Last week I was contacted by the owner of a small gallery, asking if I could supply my cards for her sell. There was no link to the gallery's web site and a google search drew a blank – how unusual for today!
I sent her my trade order details and my catalogue and swiftly received an order for cards, the gallery's address was in Helpston . . . only an hour and a half drive from my studio, so I decided to deliver the card order in person.
The Annakinn Gallery is a delight, here is the sign with a beautiful design by Carry Ackroyd.
Helpston was the birth place and for much of his life, the home of John Clare. I'd heard of 'the peasant poet' and I was aware of Carry Ackroyd's fascination with Clare, this week reacquainting myself with John Clare's story has made me realise how relevant he is for us today.
On Friday the John Clare Cottage would normally have been open, but due to volunteer staffs' holidays meant it was closed. It looks interesting so I plan to go back on a day when it's open.
Anna at the gallery had very kindly put together a 'John Clare Starter Pack' – she had correctly guessed from my work and my love of walking and the countryside, that I'd relate to Clare's work.
These are beer mats designed for the John Clare Society and The Bluebell pub which is next door to The Cottage and just around the corner from Anna's gallery. Cliff and I had fish and chips for lunch at The Bluebell and I can thoroughly recommend it!
Following directions from Anna, we walked across to St Botolph's church and easily found John Clare's grave, there is a modern marker post visible from across the graveyard.
Sacred to the Memory of
The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet
Born July 13 1793 Died May 20 1864
A poet is born not made.
Also in 'the starter pack' were these cards depicting the 'Midsummer Cushions', a tradition of lifting a sward of flowery meadow as a floral decoration. Aptly this is how Helpston schoolchildren commemorate John Clare on his birthday, carrying their Midsummer Cushions through the village to lay around his grave.
The card on the left is an illustration by wildlife artist John Davis, he also illustrated these charming tiny cards depicting birds' nests. They reminded me of the work of Charles Tunnicliffe and those lovely Ladybird books 'What to look for in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter – I've recently rediscovered mine in a cupboard at my Mum's house.
Anna popped the cards into my 'John Clare Starter Pack' as a thankyou for braving the torrential rain and delivering my cards in person.
Thanks to Anna at the AnnaKinn Gallery in Helpston for reacquainting me with John Clare who was so much more that a peasant poet. Clare observed the countryside and nature in minute detail as he walked the paths and lanes, he observed how changing agricultural practices meant wild places were being lost forever and he knew those things were priceless.
Clare wasn't an uneducated peasant, he was a clever young man who by circumstance had to leave formal education at a young age and endeavoured to read and educate himself. Sudden fame at a young age and the conflicts of his rural roots with the literary circles he had been elevated to, resulted in his mental health deteriorating. He was cared for by benevolent wealthy friends who tried their best to find the best care available at the time in an asylum in Essex. But pining for his boyhood life he absconded and walked 90 miles back to Helpston. John Clare's final 20 years were spent in an asylum in Northampton.
The life of John Clare has much to teach us about mental well-being, education and the importance of being grounded and aware of the natural world.
And if you are near Helpston, it's in the corner of NW Cambridgeshire between Stamford and Peterborough, please visit the Annakinn Gallery . . . it's full of beautiful things!