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.

Monday 26 July 2010


On Friday I went for a scout around my favourite auction – this isn't a stuffy serious fine art auction house, it's a treasure house of all sorts of stuff and has a friendly atmosphere (if you've never been to an auction this is a good place to start).

It's easy to get distracted, I spotted a lovely carpet, but I tried to be focused. I usually take a good look at the pictures and prints, one day something really interesting is going to turn up. On Friday I spotted a signature I recognised . . .

I skipped off to the auctioneer's office to check in the catalogue for the estimated price but found no mention of a print by Sheila Robinson. I asked the auctioneer about the print, he pointed to the lot number and explained it was included with the large oil painting next to it on the shelf – 'the nudes?!' 'Yes, the nudes – they're apparently by a well known artist'.

My heart sank, I didn't want to buy a massive oil painting of a Life Class and if it was by someone really well known I couldn't afford to make a bid. My Mum lives near the auction house, so I checked on her computer and found that the painter of 'the nudes' was a noted portraitist, but then again I really wanted that print by Sheila Robinson. So, on my way home I returned to the auctioneer's office and filled out a 'Commission Bid' form – we had things to do on Saturday so unfortunately I couldn't bid in person – I put down the price I'd be happy to pay for the print alone, a B.O.G.O.F. (buy one get one free), it was a gamble . . .

. . . which paid off! This morning I collected both pictures from the auction house, they're bigger than I remembered! It was a tight fit getting them into my car.

Here's the Sheila Robinson print, I think the date is 1985*, two years before she died and is marked 1/Artist's Proof. Sheila was an innovative printmaker who often printed from cut cardboard as well as lino; she worked as an illustrator and designed stamps and posters, inspired by her mentor Edward Bawden. Later she taught printmaking at the Royal College of Art. I love the confidence of the cut lines and the colours she's used.

What about that oil painting? Here's a sneaky look at the corner – subtle colours and a light touch . . .

Here's the signature . . .

Elena Gaussen Marks, she is still working as a portrait painter in London as Elena Gaussen, there's a water colour study of a similar composition on her web site. What I've found out about her is an intriguing story – for 34 years she was married to Leo Marks, if you haven't heard of him you will probably know a poem he wrote.

There are things I like about the painting – the soft colours of the background and the memories it resurrects in me of hours and hours of life classes at art school. And, in finding out more about the painter, I've discovered the amazing life story of Leo Marks . But 'the nudes' are for sale . . .

. . . let me know if you'd like to make me an offer, I'll let you know if I put them into another auction**.

* I asked the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden if they had any information about the Sheila Robinson Print. They have one in their collection dated 1963 – I can now see that is the date on this print. It is called 'Leaves' and the gallery staff are almost certain that Edward Bawden had the same print framed and hanging in his house.

** The nudes oil painting will be for sale in this auction on 22 September 2010.

Sunday 25 July 2010

You never know who you'll bump into . . .

Today was the last day of Cambridge Open Studios 2010, so I decided to visit three studios a short drive away. My first stop was to see Robert Good, I'm familiar with Robert's realistic oil paintings and his more recent bright 'pop art' style paintings but to my surprise his recent work has taken a new route . . . and it was good to see him obviously excited by new challenges. We had a long chat about the inspirations and ideas in his installations. I particularly liked this series 'Sorted', recorded here in a set of cards. . .

Sorted © Robert Good 2010

My next stop was at Lorraine Izon's studio, she works mainly in ceramics and obviously loves textures and patterns as well as hares, owls and hens – I couldn't resist buying this blue glazed tile . . .

I then headed off into the edge of the Fens where the Devil's Dyke comes to an end on a little village green, right next to Emma Mitchell's cottage. Some of you may know Emma as blogger Silverpebble, walking up the winding garden path to the beach hut studio (which is full of wonderful silver and bead and vintage treasures) I heard gales of laughter and excited chatter . . . not only Mrs P herself but also two other bloggers – Just a Thimbleful and Dottycookie were in the hut along with some other visitors – yes, it was quite a crush!

Mrs P suggested that we settle ourselves at the little table – she bribed us with home baked biscuits, we had a good old natter and drank lots of tea

We even spotted some fairies ;-)

Thank you Emma for allowing us to have an impromptu bloggers tea-party in your pretty garden :-)

Thursday 22 July 2010

Dancing to the Chalkhill Blues

Yesterday evening we took a picnic supper with us to the Devil's Dyke, to be precise – the stretch of the high chalk defensive bank and ditch that slashes across Newmarket Racecourses, right alongside the tents and stage set up for the racing and concert nights.

On this glorious evening, I wanted to find the rare and weird Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum). We didn't find the orchids; well, I think we found the seed heads, but they look less than spectacular, so I'll reschedule that adventure for late June 2011. However, we did have a lovely walk – high above the race tracks and training gallops, striding out on a white ribbon of chalk through the waving grasses and flowers dancing with butterflies.

One of the most common wildflowers on this section of the Devil's Dyke is the Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria). The yellow flowers have mostly faded to a rich dark ochre which contrast with the grey-white downy calyxes.

The highlights of last night's walk were the butterflies and moths . . .

A male Chalkhill Blue butterfly (Lysandra coridon)
a little dishevelled but still a shimmering turquoise blue.

A pair of 6-spot Burnet Moths (Zygaena filipendulae)

Another 6-spot Burnet Moth, you can see the
green/blue/indigo irridenscence of it's wings.

This male Chalkhill Blue butterfly was one of the many
butterflies quietly resting on the Kidney Vetch.

The slightly smaller and darker coloured female
Chalkhill Blue butterfly.

Look how perfectly the patterns on the underside of her wings
echo the Hedge Parsley flowers.

And walking back along the gallops we glanced behind us to see the sky put on a cloud and light spectacular.

Monday 19 July 2010

This is heaven to me

We spent Saturday in North Norfolk – the north-west corner, where The Wash meets the North Sea. This is where I first saw the sea, it's my defining memory of 'sea-side' It's not the abrupt cliff edge of land meeting the crashing forces of water; here the land dissolves into the sea – salt water dilutes into fresh water – mud mingles into sand. If you take look at a satellite image you'll see the patterns of the creeks and water channels getting ever smaller like bronchioles in our lungs or neurones in our brain.

Here I can hunt for special shells and treasures in the ripples; hear the whippling, mewling calls of the sea birds; feel the wind buffeting my clothes and the yielding marshland under my feet and see the purple shimmer of the Sea Lavender flowers. These are the same scenes that appears in my photo album – finding shells with my Mum; or in a framed photograph on our wall – an art school black and white photography project. Thornham is heaven to me; this is the place to go when metropolitan Burnham Market is just too bustly, when the new farm shops and delis along the coast road feel a little too suburban – I can guarantee that you will find the true peace of the Norfolk coast here.

Music: 'This is heaven to me' by Madeleine Peyroux

Marsh Samphire is at it's best just after mid-summer, the marsh has a lush spring greeness to it as the sun shines through the translucent green-glass stems. Once the Samphire was burnt on the beach to make ash that was valuable for glass making, now the Samphire is harvested to send to top class restaurants and fishmongers as a speciality vegetable to accompany seafood. We picked our own and bought cockles, brown shrimps and crabs' claws from a hut at Brancaster Staithe for our supper – washed down with some pink bubbly.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Cristening the apples

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain

St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

I've been wittering for weeks about the lack of rain . . . at last, early this morning, we've had a decent shower of rain, in fact it's still raining lightly and the garden is looking thankful for it. It's 15th July, St Swithin's Day – if you're well versed in English proverbs you'll know the rhyme and will have heard it at many a Sport's Day or Fete held on that day whether the heavens opened or the sun shone.

St Swithin is a home-grown saint, the bishop of Winchester in Saxon times. He was a local boy who obviously loved the people and villages in his care, he built churches for them and planted apple trees. When he died in 862, his last request was granted and he was buried outside, where his grave would be trodden on and rained upon.

One hundred and nine years later the monks of Winchester decided to move Bishop Swithin's body to a splendid shrine inside the cathedral – I wonder if they'd heard of the popularity of St Jame's shrine at Santiago de Compostela and wanted to be part of the new fashion for pilgrimage? The body was dug up on 15 July 971 and during the great re-internment ceremony there was a huge storm . . . and it continued raining for forty days and forty nights!

Poor St Swithin, taken out of his dear Wessex soil to be venerated in a glitzy reliquary – the story has a recent parallel told in Gerontius, a moving play by Stephen Wyatt , it was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last week with Derek Jacobi as Cardinal Newman. Newman died in 1890 and, at his request, was buried with his close friend in a quiet graveyard near the place in which they had lived and worked; but as plans for his beatification gathered pace the grave was opened in 2008 to move the body to a tomb befitting a saint. Except there were no remains – only compost broken down by the rich damp soil.

St Swithin's symbols are apples and raindrops,
they are beautifully depicted here in a stained glass window
at St Swithin's church in Frettenham, Norfolk.
(Photograph © Mike Dixon, Norfolk Stained Glass
who kindly allowed me to use it here)

If it rains on 15 July, St Swithin
is christening the apples.

My garden is thankful on this damp, breezy
and cool summer morning.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

A Mediterranean diet

Has it rained yet? No – not here (well, only two trivial showers) and they don't really count. The Metcheck weather forecasting web site has been teasing us with prediction of proper rain . . . 14mm on Monday, 6mm on Wednesday. Now they're being a bit more realistic . . . we may get – and I won't get too excited – 0.8mm this evening. A few miles to the north of us, there is an agricultural research company who publish detailed records of the weather, it's official – in July 2010 we live in the driest spot in the UK.

But, even though our grass is dry and brown, there are vegetables which have loved the conditions – I haven't even watered them and they've thrived! So, let me show off a pretty good crop of garlic . . .

and some plump globe artichokes . . .

I think I'll consult Elizabeth David and cook up a Mediterranean supper :-)

Sunday 11 July 2010

Jewels, beads and crystal cups

No sign of rain yet in our corner of south-west Suffolk, our garden is crisp and parched – the shallow Dragonfly Pond has completely dried up and I admit to neglecting most of my vegetable garden. But the big bonus this year has been the fruit crops . . . after a superb crop of Invicta Gooseberries which I made into jam, this weekend we harvested the Red Currants. There was one elderly, un-named Red Currant bush in the garden when we moved here, I gave it a good pruning and struck new plants from all the twigs (easy, I just stuffed them into the ground) – we now have a row of lovely young Red Currant bushes along the red-brick garden wall. We protected the currants from the hungry birds with nets and so our harvest this year was a good one.

So what did I do with two big bowls full of Red Currants? Make Red Currant jelly of course! Cold dark winter days wouldn't be the same without Red Currant jelly to accompany a hearty lamb casserole; and what's more satisfying than a beautiful row of glowing ruby red jars!

We used to have a dessert Gooseberry bush, Whinham's Industry – a celebrated variety from Morpeth in Nothumberland. Sadly, it turned up it toes one winter and is no more. I replaced it, in another location in the garden, with two fruit bushes: a modern red dessert Gooseberry Hinnomaki Red and a White Currant White Versailles. The bushes are still small and young, but we've been able to sample a small harvest of the delicious fruits.

This morning I picked this bowl of shiny creamy-golden currants . . .

and glorious plump red and lime green gooseberries . . .

. . . what could I do with these precious beads? Should I take them to the skilled Mrs P for her to make into a beautiful necklace, perhaps? But that would mean missing out on the flavours – all those sharp, sweet-sour, musky, complex, taste-bud teasing flavours that appear in the descriptions on the back of bottles of Sauvignon Blanc (the label never says that the wine tastes of grapes).

I remembered that Fiona, The Cottage Smallholder, had recipes for fruit jelly on her blog – yes indeed! There was the perfect recipe for my classy fruits, Dessert Gooseberry and White Currant Jellies. I had all the ingredients, I just needed some suitable glasses to serve them in, Cliff suggested the whisky tumblers . . . perfect!

It was while I was happily spooning fruit and pouring the liquid, that Cliff explained he had bought the tumblers many years ago 'when he had money – before he had a wife'. "They cost you how much", I nearly dropped the jug of gooseberry juice!

Tonight we'll savour bejewelled jellies in crystal cups.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Prickly, green, hairy and sour

Gooseberries get a bad press these days – prickly, green, hairy and sour. Once upon a time they were a medicinal fruit and more recently the prize berry of the Victorian kitchen garden; but that was before 1905 when American Mildew came to Europe and growing Gooseberries has never been the same since. If your Gooseberry crop escapes the yucky mildew, the bush may well be defoliated by the horrid little lavae of the Gooseberry Sawfly.

Maybe this year we have the long, cold winter and dry spring to thank – our Invicta Gooseberry bush has no Sawfly lavae nor mildew. We had a bumper crop of perfect Gooseberries – three cheers! Jam, I had to make Gooseberry jam! If you're a novice jam-maker, this is the jam to start with – it's easy-peasy and therefore very satisfying indeed.

Here's how I made Gooseberry jam last Friday evening . . .

Pick your Gooseberries

'Nub' them (that's Fen-dialect for topping and tailing)

avoiding any wildlife!

Cook with a little water,
add preserving sugar (same weight as you had of gooseberries)
and boil hard for about 15 minutes

If your gooseberries are young the jam will be olive green
older sweeter berries produce a coppery orange preserve

Test for set (dribble a little on a cold saucer
and see if it wrinkles when you tip the saucer)

Pot up into sterilised jars and label


I think Gooseberry jam is up there with the very, very best!

Monday 5 July 2010

A hymn to Helios

Yesterday Cliff led another walk for the local walking group, 15 miles over the open fields where Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk butt up against each other. I was in a quandary – walking in temperatures over 24C and me don't mix! but I wanted to give Cliff my support, after all I'd walked most of the paths when Cliff devised the route and I knew it would be a good day out.

Casting aside the sensible option, and trusting the BBC weather forecast of cooler temperatures with cloud and breeze, I got up early on Sunday morning, made our packed lunches and decided not to leave my car at the lunch point because I was up for the whole distance.

We set off from Castle Camps, over the lumpy fields which hide the ghosts of the medieval village and strode out along wide tracks into Essex. Through my new sunglasses the fields glowed with firey light, as if we were walking through a landscape painted by Jean-Francois Millet.

'The Gleaners' (1857) by Jean-Francois Millet
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

This photograph is taken through the lens of my sunglasses . . .

The heat got even more intense and the last mile into Helions Bumpstead were just too hot for me to enjoy the walk. We ate our sandwiches and then went to the Three Horseshoes pub for refreshing pints of bitter-shandy. The unusual village name could well have referred to the sun god Helios, it is in fact named after a Norman knight who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066, from Hellean in Brittany.

Although I now felt refreshed, I decided that another 6.5 miles wasn't for me, I'd walked 8.5 miles and I was happy with that. On the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map, Cliff showed me an option of a short cut where I could rendez-vous with the group near the 'three-counties' point, if I hadn't turned up he'd drive back to Helions Bumpstead and meet me at the church (mobile phones often don't get signals in this area so we have to plan ahead).

Off the group marched and I sat under a tree in the churchyard before deciding to saunter slowly along the short-cut route . . .

. . . yes, that's the route! It goes straight to that electricity pole and then continues gradually uphill to the trees on the far horizon. There is a cut path through the crop but the rape is so big and heavy it leans down over the track. You can see how dry the ground is, we had a sharp thunder shower on 19 June but apart from that there has been no rain at all for more than two months.

I soon got fed up of fighting through the seed-heavy crop, sticky with black aphids and spiky with hidden thistles – I opted for plan B and retreated to the cool haven of the village church.

What a lovely surprise, the church door wasn't locked and inside it was light and cool. Unlike most English churches and reminiscent of Scandinavian ones, the walls and pews are painted in cool shades of white with accents of red and blue.

I sat in a big oak chair at a desk in the back of the nave and read through the book that records who embroidered the kneelers and why they chose their design – touching snippets of local history.

The creamy-white carved pews are obviously uncomfy for long services, there is a wonderfully diverse collection of cushions on the seats! I particularly liked these two . . .

Fragments of stern words from centuries long past are preserved on the walls, I'm not sure what this one said, or what solemn feast day it referred to . . .

This simple carving is on the wooden seat near the font just to the left of the main door – isn't it a lovely simple design?

I found a stub of conté crayon in my back pack and some discarded envelopes at the back of the church, so I sat in the churchyard and sketched the north wall of the nave, with its mish-mash of field stones, flints and bricks; blocked up doors and windows and perpendicular tracery.

I was sketching some stubborn little cherubs which seemed to be the fashion on the 18th century gravestones, when Cliff arrived after finishing the walk. He had a great idea . . . we could buy scones and cream at the supermarket on the way home and eat them with our freshly made gooseberry jam in our garden.

And that's just what we did :-)

Saturday 3 July 2010

Some advice on chillin'

The studio assistants would like to pass on their advice about coping in the extreme heat we are experiencing here in south-west Suffolk and large parts parts of the south and east of England this summer . . .

During the day . . .

. . . find somewhere shady . . .

. . . and do as little as possible . . .

. . . got it?