Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Stone Age

Last weekend we visited Stonehenge. The sun was lurking behind the clouds which created a more atmospheric experience. 
The large Heelstone
On the Wiltshire plains surrounding Stonehenge, ancient Barrows can be seen in the far distance (burial mounds).
courtesy Andrew Dunn via wikipedia
Neolithic man has left his mark all across the UK from the far south in Cornwall to the distant isles in northern Scotland. We live with our ancestors brooding presence, great megalith solitary stones, many weighing as much as 20 - 30 tons and much more.
courtesy Canadian Girl Scout via wikipedia
Standing stone from the Ring of Brodgar in Stenness, Orkney
Others are in groups, often in circular, oval, henge or horseshoe formation.
Geologists and Archaeologists now know that the stones at Stonehenge came from about 240 miles away in Pembrokeshire, Wales, to Wiltshire. How did they travel such a great distance 5000 years ago? We would be hard pressed to move such enormous stones today with all of our modern equipment. When the stones arrived, just to make things even more complex, they were lifted up on top of each other. There are many theories to explain them, but do we really know? It is thought these circles were for ancient religious ceremonies, sometimes containing burial chambers. Stonehenge is aligned northeast–southwest, and it has been suggested that particular significance was placed by its builders on the solstice and equinox points, so for example, on a midsummers  morning, the sun rose close to the Heelstone, and the sun's first rays went directly into the center of the monument between the horseshoe arrangement. It is unlikely that such an alignment is merely accidental. 
For 5000 years these stones have borne silent witness to storms, tempests, floods, war, and man's inhumanity to man.
Let us also not forget the many prehistoric mounds, and in particular Silbury Hill. At 40 metres (131ft) high it is the tallest prehistoric human-made mound in Europe and one of the largest in the world; it is similar in size to some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids at Giza. Its original purpose is still highly debated; it is made of chalk and it is estimated that it took 18 million man-hours, or 500 men working for 15 years to make.
Silbury Hill courtesy Greg O'Beorme via wikipedia
Stonehenge was erected a few years after the Great Pyramids in Egypt, but recently a new complex has been found in Orkney that pre-dates Stonehenge and the Pyramids by 750 years, and it is altering our understanding of our ancestors.
Experts believe the site known as the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney was used for spiritual ceremonies. It had a 10ft wall surrounding a site which was the size of five football pitches. About 100 buildings made up the complex. They had thick stone walls, decorated with carvings and paintings and the roofs were made of stone tiles.
The discovery has turned our understanding of Neolithic man on its head, and it will take a long time to fully understand this new site.
Excavation at Ness of Brodgar
courtesy genevieveromier via wikipedia

Sunday 29 January 2012


A wander around the garden this weekend revealed the exquisite beauty and detail of the lichens growing on the trees. 
Lichens are 'dual organisms'. Every lichen is a partnership between members of two different kingdoms which live together in a special, mutually beneficial relationship - a symbiosis. Each lichen is made up of a fungus and an algae.
The body of the lichen is built up by tough fungal hyphae, and the algae live inside that framework.
The fungus protects the algae from the harsh world outside, and provides it with water and mineral nutrients. The algae makes its own food by photosynthesis, and leaks some of this food, which is then absorbed by the fungus, which cannot make its own food.
The partnership is so tough and self-reliant that lichens can grow in places like bare rock in deserts, where nothing else can survive. When it is too dry, too hot, or too cold, lichens go into a state of suspended animation until conditions improve.
Since the algae make up only about 5% of each lichen, and are out of action for much of the time, you can imagine that lichens grow very slowly - only a few millimetres per year. They make up for this by living for centuries, or in a few cases, millennia.
Lichens have only one serious weakness - they must absorb their mineral nutrients from the rain. So if the air is polluted with sulphur dioxide, this dissolves in the rain and is absorbed by the lichens which often die as a result.

Friday 27 January 2012

Another Roadside Attraction

Linking with  Demie  at 'my Paraphernalia' on the theme Another Roadside Attraction - the book written by Tom Robbins.
The roads and country lanes in the Cotswolds are fringed with drystone walls. They frame the landscape  like a painting as they run along the verges of the roads edging the fields, woods, churchyards, and gardens.
Sometimes in the summer we see Another Roadside Attraction. 

Vincent Van Gogh - The Caravans - Gypsy Camp near Arles, France.
via wikipedia
Brightly decorated Gypsy vans with smoke puffing out the chimney. A retinue of tethered horses, little children running around, a large fire blazing, and men busy making wooden objects to sell, or sharpening tools. 
When we come across them, we always get excited; it is a sight we love to see, but we wonder for how much longer.

Monday 23 January 2012

David Mellor 1930 - 2009

This post was done at the request of Mark at 'All things Ruffnerian' 

David Mellor
David Mellor was one of the best known designers in Britain. He trained originally as a silversmith, but during the course of his distinguished career, he designed a great variety of products; some of which are common place objects we see daily. The national traffic light signalling system, Post Office pillar boxes, street lighting, bollards and litter bins. 

The interior of the David Mellor Design Museum with CafÄ— in Hathersage, Derbyshire.
His training as a silversmith gave him a particular affinity for metalwork design and his silver is in many international collections. He is, however, most famous for his cutlery which has won numerous design awards, he has often been called the cutlery king. 
Pride cutlery in sterling silver
Mellor's now classic Pride cutlery was designed in 1953 when he was still a student at the Royal College of Art. It was included in the first of the Design Centre Awards in 1957, and has been in continuous production ever since. It is on display in numerous museums worldwide as a prime example of 20th C modernist design.
In 1969, David Mellor opened his London shop in Sloan Square.  It soon became a focal point of Swinging Sixties, Chelsea, and remains one of London's most original and individual shops.
His country shop is at Hathersage, Derbyshire, near Chatsworth, in the dramatic High Peak landscape. This shop has a special emphasis on the superb modern cutlery and kitchen knives made in the Round Building factory alongside the shop. It also carries lots of pieces made by other distinguished Designers from around the world. A place to visit with a nice fat purse full of money.
The Round Building factory, Hathersage, Derbyshire
David Mellor died 2½ years ago. His son, Corin, a versatile furniture and product designer on his own account, is now the creative director. His widow is Fiona MacCarthy, biographer and cultural historian; She is the acclaimed writer of Eric Gill, C.R. Ashbee, and William Morris etc.
glass bowls designed by Corin Mellor
 images courtesy David Mellor catalogue

Saturday 21 January 2012

Spring cleaning

The chores are done, the task complete
Sweeping and polishing 
Mattresses turned
washing and
The windows gleam, the silver sparkles, the furniture shines, and when the sun comes out to play I........
shall be ready to tackle the garden.
Grow lots of plants,
and set sail for sunsets new.
all images via wikipedia (Beatrix Potter illustrations)

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Florence - Donatello

When our youngest son was 17, and doing his A level exam in History of Art he loved the Italian Renaissance. I decided to take him to Florence so that he could see the work of the artists he was so passionate about.
Unbeknown to us before hand, our arrival happily coincided with the city celebrating the 600th anniversary of Donatello’s birth. Sculpture by Donatello had been gathered from all over Italy and brought to Florence for the occasion.  A unique event was the erection of scaffolding and ladders in the old sacristy of San Lorenzo so that it was possible to climb up and see his large stucco roundels situated just below the dome. They show scenes done by Donatello around 1434 from the life of St. John the Evangelist.  It was amazing that we were able to be so near to work that few could have seen so closely since being executed in situ by Donatello. Donatello’s great skill was in being able to add three-dimensional depth to very shallow relief. His sculptural figures marked a decisive step forward in the search for naturalism and the rendering of human feelings from those of the late International Gothic style.  Of course, we had to do all of the Donatello exhibits, plus all of the art and architecture we had come to see anyway.  Every day was packed with visits, and trying to co-ordinate the times to fit in as much as possible.  The Italians have a very bad habit of shutting places up at ridiculous times of day, or even not opening at all.
Our son had me dashing up the hill to visit S. Miniato al Monte, back down to the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti and Brancacci Chapel with a final call at Santa Maria Novella where he gave me a lecture on Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. I am exaggerating if I say we did all of this in one day, but that was what each day felt like.
I was exhausted when we returned home after 5 days, but from then on became enthused by the Renaissance myself.  
courtesy wikipedia
One of the roundels we were able to see when we climbed up on the scaffolding in San Lorenzo - Donatello's Raising of Drusiana
Donatello - Feast of Herod, 1423 - 1427 - part of the baptismal font in The Baptistry, Siena.
This is a fine example of Donatello's skill at bringing three-dimension and use of linear perspective to shallow relief.  Donatello has depicted several events occurring in succession as if happening at the same time. In the rear arcade we see a soldier bearing the head of John the baptist, which is simultaneously being presented to a horrified Herod at the front.  A musician in the central arcade is a reference to the dance of Salome which she used to beguile her stepfather into having John the Baptist killed. Salome continues her dance on the front scene to the right of the table.

 image courtesy sailko via Wikipedia
Mary Magdalene  - example of Donatello portraying human emotion 

Saturday 14 January 2012

Christmas Gift 2011

My youngest son, his wife and three children are an industrious little family. Every year they make a Christmas card with each of them having an input. They decide on a theme, for example snowmen; then each of them designs a snowman which they then combine on the front of a card. It is good fun working out who has done what.
In Christmas 2010 they made a limited edition handmade book which they gave to their relatives and close friends. They each did a linocut to illustrate their own choice of poem which they then hand printed to accompany their picture.
This Christmas they did the same again but in a folder format.
Handmade folder and handmade paper
Title page
All linocut illustrations and printing done on a Victorian Press by hand