Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Dipping my toe in the water

Do you remember my last blog-post about bidding at an auction? I decided that I needed to believe in my hunches and the next time I spotted a picture that gave me a tingle down the spine, I'd be braver and bid higher.

Last Friday at Willingham Auctions my art-antenna crackled into action . . .

I spotted these serious looking women:

This beautifully composed oil painting:

and this rather gorgeous chair:

So I left three commission bids with the auctioneer (because once again I had to be somewhere else on the auction day, and it makes me consider very very carefully what price I'm prepared to pay).

So what happened.

The serious women are in fact Xenia Noelle Lowinsky and her sister Ruth Lowinsky portrayed in two wood engravings by Eric Gill. I got very excited and almost lost my head and put in a huge bid to make sure I got them . . . but sensibly I did a few minutes research and found the same prints for sale at various galleries for fairly modest prices. So, Xenia (prison reformer and gardener) and Ruth (society hostess, food writer and grandmother of herb growing expert Jecka McVicar) were bought by someone who out-bid me by quite a lot and paid a lot more than the prices online!

The chair has also gone to someone else, I had no idea what it might be worth but the estimate was so low it was worth a modest punt! I'm very pleased that I spent some time enjoying looking at the beautiful needlepoint upholstery while it was in the sale room. At the end of the day someone else wanted it more than I did – and I think they got an absolute bargain!

But . . . Gosh! I successfully bid for the painting by Katherine Fryer. I don't usually consider buying oil paintings but I liked this so much I rushed off to find out who the painter was – and do you now what? She's also an accomplished printmaker! You can see some of her wood blocks here; she studied at Leeds College of Art, last year they published a tribute on their web site to celebrate her 100th birthday.

I collected the 'The Pond' from the auction house this afternoon; I could see that someone had tidied the picture up and had replaced the paper tape around the edges – but they had carefully left the original label visible:

W. R. A. E. 1935
ARTIST: K. M. Fryer
TITLE: "The Pond"
Price: £4 . 4 (4 guineas)

Katherine May Frier was born on 26 August 1910, she had left Leeds College of Art in 1931, so this is a painting from the start of her long career as an artist.

And, look! there's another painting on the other side of the canvas . . .

You need to turn the canvas upside down to see it . . .

The account of her life on the Leeds College of Art web site mentions that Katherine's reminiscences of her time in Leeds recall soot-clad buildings – she used to wonder how the French Impressionists were able to create brightly coloured canvasses from urban scenes. Is this abandoned picture one of her attempts to do just that? Did she cast it aside and then use the reverse of the canvas to paint this picture of a still pool on the edge of a wood, looking out over the green fields?

So, Katherine Fryer's painting "The Pond" is now propped up on a chair in my studio; it's a picture I will spend time enjoying – the repeated geometry of the fence, it's reflection in the water, the dark against light/light against dark patterns, and the symphony of shades of green, I can imagine dipping my toe into the cool water.

In 2000 she held a solo show of called 'One Point of View', and said that "she will continue to draw and paint for as long as she is able to do so" – in her early 20s, when she painted "The Pool" she didn't know her career as an artist and an inspirational teacher would be so long. Perhaps you know her? I'd love to find out more about her work.


Thursday, 26 May 2011


A few short showers today . . . I went outside and did a little dance!

The sky is falling!!! The sky is falling!!!

Hide under the hedge girls . . .

The grass was damp, the air smelled fresh.

A toad came out for a walk and strolled into the greenhouse . . .

The soil looks damp . . . but there was only enough rain to wet the top 1cm of soil.

Underneath and around the plant roots it's still dusty and dry . . .

More rain please, the situation is getting serious.

This is the BBC News report from a farm in a village not far from ours – the twelve weeks without rain will have an impact on all of us.


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A cordial treasure

Last week, while Terry was staying with us, I took her shopping in the nearby village (or town, if you're a local) of Clare; one of those picture book villages with houses with doors opening right onto the market square and lots of little shops. We popped into Clare Antiques Warehouse for a mooch around – it's one of those places where dozens of dealers have their pitch, it's a treasure trove of stuff.

Of course we both ended up buying things! Terry pointed out to me a pretty bright teal-blue vase, she must have known that it would fit perfectly into my house – it's just the right size for arranging a few flowers from the garden.

I browsed along a shelf of books and one caught my eye, it looked familiar . . . and then I remembered why. A couple of months ago, when I was doing some research about a painting on which I placed a (too low) auction bid, I'd read about the artist Roger Nicholson on the blog Quad Royal, and this was the very book pictured in that post – the cover and inside pages were illustrated by Roger Nicholson in 1954.

The National Federation of Women's Institutes Home Made Wines, Syrups and Cordials; the edition I found is the 15th reprint dated 1962 – which proves it's not only a very prettily decorated book, but a popular and useful one too.

The chapter headings are delightful and obviously the work of an artist with a light and easy touch.

The text is full of the sort of snippets of advice and information that give a whole new dimension to gardening and country walks.

I think some of the recipes will soon become old favourites!

This is a little culinary gem, not rare or in mint condition (some pages have extra notes and recipes hand-written by a previous owner) – it was just waiting for me to give it a new home.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

Labour of the month: May

My Labour of the Month for PPPs this May was truly Herculean – and I forgot to take the 'before' shots, so you'll just have to take my word for it ;-)

PPPs Labour for May is . . .

Planting out the tomatoes

The day started quite sensibly – I cleared out the staging from one side of the greenhouse and swept the floor in readiness for the potted up tomatoes. I don't use grow-bags any more, pots are much better for tomatoes as they like to be planted deep – in fact I nip off the bottom two or three leaves and plant the lower 5cm of the stem below soil level, the plant will make extra roots and take up more water/nutrients.

So far so good.

Then I thought about where to put the outdoor tomatoes, it's best to keep them away from the potatoes as blight can be a problem later in the summer (if it ever rains – and it still hasn't!). I also need to keep the hens away from the tomatoes! so that rules out a large part of the main garden. In recent years I've grown tomatoes in pots in our courtyard, but it's shady and cool for half the day, so we don't get ripe tomatoes until late September. Cliff had suggested putting tomatoes in our front yard which gets full sun for most of the day – the best place is against a south-facing wall out of sight from the road and next to the outside water tap.

A brilliant solution! Except that the area is where we keep the dustbins and we've allowed nettles and ivy to run riot for at least three years – have you tried to pull up thick nettle root matting?
It took me hours labouring in the hot sunshine, I completely filled the council compostable-waste wheelie bin with nettle roots, and the result is this . . .

I put the pots of tomatoes into some old resin faux-lead planters that are far to manky to look good anywhere else, and I've left a few self-seeded perennials to give the area a casual 'tidy-but-not-too-tidy' air. (In case you're wondering, that large thing is a stable yard mounting block made from an old cistern filled with concrete – it's not going anywhere! but is useful for resting the watering can on while filling it with water.)

There are still lots of tomato plants left –

plenty for the gate-side stall . . .

It's my contribution to the Village Fete's plant stall, people don't want to buy tomato plants in late June so I sell them now and give the stall the money.

This year I'm only growing four varieties:

RED CHERRY – it's a cherry tomato and it's red (duh!)
I bought the seeds on our holiday to Tenerife in March, I wanted a bog-standard, good flavoured, easy to grow, cherry tomato; to graze on and to use in salads.

TIGERELLA – it's stripy!
For something a bit different.

LIGURIA – an Italian paste tomato
I bought the seeds years ago while on holiday in Italy – the packet was huge but tomato seeds stay viable for a long time. This is one of those big tomatoes you see on Italian market stalls, like a full sack gathered at the top; it's perfect for the topping on bruschetta – skinned, chopped and warmed with a little garlic and olive oil.

IMUR PRIOR BETA – you what?! exactly!
This was my choice from this year's Heritage Seed Library list, here is the description:
Indeterminate. Cordon. Donated by John Yeoman, this variety was selected from high altitude areas in the Chilean mountains and developed in Norway for growing in cooler regions. Also thought to be blight resistant*. The juicy red fruit have soft, smooth flesh and are slightly acidic in flavour. Let us know what you think**.

* mmmm? I think I'll put some in the vegetable garden and give that a test.
** Must remember to send feedback to the HSL.


Friday, 20 May 2011

These are a few of our favourite things

I've had an enjoyable few days sharing my corner of East Anglia with Terry Golson who was on a brief visit to England from her home just outside Boston, USA. In two and a half days we visited Ickworth Hall, Wyken Vineyard and the Leaping Hare Restaurant and Country Store, Clare village and the Antiques Centre, Saffron Walden, The Star at Lidgate, Cambridge and Baldock and treated Terry to a proper sit down luncheon and cream tea (you can read more about that here).

Here are some of the highlights . . .

Lunch at the Leaping Hare Restaurant, with the light filtering through a screen of fig leaves outside the windows . . .

The food was very special too – and as bloggers do, we had to take photos (we almost forgot, we were so eager to taste it!) my dessert was the trellis of rhubarb poached in cinnamon syrup served with a hazelnut meringue which had been secretly filled with vanilla cream from underneath – genius!

Admiring the clever colour themes in the gardens at Wyken Hall . . .

and spotting hares – peeping out of the windows . . .

and in the pargetting . . .

We met some gorgeous birds with beautiful feathers!

There was time for Elevenses in Cafe Clare, with toasted tea cakes and crumpets with jam . . .

It was eye-opening to look at familiar places with Terry, she loved the textures and patterns in the vernacular building styles – she's given me lots of ideas!

I'm now back to the old routine – an illustration deadline, the village magazine to publish, the Pick'n'Mix Makers Market in Holt on Saturday 11th June to prepare for and new prints to work on. Oh, and I'm still having to water the garden as we haven't had any proper rain yet (just a brief shower of drizzle).

While we were out about and about doing fun things, Terry received texts from her husband breaking the sad news that her hens were not well, the news got even worse – Lulu, her favourite hen had died. It was so difficult for her to be so far away and not to be able to help her husband cope with the hens and the young chicks in the horrible rain and cold.

Terry has returned home now and I'm sure you'll all join me in sending her and her husband Steve good wishes and hope that their hens pull through and that the sun comes out for all of them in more ways than one!


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Grand Tour

If you are wandering along the Embankment in London, opposite the London Eye and the Royal Festival Hall, I recommend that you step inside Somerset House and through into the courtyard – it won't cost you anything and you'll see some quite breath taking and thought-provoking statues . . .

Circle of Animals / Zodiac heads by Ai Weiwei

On Sunday I met up with Wendy of Hens in the Garden and Terry of The Hen Cam and we did just that . . .

We were intrigued by the animals mouths – some were anatomically accurate, the teeth and inside the moth super-sized realistic; strangely some were weirdly wrong – the rabbit has human teeth; all have tongues which are clearly visible; all seem to be talking.

The exhibition was organised before the artist Ai Weiwei disappeared. Are the Circle of Animals here to tell us something?


This week Terry has been staying with us and we've packed in so much! We've also eaten some wonderful food in lovely places . . .

but we're having such a fun time I haven't time to blog!

I'll tell you all about it when I get back to the old routine.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

In another life . . .

After the 'Asthma Fair' (you can read more about how things went on my facebook page) I headed off – not towards home but in the opposite direction – all the way to South Wales.

Sadly, it was for a friend's funeral; we stayed overnight here, which was amazingly good value and very good. In the morning, fortified with impressively fine croissants, we had a few hours to fill so we headed into Newport to explore. This once busy industrial port is now trying hard to reinvent itself for the 21st century – a tough call in the present economic climate; we walked down to the river Usk where dozens of old wooded jetties are all that's left of the thriving dockside that was once there.

Another great landmark that is still there, restored and in working order is the Newport Transporter Bridge. We were disappointed that it was closed and we couldn't take the car across, neither could we climb the towers and walk over the top gantry (I'm not sure that I could have done that even if it was open!)

And then there was a rather panicky half hour when we lost our way back to the hotel (where we'd left the sat-nav and our smart clothes) and we had visions of being late for the funeral service even though we'd got to Wales 14 hours early and turning up in scruffy clothes and trainers!!! But thanks to my iphone we found where we were and where the hotel was – so we got there in time and suitably attired, for what was to be a very emotional afternoon.

I'm now back in my studio, yesterday seemed like a diversion into a parallel world – did that happen? it can't be true? but yes, he is in another place.

Time to unpack the car, get down to work – I haven't told you about my visitor, have I? I'll let her tell you herself . . .


Blogger went down for a couple of days and returned again having deleted your comments - I did read them all before they disappeared - thank you for your kind words.

I hope that everything is now working again!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Asthma UK House and Garden Fair

Tuesday 10th May
Chilford Hall, Linton nr. Cambridge

The "Asthma Fair" as it's known locally seems to be the event that starts the summer season of fetes and garden parties; it's now in it's 13th year and hopes to better last year's total of £12.5K raised for Asthma UK. Each year half of the 60+ stalls are different from the previous year, which is a great tactic to keep the event fresh and interesting.

I was a little daunted when I was invited to have a stall at this year's Asthma Fair, but it was the push I needed to make my stall bigger and better! I've had a 'dress rehearsal' so I know what goes where . . .

. . . and now it's all been dismantled and packed into my car van tardis all ready to unpack tomorrow and reassemble on stall number 38.

Of course the tabby one came to check that I'd done it correctly, but she won't be coming with me in the morning.

I hope that some of you can come, if you love flicking through Country Living Magazine you'll love it! There's everything from wrought iron gates to cup cakes!


Friday, 6 May 2011

Three in one field

I've been very busy getting ready for the Asthma UK House and Garden Fair at Chilford Hall near Cambridge. It's the biggest event I've attended with my work, it's also a bit different in that it isn't an art fair but an event similar to the Country Living Magazine Fairs, with a large range of stallholders sellers everything from handbags, tablecloths, cupcakes and iron gates!

Just in time for the stall I've completed a new design in the series of small prints on Japanese paper; this one is inspired by the intriguing fragment of glass in Long Melford Church which depicts three hares with shared ears.

The three hares symbol is a mystery – does it symbolise the Trinity or is it a much more ancient? one from a different culture altogether? There are many examples of the three hares symbol a long long way from Suffolk, in Devon; it is also found in Chinese, Iranian and Jewish art.

"Three in one", there's something special about seeing three hares in one field . . .

Three in one field

The original limited edition unframed print can be ordered by emailing studio@celiahart.co.uk
This is a small edition of 20 prints is printed on Japanese Kikuchi Haini Kozo Koban. The image size is 15 x 15cm, the same size and paper as used for the 'Love in the air' print. Each print is named, signed and numbered in pencil by me.
An unframed print costs £48 (the price includes p&p to addresses in the UK mainland).

I will be selling cards of the Three in one field design at the House and Garden Fair, and they will soon been available from Magic Cochin's Emporium.

If you live near Cambridge I hope you can come along to Chilford Hall on Tuesday 10 May, it's a popular friendly event and raises lots of money for a very good cause. There's lots of top quality stall and some lovely food too, so bring your friends and have lunch, and stay for tea too!


Monday, 2 May 2011

May Day

Somewhere mingled in with Easter and the wedding of the century and all those bank holidays, April blended into May – I hope you all had a lovely May Day!

I spent May Day walking outside my comfort zone and not just because Tarragon our beautiful Lavender Araucana cockerel, in a moment of hormone-fueled rage, speared my ankle with one of his spurs (and yes it did hurt . . . a lot); but the main reason I was in unknown territory was that I was walking in Wales . . . Cliff and I went to The Gower for a few days and on Sunday (after a little practice walk, to test how well my ankle had healed, went well on Saturday afternoon) we walked from Llangennith to Rhossili and via the beacon on the top of Rhossili Down and back via the magnificent sandy beach, a total of 11 miles – and that meant I had to do hills!

As you probably know if you pop into my blog regularly, I'm a Fen girl and a 'hill' is land above a couple of metres above sea level; if you were to pile up Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, like a stack of pancakes, they wouldn't be as high as the top of Rhossili Down! And although I can walk up hills without puffing too much, hills as things scare me . . . but this one had a big flat beach next to it and a huge expanse of sky all around, which made me feel at home.

The weather was overcast but warm, and the wind blew the cobwebs from our minds and the sand blew in curious strands across the beach to the crashing surf . . . I won't describe it, you can watch the movie . . .

The soundtrack is 'The Lark Ascending' by Vaughan Williams
to remind me of the skylarks that were singing all around us
as we ascended Rhossili Down.

Here's a map of the route - click on it to enlarge.


BTW if you are unable to view the video
please let me know and I'll try to fix it.