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.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Oh, to be in England now that April's there . . .

When Dinahmow planned her trip back to revisit the country she left many years ago, I suspect she had in mind – like Robert Browning – blossom and a chaffinch singing on a bough. Unfortunately the jet-stream has delivered England's much needed rain, and lots and lots of it!

Today's plan was a rendez-vous with not just Dinahmow but also Lizzie-made; the selected meeting place was the brand shiny new Harriet's Café Tearooms in Cambridge . . . and jolly nice it is too!

Fortified with tea/coffee and toasted tea-cakes we ventured forth down cobbled lanes shiny with puddles; there were no tourist groups to jostle with, just the occasional student on a bike. The only person in the view from Magdalene Bridge was a man baling water out of the punts.

Bloggers are hardy souls . . .

and the sunflowers looked happy!

We were on our way to Kettles Yard to see Alfred Wallis: ships and boats. The elderly Cornish sailor took up painting to fill the void in his life after his wife died. He painted on scraps of card and board using paints from the hardware store. He painted his memories, he painted what he knew well . . . ships and the sea.

And that might have been that, but Alfred Wallis lived in St Ives and it was 1928 . . . two artists from London were in St Ives planning to establish an artists' colony by the sea . . . they were Ben Nicholson and Kit Wood and as the saying goes 'the rest is history'.

On the way back into town we passed a shop full of bright things . . . it drew us bloggers in like wasps to a jam sarnie! Some of us couldn't resist buying things!

What with all that art and designy things and choosing, not to mention the incessant rain, we were in need of sustainance and there was only one place to go for a true English comfort food experience . . .


Feeling satisfyingly filled up with delicious warming tastiness on toast, we were ready to face the rain again. But first I needed to buy a couple of Chelsea buns (you can't go into Fitzbillies and NOT buy Chelsea buns, that would, be . . . well . . . just wrong!) I nearly panicked when I couldn't see any CB's under or on the counter. But there was no need to fret, the CB's are now held in a stainless steel cupboard – nick-named 'the dalek' – it's there at the back against the blue tiled wall, with the stack of bun-bags on the top.

And look, I've got a lovely present! One of Lizzie's beautiful hand-bound books and a linocut of Spanish lemons :-) A lovely way to remember our meet-up day.


Friday 20 April 2012

Grow your own

Well, I'm no longer a member of the RHS (the stack of un-read copies of The Garden and unused membership card just didn't warrant the sub) and I only rarely watch Gardeners' World (sorry all you Monty fans but he just doesn't inspire me to garden) BUT apparently it's National Gardening Week, so why not? Let's go for a little tour of my plot . . . I've been beavering away with renewed enthusiasm this year!

It's that time of the year, twixt cold frosty nights and very warm sunny days, when there's not room to move in the greenhouse! I daren't risk putting those tender plants outside; the tomatoes are getting bigger every day; I need space for more seed trays and modules; and when that chill wind is blowing I need a place to sit and have a cup of tea ;-)

I've planted the potatoes . . . International Kidney in large pots which will be topped up with leaf-mould as the shoots peek through the soil (thanks for the tip Fiona). Juliette and Ratte in the new bed along the side of the greenhouse.

The 'fairy-fences' (Fiona's term) or 'slug-hotels' (Cliff's term) are looking good . . . whatever they're called they stop the soil falling onto the paths, the planting area is maximised and they are made from pruning and cost nothing. And I had fun weaving them and they look pretty.

The pea wigwams this year are made from home-grown miscanthus grass stems and dog-wood prunings. I am waging war with the pigeons, I know that they plan to wait and lull me into a sense of security before they strike and peck my precious pea plants. I have wrapped the bottom half of the wigwams in wire netting – it's not visible from a distance but is protecting the young pea plants as they get established. To deter those pesky pigeons without compromising on style, I've made yards of APB (anti-pigeon-bunting) from coloured plastic mail-order packaging and scrap bias binding – again this cost absolutely nothing. Cliff says they look like prayer flags. I'm praying that the pigeons are scared of APB.

Now this is a good sight :-) Aspargus poking their fat little noses through the soil!

The Artichoke survived a -16C freezing and is looking good; and yes, more APB!

The recent rain has refilled the Dragonfly Pond; and there's a new dragonfly sculpture – Cheep the cockerel jumped onto the wooden chain-saw sculpted dragonfly and snapped off one of the rather rotten wings! So I bought this new metal one when we went to Belton House at Easter.

Yep! The Orange 'chicken-proof fence' is still in situ and it's worked pretty well. The Round Garden and Box-hedge Border are beginning to look good again. When will I take the fence down? Er, pass!

The view through the severely pruned Hazel Arch across the Round Garden to my studio. I've planted Sweetpeas around the metal obelisks and sowed seeds of Gypsophila, Amaranth and Ammi Majus – all flowers for cutting. The seeds are from Ben aka Mr Higgledy (his excellent web site will make you want to grow flowers and smile all at the same time!)

Happy gardening . . . let the growing begin!


Thursday 19 April 2012

Lessons from the little water buffalo

Yesterday afternoon I took break from carving a woodcut and glanced across to my computer screen, I spotted a Tweet from @CambridgeNewsUK "Works of art stolen after break-in at Fitzwilliam Museum in #Cambridge - more details soon" – I felt a lump in my throat . . . if it's 'my' little buffalo, I'll cry!

The news was out that last Friday, 13th April, at round 7.30pm thieves had broken into the Fitzwilliam Museum and had taken 18 carved jade objects from the oriental gallery (on the ground floor just behind the atrium café) one of them was this green jade buffalo . . . 'my' buffalo.

I remember the day I first met the little buffalo, it was a school visit to the museum with Mrs Slade, the pottery teacher. She pointed out the carved green jade water buffalo . . . she got us to look at his round tummy and serene face, the folds of soft flesh under his chin and the little whorl of hair on his forehead. I fell totally in love with him.

For nearly 40 years the little water buffalo has been part of my visits to the Fitzwilliam Museum and my visits home; he was there when I was on my way to my holiday job in the museum one summer (shuffling card indexes in the coins department); I took Cliff to meet him; I've stood in front of him when I was sad; I've shared a moment with him when I felt happy; and he was there when I went to see the Vermeers a few weeks ago.

But today . . . who knows where the little buffalo is? I hope he's not damaged. I hope he's safe. I hope I'll be able to see him again . . . but there's more I can learn from my buffalo . . .

When I looked at the Fitzwilliam Museum website yesterday, I read the 'History Note':

Taken from Qianlong’s Summer Palace by a Scotch subaltern,
when it was sacked in 1861.
At his death he left it to his sister, who died in 1907.
Oscar Raphael bought it at the sale of her effects.
Bequeathed: (Raphael, Oscar C.; 1946)

I thought about the 'life' of the little water buffalo; he began as a small boulder of green jade about the size of a man's foot, in a Chinese river . . .

photo borrowed from Friends of Jade

Then 500 years ago a craftsman sat the boulder on his work table, looked at it and saw a little water buffalo, sitting down and turning his head to sniff the air. I wonder how many hours work it took for him to 'release' the little buffalo's form form the rough stone?

In China, jade was precious, more special than gold or silver . . . where did the little buffalo spend the next 300 years? In a temple, a garden or palace? Who did he calm and inspire?

What is known is that in the early 1800s the little buffalo was one of the treasures in the Gardens of Perfect Brightness, Yuan Ming Yuan . . .


This beautiful complex of gardens and palaces was the Emperor's retreat from the summer heat of Beijing.

The next chapter in the little buffalo's life is dramatic and distressing . . . it was during the Second Opium War, it was 1860 and the French and British armies had marched on Beijing. Two British envoys, a journalist from the Times and their escort of troops went ahead to meet with Chinese officials for peace talks . . . it went horribly wrong and the British group were imprisoned and brutally tortured.

The British High Commissioner to China was Lord Elgin (the son of Elgin of 'The Elgin Marbles' fame) here he is arriving in Beijing . . .

Outraged by the atrocity he ordered the destruction of Yuan Ming Yuan . . .

3,500 British soldiers attacked the palace and set it on fire, one of the soldiers was 27 year Charles Gordon (later to find fame as General Gordon in the Sudan), he wrote in his diary:

We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money...I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.

There was much disapproval, Victor Hugo the French author, wrote:

Two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain.


One of the objects stolen was a little green jade buffalo.

The last 40 years has been a short chapter in the life story of the little water buffalo. Who knows what the next twist in the tale will be? Where will the the next scenes take place? Will he return to China or to Cambridge? And what lessons will he teach to those who look?


Saturday 14 April 2012

Memory flotsam

It's hard to miss the coverage in the media about the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, and most of the documentaries and dramas have been anti-climatic to say the least.

Here are some memories – some recent, some that bobbed to the surface after being submerged for decades . . .

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Last weekend we were briefly in Liverpool and had time to call in to the Maritime Museum to see their Titanic exhibition. It was very dark and claustrophobic, invoking a sense of panic in me –  I started thinking about being trapped in a dark corridor full of people – probably not the intention of the exhibition designer.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

I must have been about 8 years old, at school we had to learn a song about a big ship called 'Titanic' that sank and lots of people died. My Granddad explained it was a true, the ship really did hit an iceberg in the middle of the ocean and sink with lots of people still on board. I found that very scary and troubling. This was the song and it's been my 'ear-worm' all week.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

 On Cliff's Aunt's spare room beds were blankets embroidered with large swirly initials W. S. L.

"Who's WSL, were they a relative?"

"No! White Star Line. Father worked on the ships"

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

In a drawer of photos and letters, a song book . . .

I wonder if the passengers on Titanic had song books?

"My Bonnie is over the ocean" and "Oft in the stilly night"

songs for travelers to a new life in a new country.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •


Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Primrose Egg

On Easter Monday evening I painted my Easter Rhea egg . . . I used acrylic paints and the egg shell was a beautiful textured surface which took the paint perfectly. I didn't draw a design to follow or use a pencil to draw the shapes first – I just had an idea and dived in with my paints.

This morning was perfect for a photo shoot in our primrose-filled gravel garden along the side of the front yard.

Here's a closer view . . .

I've signed it and painted 'EASTER 2012' on one side . . .

The Rhea egg was already Primrose coloured, so I just needed to add the tiniest shading and paint the green background.

Maybe I should make this into my Easter tradition and paint a Rhea egg each Easter?

And thank you to one of the Rheas at Oakview Pork and Poultry for the beautiful egg.


Saturday 7 April 2012

Easter eggs!

Happy Easter!

 The Under-Gardeners, Spice Girls and Pearl
supply us with so many beautiful eggs!
Friends who call in, know that they will be
offered a box of eggs :-)

The eggs are in a lovely assortment of colours,
each hen has her unique egg-shell tint
and I can tell which has laid each egg
(I should get out more!)

The sizes vary too . . .

Did you spot the tiny egg in the second photo?
It was found in a nest that blew out of
a tree in a winter storm,
I think it must have been an
abandoned Chaffinch's nest.

Oh, and the huge egg
what bird* would lay a huge
primrose coloured egg?

I bought that from a stall at the
local farmers' market this morning . . .
I couldn't resist!!!
Can you guess who laid it?

As if I need more eggs!

But we don't buy chocolate eggs
and I just had to have it to decorate.

I think that painting a design on
an enormous egg is the perfect thing
to fill a cold Easter afternoon.

Wishing you a very happy Easter weekend,
whether you've found some sunshine
or snuggled on the sofa watching
the Boat Race on the telly.


* Can you guess who laid the egg?
I realised that I say hello to them
on one of my favourite local walks.


Well I knew someone would get the answer right soon...

Yes Su it is indeed a Rhea egg :-)

And clever Wendy is absolutely right, it's Mr Rhea who incubates the eggs for 40 days and nights before the little Rheas hatch.

The egg is from this farm: http://www.oakviewpoultry.co.uk which we pass when we walk one of our favourite routes around 'The Camps' just a skip over the border into Cambridgshire.

To give you a better idea of the size of the Rhea's egg, an average hen's egg weighs 60g, the Rhea's egg weighs 456g! I'm now going to very very carefully blow the egg and make the contents into a baked custard sprinkled with Nutmeg.

Then I can decorate the eggshell ... I'll show you in the next post.


PS: What about the Boat Race!!!! Blimey what a shocker :-O

Sunday 1 April 2012

PPP5-live Giveaway – the 5 winners!

I hope that you enjoyed the PPP5-live event for the 5th anniversary of Purple Podded Peas, I had a lot of fun putting together the videos with Fiona and Su and chatting with Lesley live on BBC Radio Suffolk.

Thank you everyone who entered the PPP5-live Giveaway, there are 37 names in the jug . . .

I asked Cliff to select 5 random strips of paper and here are the lucky winners . . .


So, if those lucky winners would let me know your addresses (email: studio (at) celiahart (dot) co (dot) uk) I'll put a pack of my Heritage Vegetable cards and a little packet of purple podded pea seeds in the post to you. (If you don't live in the UK you'll receive a substitute gift instead of the seeds, as I'm afraid that bio-security rules mean I can't post plant material abroad.)

I've tested my purple podded pea seeds for viability and as you can see, it's looking good, so I hope that you have success with the ones I send out. I usually start my peas in deep pots (loo-rolls would do fine to) and plant them out around a wig-wam of twiggy sticks, when the seedling are about 5cm high. If, like me, you live in an area plagued with wood pigeons then it's best to wrap the lower part of the wig-wam in netting to protect the young plants and also hang bird-scarers near-by . . . this is a war and the pigeons must not win!!!

Happy gardening! I'll be back as soon as I've finished a big digital illustration commission I've been working on for most of the past month.