Creator of the Flower Fairies: Cicely Mary Barker

Cicely Mary Barker (1895–1973) was born on 28 June, 1895 in Croyden, England, to Walter Barker and Mary Eleanor Barker. As a child she suffered from epilepsy so her parents thought it would be safer for her to be home-schooled by a governess. She spent a lot of her time drawing and painting and her father decided to pay for a correspondence course in art which she continued until at least 1919. He also enrolled her in evening classes with the Croyden School of Art in 1908, which she attended until the 1940s and eventually became a teacher there.

Cicely’s parents noticed the quality of her drawings—that they might be good enough for publishing—so they took examples to publishers and printers. The artist’s first published works appeared in 1911 when Raphael Tuck, the printer, bought four drawings and turned them into postcards. In October 1911 she won second prize in a poster competition run by the Croydon Art Society, and shortly after was elected the youngest member of the Society.

After her father’s untimely death in 1912, her older sister, Dorothy, tried to support the family by teaching in private schools then opening a kindergarten at home. The artist also contributed to the finances of her family by selling poetry and illustrations to magazines such as My Magazine, Child’s Own and Raphael Tuck annuals. Additionally, she exhibited and sold work at the Croydon Art Society and at the Royal Institute. She also designed postcards for various printing firms.

Cicely Mary Barker - Because He Came... (date unknown)

Cicely Mary Barker – Because He Came… (date unknown)

After approaching several publishers. Cicely’s first book was accepted by Blackie and published in 1923. Entitled Flower Fairies of the Spring, the book contained watercolour paintings with pen and ink outlines of fairies situated in idyllic settings with each image accompanied by a small song. As fairies were popular at this time the book sold well and also received many positive reviews, consequently over the next thirty-two years another nine flower fairy books were produced.

Cicely Mary Barker - A Flower Fairy Alphabet (1934)

Cicely Mary Barker – A Flower Fairy Alphabet (1934)

Cicely Mary Barker - Flower Fairies of the Wayside (1948)

Cicely Mary Barker – Flower Fairies of the Wayside (1948)

Though she is most often remembered for her flower fairies, they are far from the only books she produced. During the 1920s the artist also created images and wrote some of the songs for several books of songs and verse.

Cicely Mary Barker - Old Rhymes For All Times (1928)

Cicely Mary Barker – Old Rhymes For All Times (1928)

Cicely Mary Barker - The Children’s Book of Hymns (1929)

Cicely Mary Barker – The Children’s Book of Hymns (1929)

She was also an author of three stories with the first, The Lord of the Rushie River, published in 1938. As the book sold well, Blackie requested that she write another and Groundsel and Necklaces was published in 1946 and later renamed Fairy Necklaces when it was re-released in 1991. The third book she wrote was Simon the Swan which was completed in 1953, however Blackie ignored the book and it was not until 1988, fifteen years after the author death, that it got published. The paintings in these three stories differed from the flower fairy images as they were painted with either pastel or oil paint.

Cicely Mary Barker - Groundsel and Necklaces (1946)

Cicely Mary Barker – Groundsel and Necklaces (1946)

Cicely Mary Barker - The Lord of the Rushie River (1938)

Cicely Mary Barker – The Lord of the Rushie River (1938)

The artist was a devout Christian and produced many illustrations for Christian themed books and postcards. She also donated works to churches either for resale or display and I am showing one of her most recognised paintings The Parable of the Great Supper produced for St. George’s Church, Waddon.

Cicely Mary Barker - The Parable of the Great Supper (1934)

Cicely Mary Barker – The Parable of the Great Supper (1934)

Cicely Mary Barker - The Parable of the Great Supper detail (1934)

Cicely Mary Barker – The Parable of the Great Supper detail (1934)

The painting that hangs in the church is a triptych. The larger centre panel is entitled ‘The Great Supper’ and illustrates one of Jesus’ parables where ordinary people are brought in from the highways and byways to share in a great king’s feast, symbolising the inclusive spirit of Christianity. The two smaller side panels show St John the Baptist and Saint George.

The artist’s work slowed down in the 1950s, as she was teaching art at this time, then in 1954 her sister died so she became solely responsible for the care of her mother. The royalties from her books largely supported their life and occasionally she would do portrait commissions for extra money. When her mother died in 1960 Cicely’s health started to fail and she passed away in 1973.

Cicely Mary Barker - Portrait of Ianthe Barker (1951)

Cicely Mary Barker – Portrait of Ianthe Barker (1951)

Cicely Mary Barker - He Leadeth Me (1936)

Cicely Mary Barker – He Leadeth Me (1936)

Cicely Mary Barker - Flower Fairies of the Trees (1940)

Cicely Mary Barker – Flower Fairies of the Trees (1940)

The artist’s style was largely influenced by Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott as their books were popular during her childhood so she would have spent a lot of time reading them. She was also influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites Sir John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones. She admired them as they painted directly from nature and they could depict flora and fauna with near exactitude. The artist achieved her own botanical accuracy by referring to botanical books or having staff from Kew Gardens bring her specimens to paint. All the people featured in her images were real and were sourced from her sister’s kindergarten or were local villagers. She also had a habit of carrying a sketchbook with her and would quickly sketch any interesting child she saw while in public places. The costumes that the children wear were also created by her and after the painting was completed the fabric was recycled into new costumes.

In 1989, Frederick Warne, a division of Penguin Books, acquired the Flower Fairies properties and turned it into the commercial behemoth it is today. Half of the artist’s books were re-released in the 1980s and ’90s and you can buy flower fairy quilts, linen, fabric, stationary, figurines and many other products.

If you would like to see some of her religious works there are some images in this Flickr account and two articles, one at The Croydon Citizen and another at the Inside Croyden Blog.

Maiden Voyages: July 2016

Original Art for the Masthead: A couple of artists have approached me about the design of Pigtails in Paint’s masthead. So far, it has been composed by Pip from existing images and he never got the inspiration to create original art for it. Therefore, we are offering the opportunity for artists to have their original art appear as Pigtails’ banner for one year. Approved new images will appear beginning in mid-November. There are a few guidelines to make the design consistent with Pigtails’ image. 1) Naturally, it should feature a little girl or girls (optimum age around 8, but we are certainly flexible on this). 2) The girl should have pigtails of some kind. 3) And Pip had the idea that the girl should be holding a brush (or other artistic instrument) and appear to be finishing up the lettering in the title. 4) The color scheme should be appropriate—”warmer” tones. Examples of past mastheads can be seen here to give you an idea of past styles.  You can include the motto or let us add that in.  We do not require the original artwork so long as a scan of sufficient quality can be provided.  We look forward to your submissions and Ron will work with you every step of the way.

Bodies, Dressed and Undressed: Coincidences are remarkable and just as I finally got access to some of Flor Garduño’s published books, Pip and Christian inform me that there are better versions of the many images used in the two posts on this site (here and here). There is a wonderful introduction by Verónica Volkow in the book Inner Light (2002) which eloquently expresses the artist’s attitude about the relevance of nudes and flowers and their connection.  A slightly abridged transcription has been posted here.

Why Do All the Good Guys Die So Young?  We must sadly report that Emmett Munger Mann, son of acclaimed photographer Sally Mann died on June 5th in his home.  No information about the cause of death has been released.  It is always tragic when parents outlive their children and doubly so in this case, because Emmett was so interested in the cause of justice.

Screenshot of Sally with Emmett during the filming of The Genius of Photography (2007)

Screenshot of Sally with Emmett during the filming of The Genius of Photography (2007)

Suspense-Horror with a Twist: A colleague brought my attention to a short film called Luna (2013).  For those interested in this genre, it is worth a look.

Return of the Goddess: Le Tout Nouveau Testament

* * * Spoiler Alert * * *

It is a relief to know that imaginative cinema is still being produced. This review has been delayed again and again because I wanted it to make a great presentation. But when all is said and done, this film speaks for itself.

Le Tout Nouveau Testament (The Brand New Testament, 2015) takes a comical and disarmingly irreverent look at the effects that a male deity, namely God, has had on humanity. For those paying close attention, this film is a statement for the need to transform Western society into one that embraces a more feminine concept of deity.

Much has been said about the Son of God—referred to as J.C. in this film—but not the Daughter, who serves as the narrator. Her name is Ea (Pili Groyne) and has suffered under the tyranny of her father’s house for 10 years.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (1)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (1)

She tells us that God lives in Brussels and that he is an asshole—lavishing abuse on his wife, “Goddess”, and Ea. He doesn’t seem to respect her space and just barges in on her whenever he pleases.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (2)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (2)

The family lives in a house with no entrance or exit. Goddess dares not speak out of turn and does nothing but embroidery and collect baseball cards (totaling 18). Even though J.C. has not returned home since his execution on Earth, Goddess sets a place for him at the dinner table—at God’s right hand, of course.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (3)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (3)

Everyone in the family has supernatural powers except for God and Ea annoys her father with a little telekinesis at the table. God controls his creation through a computer terminal from his office, forbidding entry by anyone else. Being an impotent figure, he takes delight in causing the beings made in his own image to suffer. He creates a set of rules that seem to conform to Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The “laws” appear throughout the film as running gags, for example: when a person gets in the tub, the phone will ring; the other line is always faster; a dropped piece of toast always falls buttered side down; a piece of pottery will break only after it has just been cleaned.

Ea sneaks into her father’s office to see what he has been up to. She is horrified to see how cruel he is to human beings.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (4)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (4)

When she confronts him about this, he realizes she has been in his office and he beats her. She vows revenge and escape and consults her brother about what to do. Unbeknownst to the others, there is a figurine of J.C. that can come to life so Ea can converse with him.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (5)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (5)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (6)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (6)

He explains that the idea for the 12 Apostles was father’s simply because he liked hockey. It turned out to be a real mess and so perhaps it would be better to add 6 more to make it 18, Goddess’ favorite number. J.C. tells her how she can escape to Earth, but before she departs, she sneaks into the office again and instructs the computer to give human beings knowledge of the exact time they are going to die and then lock her father out of the system so he can’t change it back. The premise is that God’s only power over people is through their ignorance. If they know too much, they may take matters into their own hands and live the lives they want. And thus Ea has her exodus, tunneling her way to Earth.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (7)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (7)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (8)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (8)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (9)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (9)

Another one of the problems J.C. and Ea wanted to avoid was the way people tend to misrepresent the message thus causing endless disputes. Ea decides this new testament will not mention her at all, but document the wisdom of the 6 apostles she chooses. Ea never learned to write, so the first person she runs into, a dyslexic bum called Victor, is recruited as her scribe.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (10)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (10)

There are a few amusing scenes showing how this knowledge has wracked havoc on people’s lives. For example, there is the daredevil Kevin, who broadcasts the craziest stunts that manage miraculously not to kill him since he is supposed to live another 62 years. Other scenes show the resentment of children dying before their parents, one spouse before the other or caregivers before their bedridden charges.

Ea’s first disciple is Aurélie, a beautiful woman who never seems to connect with any of the men around her. When she was 7, she had a freak accident in a subway and lost her left arm. She now wears a prosthesis made of silicone. As she tells her story, Ea collects her tears in a vial and explains that she does this in part because she is unable to cry herself. She also informs each of them that they have a special music associated with them and she is able to hear it. Aurélie’s is a piece by Händel and, parenthetically, the musical score throughout the film is quite stunning.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (11)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (11)

The second is Jean-Claude, an adventurer in his youth who has since squandered his time climbing the corporate ladder. Upon learning his death date, he quit his job and became lured into one last adventure northward by a flock of birds. His music is by Rameau. He is the only one who does not stay with the group but wanders off right away after telling his story.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (12)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (12)

By this time, God realizes what Ea has done and, not being competent enough to solve the computer problem, decides to follow her to Earth to get her to fix what she did. His emergence out of a wet and soapy washing machine is very suggestive of a birth scene. Forgetting that he has no powers, he has a miserable time. People beat him up and in his cranky arrogance, he continues making things worse for himself.

The third apostle is Marc who considers himself a sex maniac. His most vivid erotic memory took place when he was 9. He was digging at a beach and this amazing German girl appeared in a turquoise bikini. He never forgot the look she gave him, a combination of interest and disgust. His music is from Purcell and when he learned his death date, he decided to take all his money and spend it all by the time he died. However, he miscalculated and ran out a bit early. Ea tells him he has a beautiful voice and he decides to earn some money by doing voice overs for adult films. Next to him playing the female role is that same German girl, all grown up and they are reunited.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (13)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (13)

In the deities’ home is the famous da Vinci painting The Last Supper and Goddess begins to notice new figures appearing every time Ea recruits someone new.

The next disciple is François whose calling was to be an assassin. He has killed countless insects and a number of small pets belonging to his cousin. He is married with a son but there is no love there. When he learns his death date, he decides to buy a rifle and start shooting at people. The rationale is that if he misses, it was not their time, if not, he was simply doing God’s will. François’ music is Schubert’s Death and the Maiden—what else?—and Ea comments that this music goes well with the Händel. She does a little matchmaking and tells him to shoot the next girl that comes along.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (14)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (14)

It turns out to be Aurélie, who is hit in her fake arm and does not even notice that anything has happened. Fascinated by this miracle, François follows her and finds himself falling in love. She eventually accepts him and gets him to give up his murderous ways.

Martine is a woman with a romantic disposition who has been married to a well-to-do man who seems unmoved by her short life expectancy. He leaves on a business trip, letting her deal with this crisis on her own. When she tells her story to Ea, she is told that her music is circus music. They visit the circus and come upon a gorilla in a cage. Martine and the beast form a mysterious emotional connection and she pays for “his” release, allowing him to live in her house.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (15)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (15)

When God finally tracks down Ea, he demands that she set things right, but she is not intimidated by him anymore. She and Victor escape by walking on the water to cross a canal. Her father is dismayed to learn that he cannot do the same. He is rescued from drowning, but because he has no papers, he is housed with Uzbeki refugees and eventually deported.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (16)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (16)

The last apostle is a boy named Willy (Romain Gelin). His mother, sensing that he was a sickly boy, gave him injections which severely damaged his liver. By the time Ea meets him, he has only one week left. Out of guilt, his parents tell him they will let him do whatever he wants and he decides he wants to be a girl—perhaps an homage to Ma Vie en Rose. Willy’s music is La Mer by Charles Trenet.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (17)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (17)

This meeting is a personal revelation for Ea and she explains to Willy how her father made everything miserable for people and that she wants to fix it. The youngsters have a kind of whirlwind romance, sharing fine meals together, dancing etc. Given the few days left to Willy, they decide to treat each day as though it were a month—calling the days of the week January, February, March, etc.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (18)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (18)

Willy decides he wants to spend his last day at the seaside and is joined by the other characters who show their support by waiting with him.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (19)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (19)

Meanwhile, with the absence of her husband, Goddess begins to get control over the house again, cleaning and fixing up the place. Going into her husband’s office to vacuum, she unplugs the computer so that when it is plugged in again, the system reboots. She begins to make changes to Earth to suit her taste and Willy is saved from death that day. Ea, observing the various and sudden changes, realizes they are her mother’s doing and looks up in gratitude.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (20)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (20)

This whole business of adding apostles is symbolic of the main theme of the film: that a corrupt male-dominated world will change or should change into a happier and compassionate female one.

 

Flashbacks within Flashbacks: Körkarlen

Körkarlen (1921) is a Swedish silent film which has gone by the names The Phantom Carriage, The Phantom Chariot, Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! and The Stroke of Midnight. Pip came across this when reviewing a series of silent films and brought it to my attention. The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Nobel Prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf in 1912. The reason I am mentioning this film here is that it has a scene of an older man bathing a little girl and it got us to wondering if this is the oldest extant appearance of a nude little girl in cinema. It would be fascinating to learn if any of our readers can come up with any older examples.

Victor Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf - Körkarlen (1921)

Victor Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf – Körkarlen (1921)

The story itself makes use of an intriguing Swedish folk tale that states that the last sinner to die before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is doomed to drive the Phantom Carriage the following year, collecting all of the souls of the dead. One of the protagonists turns out to be that man and reviews the selfish life he led and its impact on others. Besides being an award-winning film, the movie distinguishes itself as a key work in the history of Swedish cinema. It was notable for its special effects, which were advanced for the time, and a narrative structure that made use of flashbacks within flashbacks. It was also a major influence on filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. You can view it online here [account closed].

Random Images: Janet Mendelsohn

Today’s image comes from a photographic exhibition that took place this year from late January to early April entitled ‘Varna Road’. The photographer was an American academic and documentary filmmaker named Janet Mendelsohn. It was part of a “photo essay” produced while she was a student at the University of Birmingham in the UK from 1967–69.

Janet Mendelsohn - The Street (c1968)

Janet Mendelsohn – The Street (c1968)

The purpose of the photo essay was to depict everyday life in the inner-city district of Balsall Heath. The idea was an experiment in using photography as a tool for cultural analysis. Her work provided an insight into an impoverished community in flux from the stresses of immigration from the Caribbean and South Asia. The project culminated in an archive of 3,000 photographs and interviews now held at the Cadbury Research Library at the university. Mendelsohn’s work also preserved the record of a way of life that was about to be obliterated by the persistent push to clear the slums, completely eliminating some streets including its most infamous, Varna Road, part of Birmingham’s largest red light district.

The Paintings of Robert Herdman

Robert Inerarity Herdman (1829–1888) was born at Rattray, the youngest of the parish minister’s four sons. At age fifteen, he started at St. Andrews’ University with the intent of eventually entering the ministry like his father. However, this idea was soon forgotten as he spent much of his time sketching or painting.

In June 1847, he began six years of study at the Edinburgh Trustees’ Academy, where he remained as a student until the end of the 1853 session. While there, the artist became a regular recipient of prizes, winning his first award for shaded drawings, less than a year after his admission. Additionally, he obtained first and second prizes in the Antique and Life classes in 1851 and 1852 then in 1854 he won from the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) the Keith Prize and a bronze medal.

In 1855 the RSA gave Herdman his first commission where he spent a year in Italy making copies of old master paintings. In addition to these copies the artist made many of his own paintings to sell for a little income. Artistic life in Scotland revolved around the RSA and he became an Associate in 1858 and a full Academian in 1863. From 1850 until his death, the artist showed most of his works at the RSA, a total of about two hundred paintings over three decades. He also showed at the Glasgow Institute and a couple of pictures each year at the Royal Academy in London. The artist also made illustrations, which accompanied various poems and novels, for the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland. Many of these works were minor; however in 1869 he received a major commission from the Association, for a subject of his own choice ”capable of furnishing a powerful and effective engraving”, to be issued as a bonus to subscribers for five guineas. The subject Herdman selected—After the Battle – a Scene in Covenanting Times—was not based on any literary source. It was intended to be, as a story, fully self-explanatory. Such was the acclaim of the painting that the Association unanimously decided to buy it for presentation to the newly created National Gallery of Scotland and has since become one of his most recognised images.

Robert Herdman - After the Battle A Scene in Covenanting Times (1870)

Robert Herdman – After the Battle A Scene in Covenanting Times (1870)

Another source of income came from the re-use of studies as finished pictures and the painting of small replicas of larger compositions as can be seen in this portrait of a girl. The girl that appears in this painting resembles the girl in After the Battle.

Robert Herdman - Portrait of a Girl (1876)

Robert Herdman – Portrait of a Girl (1876)

Herdman’s paintings were mainly portraits and historical compositions in oil paint, but he also produced some notable landscapes in watercolour. His portraits ranged in style from the delicate, charming and beautiful images of young women and children to the strong and characterised images of male academics; a large number of these can be viewed on ARTUK’s website.

Robert Herdman - Dressing for the Charade The Children of Patrick Allan Fraser (1866)

Robert Herdman – Dressing for the Charade The Children of Patrick Allan Fraser (1866)

Robert Herdman - A fern gatherer West Highlands (1864)

Robert Herdman – A fern gatherer West Highlands (1864)

Robert Herdman - Evening (1862)

Robert Herdman – Evening (1862)

He first visited the Isle of Arran in the summer of 1864 and the landscape became a common feature in his paintings either as the setting of his portraits or as landscape paintings. These visits were not only painting expeditions but family holidays with repeated visits year after year.

Robert Herdman - Little Messenger (1860)

Robert Herdman – Little Messenger (1860)

Robert Herdman - Fern Gatherer (1866)

Robert Herdman – Fern Gatherer (1866)

Robert Herdman - Evening Thoughts (1964)

Robert Herdman – Evening Thoughts (1964)

Robert Herdman - Morning (1861)

Robert Herdman – Morning (1861)

Robert Herdman - Pleasures of Hope (1877)

Robert Herdman – Pleasures of Hope (1877)

Robert Herdman - The Gleaner (1863)

Robert Herdman – The Gleaner (1863)

Robert Herdman - The Arrochar Gleaner (1862)

Robert Herdman – The Arrochar Gleaner (1862)

Robert Herdman - The Time of Primroses (1954)

Robert Herdman – The Time of Primroses (1954)

Robert Herdman - Bonny Bell (1859)

Robert Herdman – Bonny Bell (1859)

For those interested in seeing a list of Herdman’s paintings, there are two catalogues at archive.org. One is for the Royal Scottish Academy and one for the Royal Academy, London. These are not a full list of works by the artist but rather a list of all works hosted at these galleries.

Intimate Life in the Public Eye: Nick Waplington

What is remarkable about Nick Waplington’s photographs is the special way in which they make the intimate something public, something that we, who do not know personally the two families photographed, can look at without any sense (or thrill) of intrusion. Countless photographs violate the intimate simply by placing it in the public context of a book, a newspaper, a TV slot. Yet others—like most wedding photographs—make the intimate formal and thus empty it of its content. -John Berger, Living Room, 1991

The first time I saw this artist’s work was in an issue of Aperture Magazine (#121, Fall 1990), a special issue about censorship called “The Body in Question”. The strange thing was that none of the articles referred to it so it was completely out of context. The issue discussed the uproar about photographing naked children and there were naked children in the image, but that was all.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (1)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (1)

There was no indication that ‘Living Room’ was a vivid photographic exhibition about working-class family life or that it was being made into a book (Aperture Press, 1991).

Nick Waplington (born 1965) comes from Nottingham and has a strong connection with the people there but because his father was a scientist in the nuclear industry, he traveled extensively in his childhood. He studied art at West Sussex College of Art & Design in Worthing, Trent Polytechic in Nottingham and the Royal College of Art in London. Starting in 1984, Waplington made regular visits to see his grandfather in Aspley, Nottingham, photographing his immediate surroundings. The friends and neighbors of his family became his subject matter of choice. He continued with this work on and off for 15 years which yielded a number of series including the one that became his first published book.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (2)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (2)

Among the pictures on the school table, I had found a thrilling color photograph by one of the students: three demonic little girls in plaid dresses, Hoovering the lawn. “Whoever made this photograph has found his eyes.” I said, “If he pays attention to the accident of what he’s done he can trust those eyes. There’s an entire body of work charted in this photograph—the life’s work of a completely original and powerful artist.” -Richard Avedon, Living Room, 1991

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (3)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (3)

Avedon was half joking because, like Sally Mann, he knew full well that happy accidents do not occur on a regular schedule; he did not imagine that the rest of the photos in the box would maintain that standard.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (4)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (4)

Living Room covers the lives of two neighboring working-class families in Nottingham over a period of four years and, in studying the images carefully, one can almost share the experience of the children growing up. Most of the shooting took place on Saturdays because that is when the families are at their most dynamic. No one has to go to work and there is a respite for indulging in the pleasures and dramas of family life. John Berger calls this series the photographic equivalent of Peter Paul Rubens’ work, because it is baroque in its composition and subject matter and perhaps a target of ridicule by stodgier members of the art community. There is an intense sense of intimacy; somehow Waplington has managed to put his subjects at ease to get off these shots.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (5)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (5)

The logic behind the title is that the artist is where the action is, the places where family members are gathering and engaging. This could literally be in the living room or any other place where drama is playing out. If someone has a need for some privacy, they can leave the scene and know that Waplington will not follow.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (6)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (6)

The photographer avoids the typical approach of a documentarian. He uses a 6×9 camera designed for panoramic shots, giving the images an epic quality. His low vantage point in the scenes gives the photos a feeling of immediacy as though they were being observed by a child. Waplington’s feet even appear in some of the pictures. By using these techniques, there is an impression of a real organic drama and the viewer is let in on the action.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (7)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (7)

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (8)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (8)

There are many excellent photographs not included in the book. Some were used for other series such as ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’ and many were recently compiled in the book Living Room Work Prints (2016).  You can see a video which show a quick flipping through the book here.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (Supplemental) (1990)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (9)

A subsequent book, Other Edens (1994) focused on more global environmental concerns in contrast to the intimate portrayal of the Nottingham residents. He continued his pseudo-documentary work with a bleak study of the Ecstasy drug culture in the mid-1990s and made a global road trip where the journey itself became the art. Another interesting project was a pictorial game illustrating the history of photography using the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (named after the famous game show) as a backdrop. A 2002 work called Learn How to Die the Easy Way expressed his yearning for the artistic and commercial freedom that the web might offer.

If, as I suspect, the Internet has broken the stranglehold of governments and large media corporations on mass communication, then we could be in for a very exciting period of development on a number of different levels. Would a breakdown of current modes of social, moral and political cohesion be too much for a man to ask for? -Nick Waplington, 2002

One can only hope. You Love Life (2005) is a pictorial taken over a 20-year period and made into an autobiographical narrative. Waplington collaborated with Miguel Calderon to produce graphic novels and fashion designer Alexander McQueen for a work illustrating the processes of both designers and artists. The artist also experimented with a print-on-demand service to test alternatives to the increasing costs of producing photobooks.

Nick Waplington’s Blog

Thanks go to the Academy of Art University Library for generously sharing their copy of Living Room, without which, this post would have required an expensive purchase.

Random Images: Lucille Ricksen

It is so often true that tragedy accompanies beauty. The following image, in the typical Edwardian style, is of a girl who was a promising model and actress with the pseudonym Lucille Ricksen (1910–1925).

Nelson Evans – Lucille Ricksen (c1920)

Ricksen was born in Chicago of Danish immigrants and had an older brother, Marshall, who also appeared in early silent films. She began her career as a professional child model and actress at age 4. Through her roles, she garnered enough fame to be able to provide for her parents. In 1920, she moved to Hollywood at the request of Samuel Goldwyn, casting the eleven-year-old in a comedy serial called The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy. Afterward, she began to be cast in full-length films and her career prospects continued to rise.

Ricksen often played characters who were much older than herself and she was recognized by the public and people within the motion picture industry for her maturity at handling adult themes. In 1924, at the age of fourteen, she was one of thirteen young women honored each year, believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. During her busy schedule that year, she was often ill and in early 1925, her health worsened and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. At this point, her father abandoned the family. Her mother, Ingeborg, tried to care for her while she was bedridden but had a fatal heart attack, literally collapsing on her bedridden daughter. Ricksen spent her last days being taken care of by others in the movie colony and two weeks after her mother’s death, she succumbed, at age fourteen. After her death, she became a kind of poster child condemning parents for overly exploiting their talented children.

Preserving a Sense of Wonder: Rachel Carson

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder, 1965

The power of a single image is amazing, like the following odd but charming image found on a sales site. It came with no identifying information except that the face looming in the background was Helen Hayes. Being a famous actress, I figured there should be some clue to the photo’s history. One of our guest writers, Arizona, took the initiative and offered a treasure trove of leads which are the basis of this post.

Jules Power International - The Sense of Wonder (promotional photo) (1968)

Jules Power International – The Sense of Wonder (promotional photo) (1968)

It turns out that it was a promotional shot for a special nature documentary to be aired on ABC in late 1968 called The Sense of Wonder. This film was a posthumous tribute to biologist, writer and environmental activist Rachel Carson (1907–1964).

Carson was born near Springdale, Pennsylvania. An avid reader, she also spent a lot of time exploring her family’s 65-acre farm. She started writing her own stories at eight and by age ten, was published in St. Nicholas Magazine. In her childhood, she was inspired by Beatrix Potter, Gene Stratton Porter, and in her teens, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson.

(Photogapher Unknown) -Rachel Carson reading to her dog Candy (c1913)

(Photogapher Unknown) -Rachel Carson reading to her dog Candy (c1913)

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University), Carson studied English then switched her major to biology in 1928, still contributing to the school’s student newspaper. She graduated in 1929 and did postgraduate work in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, earning her master’s degree in zoology in 1932. She intended to continue on to doctorate work, but the first of a series of family tragedies in 1934 forced her to find steady work to support her family.

She took a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio copy for educational broadcasts focused on aquatic life, all the while submitting articles to newspapers and magazines. In 1936, Carson became only the second woman in the Bureau of Fisheries to be hired for a full-time professional position. Due to her skill at writing, she was encouraged to expand her various research articles into a book, Under the Sea Wind (1941). Carson continued with the Bureau (by then called the Fish and Wildlife Service) through the 1940s because there were few other naturalist jobs—money in the sciences was focused on technical fields during the advent of the nuclear age. During that time, she encountered the subject of DDT, a revolutionary new synthetic pesticide, but because editors found the topic unappealing at the time, nothing was published on the subject until 1962. Carson continued to move up the ranks in the bureau with its increasing administrative demands, prompting her to make a conscious effort to transition into full-time writing. By 1950, she published The Sea Around Us. Because of the success of this book and a reprint of Under the Sea Wind, she was able to break away permanently in 1952.

Her books were made into a screen adaptation in 1953, but she was displeased with the result and lack of creative control and never sold the film rights to her work again. Her third book, The Edge of the Sea (1955), focused on her special interest in the dynamics of coastal ecosystems. She had a special connection with the coastlines of Maine and she along with her closest friend, Dorothy Freeman, purchased and set aside some land for preservation they called the “Lost Woods.”

Another family tragedy gave Carson the responsibility of raising her orphaned 5-year-old nephew and she moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. For the rest of her life, she would focus on the overuse of pesticides, particularly chlorinated hydrocarbons and organophosphates. The result of her careful research in the subject led to her most well-known book, Silent Spring (1962). It was a pioneering piece and is credited with being to first to give public attention to environmental degradation caused by pesticides and industrial activities generally. To accomplish credible research, Carson took advantage of her personal connections with government scientists, who willingly shared confidential information. She attended FDA hearings on revising pesticide regulations, coming away discouraged by the aggressive tactics of the chemical industry and the insidious implications of financial manipulation. She also developed good working relationships with medical researchers investigating the carcinogenic effects of these compounds. The completion of Silent Spring was delayed because of Carson’s poor health and subsequent diagnosis with breast cancer in the early 1960s. After her dire prognosis, she arranged for her manuscripts and papers to be bequeathed to the new state-of-the-art Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

In 1965, Marie Rodell, Carson’s long time agent and literary executor arranged for the publication of an essay intended for expansion into a book: A Sense of Wonder. The essay exhorts parents to help their children experience the pleasures of contact with the natural world. Carson early recognized the importance of exposing children to nature and even wrote an article dedicated to the subject, Help Your Child to Wonder (1956). But it was only during the raising of her nephew that this idea came to the fore. After the publication of A Sense of Wonder, Jules Power, an executive producer of nature films for ABC took an interest in making a news special based on Carson’s work. The script, written by Joseph Hurley, was based on that essay and was supplemented with information from The Edge of the Sea. It was narrated by Helen Hayes and its two-year production brought cameramen to several locations in the United States, with special emphasis on the Maine and Florida coastlines. The film, The Sense of Wonder, was produced by Daniel Wilson, directed by Alan Seeger and aired in November 1968. The film also gave some coverage to nature photographer Ansel Adams, offering a west coast perspective.

Jules Power et al - The Sense of Wonder (1968)

Jules Power et al – The Sense of Wonder (1968)

Carson understood the challenge of parents who have inquisitive children; they would never be confident about answering all their questions which might range from the microscopic world to the mystery of the skies. Her answer to such concerns was that attitude is much more important than knowledge.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder, 1965

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder, 1965

Carson was also aware of the realities of city life for many children and encouraged them nonetheless to explore what nature existed there and to listen to the songs of birds and insects.

Although the film was innovative for its time, it is hard to recognize this with today’s highly-polished, big-budget nature documentaries. As a result, there are only a handful of neglected copies in university libraries in the midwest. You will notice how red the film still is—a consequence of celluloid that was not stored properly. It is ironic that a little girl was used to promote the film, because most of the scenes with children in the documentary showed boys. This may have been an unconscious bias of the producers, but I think Carson would agree that it is just as important to expose little girls to nature and science as boys.