Although I am keen to blog about my progress on the project sometimes I overhear visitors talking and it reminds me to take time to enjoy my beautiful surroundings.
This is a place that never fails to surprise its visitors. One of the discussions overheard today was that 'People come to look at King John's Hunting Lodge just as much as they come to see the museum exhibits.' Of course that it absolutely true and I cannot tell you the amount of visitors who have been taken aback at the amazing structure and admonished themselves for not visiting sooner. So today's photos are just so you can appreciate the building.
John very kindly invited me to look at some of the old manuscripts he had collected from the Taunton Records Office last week, which was a real treat.
There are many beautiful scripts to look at but one had a series of fine drawings illustrating the text. However, try as I might I couldn't work out what the strange plant, shown above was. As usual John was full of information and told me that the document was a Royal Charter issued by Queen Mary and King Philip II. The strange plant is a pomegranate which was used to illustrate King Phillip II links to Spain.
All of this got me thinking about some of the research I have been doing into ink making. Historically pomegranate was used to make ink for manuscripts, I believe the British Museum has several examples. However, I would think pomegranate was hard to come by so whether any of the Axbridge Museum documents are made using pomegranate ink, I am afraid I do not know. But, I did think that in honour of King Phillip of Spain sending his charter to Axbridge I should try making a batch, and see how it compares to the more traditional inks - I will let you know how that goes.
I spent most of yesterday making various forms of ink which was really rewarding, I have always enjoyed making my own artist materials, it's a good way to really understand the media you are working with and it gives me thinking time to develop the project.
Unfortunately the afternoon did not go so well as, after curing a selection of feathers, I tried cutting the quill pens, which was tricky. However, the final disaster was trying to write with them, they were too weak - and my dogs kept stealing them!
Whilst doing a bit of research, to discover where I was going wrong, I found the quote below, which I think sums up perfectly my thoughts every time I look at the museum's manuscripts.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
[Carl Sagan. Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)]”
I was extremely lucky to be invited to attend the leavers ceremony at the Town Hall. John had requested a number of the Museum's manuscripts from the Archives Office and they were available for the children to see (and me to photograph).
Seeing the documents close up has really made me focus upon how they were created and to that end I have started a number of experiments of the making of oak gall ink, lamp black ink and walnut ink, details of which I will post in the tutorials section soon.
I am trying to use this blog to give you an idea of my process, which can sometimes be difficult to vocalise, so bear with me.
During past projects I would sometimes read something or meet someone and it would be almost like divine intervention. However, if I am really truthful I think that one of the great things about working on a project of this nature is that you can really open yourself up to ideas and immerse yourself in your thoughts. Rather than divine intervention breakthroughs actually come from a greater awareness or paying attention, to put it simply.
I know many artists who use sketchbooks like its their right arm but for me I have never really got on with writing my thoughts and ideas down in a traditional way. It might be a dyslexia/visual thinking thing or maybe its just the way I do things but I like to keep all the thoughts and ideas in my head, sort of floating around. Although, and this might sound a bit crazy, I can visualise them all and I keep each topic separate, a bit like a huge mind map in my head. If I am lucky, they will eventually start to join up and you get a breakthrough, its a bit like matching socks.
I have had a couple of weeks with lots of ideas floating about. Mostly, I keep coming back to the similarities of the manuscripts, holding all those stories, memories, information etc and the process of human memory. But, I can't quite get to the bottom this idea and I am still researching like crazy.
On Tuesday I left my reading on the dangers of gall ink destroying manuscripts and all my floating thoughts to join John Page at the Town Hall for a recording. But, as we went in the hall we met the local Alzheimers Society Singing for the Brain group (You may have heard that even when the brain has been badly affected by Alzheimers the words of songs remain preserved by the musical pathways).
The meeting immediately reminded me of when I was still at college I had a Saturday job working in a local old peoples home. There was one lady who couldn't talk and would spend most of the day walking around seemingly unaware of her surroundings and making noises but not forming words. She was a very gentle soul and seemed quite happy, so we would busy ourselves caring for the residents around her and getting on with the day. But, every now and then she would stand in the middle of the day room and sing opera, and it sounded amazing.
Everything would stop as we all listened to her beautiful soprano voice and then she would finish and resume her wandering and we would return to our work. Apparently she had been an opera singer when she was young and I still marvel at not only all of the words and tunes that were still with her but the extreme joy she received and passed to us in those few moments. In telling you this story I have also realised that of all the people I cared for I can still remember her name and see her face yet it was many years ago and we never exchanged a single word.
So there is my lightbulb moment. My joining up of ideas. To me there exists a very obvious metaphor between the page and the brain. Our memories are written across the pages though over time some of those words may get damaged but, it can only take a few of those words that remain to spark a new memory of its own - I will share a bit more about that next time.
I am starting a shopping list of the things I need to buy and the people I need to speak to about some of the traditional crafts on display in the Museum. On my journey through the artefacts I keep looking at this slate fragment held in the Victorian School Room display. Knowing a bit more about the museums archives I suspect there may be documents that relate to William and his life after he left the school, we might even find an entry in the Workhouse records - but I hope not.
It is going to be fascinating for me to research the traditional crafts used to create many of the written words held by the museum, but I think it will be as interesting to look at the stories contained, even on a fragment of slate.
Item 1 on my shopping list is slate - so I am off to the reclamation yard
I am really beginning to see the museum in a different way. Previously I think I was guilty of visiting a museum and seeing it as being filled with interesting artefacts from someone else's pasts. However, as I am now going to Axbridge Museum looking to create a body of work I am looking at the artefacts as a craftsperson. As such, I am seeing a huge collection of traditional crafts, most of which I have no idea how to recreate, but some of which could be very relevant for this work.
Without sounding too conceited I can make stained glass panels (long story) but I have no idea how to paint and fire glass. Let alone how it was done in the 15th Century, as pictured above. I do know, because John Page has told me, that glass was very expensive so to risk it breaking during firing must have been extremely risky.
Perhaps finding more out about these ancient crafts might help me develop my own work?
The work created for the Muse project will remain in the Museum until 31st October and can be seen from 1pm-4pm daily.
Andrea Oke is a Somerset based artist who is fascinated by human behaviour and its links to memory. For more information please to to my website