Sunday, 25 January 2015

Pitt Rivers Museum

January, with all its cold greyness and anticlimax after the excitements of Christmas and the New Year, is always enlivened for me by my birthday in the middle of the month and every year my husband and I try to go out for the day if we can.

On Tuesday then, we went to Oxford. In particular, we visited the Pitt Rivers and Natural History museums, both part of Oxford University and housed on the same site in adjoining buildings to the east of the town centre. In advance, I was attracted to the Pitt Rivers while my husband felt drawn to the Natural History museum - something for us both and a good joint day out.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is an extraordinary place with its profusion of wonderful objects in closely packed glass cabinets shown in the photograph below. It's housed in a building that dates from the late 1800s and initially may seem overwhelming but it's definitely a museum with which to persevere as it holds unique treasures.

The most extraordinary thing though is the way the exhibits are catalogued and displayed. The phrase 'cabinet of curiosities' never seemed more appropriate.

Almost everything is displayed according to its function and type, It's possible to compare bowls, cooking pots, spears, masks and textiles and almost anything you like from all over the world and it's fascinating to see the different approaches to solving constructional and decorative problems ... and to see how spontaneously similar so many things are in their design.

There were so many lovely objects that it is hard to choose between them. For this post, I have a random selection both of the sublime and of the almost unimaginable - and I'm sure much else will show up in subsequent posts during the year.

The first at the top of this post is for me certainly sublime and is a woodcut called Hungry Bear by Jody Wilson. It depicts a grizzly bear in the act of catching a salmon and is so typical of much of the artwork, pots and carvings of Western Canada - in this case the Coast Salish.

Then in the same category come two delicious African pots below. The first is an Ibo cooking pot made by a woman from Inyo village in southern Nigeria.

The second is a pot with a delightful bird image about which I can tell no more as the label was very uninformative and my searches on the internet have yielded little information (any thoughts?).

There were many textiles though most did not seem to photograph well through the glass so I have included only two. The first is a beautiful marriage top from Peshawa in West Pakistan, decorated with mirrors designed to protect the wearer from the evil eye.

The second shows lengths of hand woven and embroidered cloth from Africa. I particularly liked the baggy trousers (top) from Nigeria and the diserai (a serong-like garment shown immediately under the trousers) which was collected in Timbuctoo in 1940.

In contrast, there were so many objects which seemed almost unimaginable to the modern European eye, each offering a seemingly extraordinary solution to a perennial human problem. The first photograph shows interesting sources of body armour with a breast plate made of crocodile skin back plates and, to its right, a helmet made of fish skin from the Gilbert Islands in Micronesia - both wonderful and extraordinary. 

The next photograph shows women's under-knickers from the Evenki (Tungus) people of the Asian north Arctic and made of reindeer skin - I can think of nothing  more uncomfortable!

The next shows a selection of solutions to the need for a pillow (or neck support) from Africa - all seemingly uncomfortable but beautiful objects in their own right.

The last shows a wonderful mask. There were many from all over the world, but I think this was my favourite. It was made by the Haida Gwaii people to be used in a ghost dance signifying the kidnapper of naughty children ... very scary!

This is a wonderful place and gave a visit much enjoyed by us both. It has offered me much to follow up and investigate and some things that may even pop up in my work, who knows, and there was also the Natural History Museum that I have yet to mention ...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Tidying so I can see the floor!

New shelves and storage boxes plus a week tidying, organising and culling has brought serenity and calm to my work room. I can see what I own, work on my work table, use my sewing machine and find my computer ...

How long is all that going to last?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Travelling and red

I had a wonderful year of travelling and visits in 2014 with my husband and with assorted friends and family. We went to cathedrals, churches and lovely old houses in England and Scotland and abroad to France and the USA. We saw amazing scenery, extraordinary objects, lovely sculpture and rich textiles.

Although I've blogged before about most of these trips, this search for red has made me review my photos with new eyes and I thought I would liven up a very dark, grey, windy January day with some different photographic memories of all the fun. Each image features red, sometimes in dramatic and almost overwhelming quantities and sometimes as small eye-popping splashes.

And. because I have now, at last, loaded Adobe Photoshop onto my new PC and can play with my images again, I have included some - the first two - that I've had particular fun with.

The first features a church doorway in Essex with its warm red welcome mat ...

... and the second shows old worn military banners in the church in Sherborne, Dorset. These became extraordinarily vibrant when the colours were inverted and enhanced in Photoshop ...

The next brings memories of a lovely visit with a good friend to Gloucester Cathedral where we unexpectedly discovered an impressive exhibition of sculpture entitled Crucible 2. The piece that caught my eye the most as I trawled through my photographs yesterday is by Jon Buck and is called In Man's Nature - and of course it's red, very red, and a dramatic modern contrast against the intricate old stone of the cathedral cloisters ...

With the same friend, we visited Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire and found the following lovely, delicate old textile ...

... some very early bicycles being displayed in the attic where the lighting conditions seemed to produce amazing colours, including brick red ...

... and well-loved old toys on a worn red carpet ...

In the USA, we found so much red in all its variations. Three especially stick in my mind. The first here shows one of several vibrant woven Navajo textiles seen in the Lake Powell Museum in Page - such accomplished work ...

... and the second shows something very different - a sign on a mesh gate inside the Glen Canyon Dam in Utah with such striking red in an overwhelmingly white or grey institutional place ...

... and the third (and last of this post), brings back memories of a lovely conversation in a quiet, dusty car park in Arizona on jewelry and being creative ...

The reason for the choice of red is because of course today is the third Thursday of the month and is the first Roy G Biv day of the year. For those who are new to this monthly colour extravaganza, more details can be found here on Julie Booth's blog. 

Why not join in?

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Pre Columbian - and West African - Textiles (An Update)

It is always good to receive comments from fellow-bloggers about my posts. They are always unfailingly positive and helpful.

Yesterday's from Olga Norris was no exception and it especially intrigued me. She said that the shapes in the piece of stitch I showed in my last post reminded her of Pre Columbian textiles. This had me scurrying round searching out pictures from the internet for comparison.

I found a multitude of images all beautiful - here on google and I include two images here that seem to me to be particularly relevant. However, as can be seen from the comment below, I chose samples of Kuba textiles from central Africa, despite being shown amongst a selection supposedly from central and South America. Just shows how little you can trust Google ... and how little I know! Thank you Olga for putting me right.

This one to above has the same contrasting lozenges of black and the line - though more definite than in my piece - was similarly distorted and full of near-repeats to catch the eye.

There was also this below, in which, although the shapes and pattern are much more regular than in my piece and the colour is different, there is the same thought of a central lozenge of colour contained within another and then another.

All fascinating ... and even more so when I considered things further. I have a cushion on the chair by my computer that I bought in South Africa a few years ago. It looks like this ...

... extraordinary ... is there nothing new under the sun?

I obviously can't credit the weavers who made these textiles, on whichever continent and in whatever age, and I can't even credit the photographers of the first two as no information is given on Google. However, I can credit Julie Booth who supplied the fabric for my piece and, of course Olga Norris, who gives so generously of her knowledge over on her blog here.

As an aside to this post, those who live in the UK may be fascinated by the current short series of programmes about the Incas on BBC 4. The programmes are being aired on a Thursday evening at 8 pm but can of course be seen and downloaded on iplayer. Judging from the first last week they are well worth a look. There were some beautiful and unforgettable images and a fascinating insight into an extraordinary civilization.