going with is a field in the village where I used to live, where there's also a warm welcome and a cup of tea always available. 


First Visit:
My first proper visit sees sheep in the fields along the main road.  They're there disposing of the remnants of the sugar beet crop.  The sun is shining, the air chill : the end of winter.  I turn off, find my layby and park the car.  I've borrowed my husband's country bag; it's one I bought for him and which he rarely uses.  In it I've packed a whole raft of things, which I will add to on subsequent visits, but for the time being I have enough, after all this visit is about getting my eye in.


It is a rather sorry looking landscape.  In the photograph green seems to predominate,  tufts of grass and weeds growing through the leftovers of last year's crop. The grass and weeds are at ground level, what  has caught my attention are barley and other plants, hollow stalks and seed heads, dried grass.  These have dried just where they grew, grey-beige verticals of different heights, with every now and then at a forty-five degree angle some species is in the process of collapsing.  Looking closer still there are a number of different seed heads, some like tassels, others hairy multi-grained barley heads, yet others individual seeds just clinging on to their parent plant.  It is this air of hopelessness which attracts me, so utterly at odds with my American shots, but absolutely chiming with these times.

On this visit I take photographs, collect samples of both dried and new growth. I also, having listened to a talk conversation between Claire Benn and Dorothy Caldwell, spoon into plastic bags samples of soil.  These I'm hoping can be used to colour paper and possibly fabric.  It's cold, I have no chair and my bottom's damp from sitting on the slope at the bottom of the hedge.  Time to go home and take a look at my collection, test out some ideas.







The first five images in this series are done with a wax crayon; 1:34 is a comparison between a graphite stick, wax crayon and charcoal.  I really like the richness of charcoal.

And here are some ideas, the execution a little rough and ready, of how I might use them -- two frames and a border.




Also in my Museum of Curiosities are rubbings of flints and stones found on this first trip.  These findings alert me to past times and those who were alive then.  There in the field are layers telling the story of how land was used which for the most part hidden to us, until we begin to search as I'm doing now.




Below are two images of the hedges bounding my field.  I can already see the scope for converting these into fabric and stitch.



Second Visit: 
My plan, weather permitting, is to make Mondays my field days and I intend to have a list of tasks to focus on -- only a few.  This time I intend making rubbings of new growth in the field.  Last time the samples were limp by the time I arrived home and therefore wasted, though the dead stalks gave some really beautiful results, in spite of being fragile.  I also want, as Sian's suggested, to take rubbings of a section of the field.  Finally, I want to do a sketch of the field.  First of all though, I must just look.

The first thing I notice is the beginning of hawthorn leaves on the lea side of the hedge, and there's real warmth in the sun.  There is still more green growth in the field, though on closer inspection these weeds seem impoverished and some have yellowed.  They're nibbled too, possibly rabbits or a hare.  Such a variety of weeds, families with similar leaf structures, and one offs.  And there, at the hedge bottom tiny blue speedwell and a vivid scarlet pimpernel, just one.

For the first time I notice snail shells, and acorn cups, dead oak leaves too.  It is as if the seasons are intermingled, as if autumn has not yet been drawn down into the soil to nourish it.  Maybe the mole hills are not a true indicator of the soil's health.


These wax rubbings have been done in the field. their edges and veins showing clearly.  They give a hint of the soft materiality of the leaves which are now being pressed to preserve their colours and give me time to examine them further.


This abstract is a rubbing of a patch of ground, the spent stalks showing clearly.


Two soil samples: the top from a worm cast, the lower one from elsewhere in the field.  They are both clays and easily cover paper when mixed with a little water.


And finally in the Museum of Curiosities is a 1784 map of the village showing my field.  Travel along Hall Lane, away from the Hall (A).  My field is part of the Common Sheepwalk on the right, which brings me rather neatly to John Clare and enclosures.

One more image before I go: tiny treasures -- a stone weight made from oolitic limestone, three snail shells and a knapped flint.


And another little assemblage, they are such a lovely thing to make.  This one demonstrating that autumn isn't over yet!


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