It's the design on a tiny silver coin made in Suffolk 1300 years ago. The period of history between the Romans leaving Britain and 1066-and-all-that used to be dismissed as 'The Dark Ages' - I always wanted to find out more, surely it wasn't just "dark" for a thousand years! Of course it wasn't, it was a time of huge change and resulted in the formation of a culture that underpins what we think of as "English" - our language, food, villages and towns. However inspiring the art of different cultures is, it will always be exotic and I will always be an outsider looking in; the art of the early Anglo Saxons is the art from the people who made my world.
While I'm working in my studio I like to listen to either BBC Radio 4 or BBC Radio Suffolk, yesterday afternoon when Lesley Dolphin, on her new improved afternoon show All About Suffolk, interviewed Caroline McDonald, the curator of a new exhibition entitled Anglo Saxon Art in the round - I pricked up my ears . . .
There's no time like the present, this morning we drove the width of Suffolk to go shopping in Ipswich and visit the exhibition in The Town Hall. The central display in Gallery 3, shows the 'De Wit collection' of Saxon coins in four display cases within a reconstruction of a long boat like the one found at the ship burial at Sutton Hoo (just along the coast near Woodbridge). What is amazing is the size of the coins - they are teeny tiny, the tip of my little finger could cover them! Helpfully the walls of the gallery display large dinner-plate sized photographs of the designs from the coins - birds, foxes, horses, kings . . . and there they are on the actual coins, miniature works of art, so fresh and imaginative.
Ipswich, or rather Gipeswic was an important sea port and trading centre, it was key to the power of the ruling dynasty - the Wuffings. The finds at Sutton Hoo revealed the intricately crafted bling worn by warriors and their horses, in this display there are a few finds from warrior's graves - shield bosses, daggers and spear heads, but it's the Wives And Girl-friends who steal the show in the displays of treasures from the Hadleigh Road site in Ipswich. This is what the warriors' WAGs wore in 7th century Suffolk . . .
The reason we have all these gorgeous Saxon accessories is because a single minded Edwardian woman named Nina Frances Layard who's hobby was archaeology, rushed home from her holiday in Scotland in 1905 because she read in the East Anglian Daily Times (presumably posted to her) that skeletons had been found by workmen digging near the Hadleigh Road back home in Ipswich. She took charge and organised 150 labourers to continue the excavation through 1906, unearthing 200 graves and the occupants' precious grave goods. The gentlemen directors of the town museum viewed her with amusement . . .
On our way home we went to the TV celeb pig farmer's place Jimmy's Farm, as it's the first Saturday in the month we knew that Emma, aka Silver Pebble would be there selling her wares. After munching our burgers in the 'Field Kitchen' we tracked down Emma in the barn. She was just about to pack up her lovely beads and silver charms, but very kindly let me select some beautiful moss green tourmaline beads from her stash and with a deft tweak of her pliers customised a pair of hoop earrings for me - thank you Silver Pebble :-)
As I couldn't take photos in the exhibition these pictures are scanned from the post card and guide book I purchased at Ipswich Town Hall. © Fitzwilliam Museum and Ipswich Museum.