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The Walk of Life

Perhaps I should have called this post “the invisible people”. I have a bit of a fascination with things and people that often go unnoticed. The unnoticed have now become the invisible. With the coming of the terrible coronavirus crisis, the sight of elderly people on the street is a thing of the past. They are now “self-isolating” for anything up to 12 weeks.

My confinement is more of a challenge than the “lock-down”. My broken leg has me confined to my bedroom and the bathroom. We have too many steep stairs for me to go anywhere else. I just look out the window and take satisfaction in the quietness in the street outside. As an artist, I am used to quite a high degree of isolation. Yet, I know that this level of isolation must be incredibly hard, especially for the elderly or vulnerable if they do not have the internet or can’t work messaging apps. Even if they can, it’s still hard. People need face-to-face interactions with other people, even if it’s only buying groceries at the local shops. I know my father is missing his shopping trips.

I hate how news reports of coronavirus deaths often like to report that a certain number are elderly or “had underlying conditions” as if that somehow means those people don’t matter so much. Every single one of them matters. They are all someone’s loved ones; nan, dad or sister, son.  My husband has “an underlying condition” as do my parents, my brother-in-law and many of my friends. They are sheltering indoors, relying on the fit and young to keep the hospitals and shops up and running.

So today’s gallery of my people paintings has an added significance for me. This is a reminder of all the vanished; the people you don’t see on the streets. They are still here, at home, maybe, watching TV or listening to the radio. I hope that they are chatting away on skype or messenger or maybe like me they are just peering out their windows.

Painting of Woman with Zimmer Frame_EmmaCownie
Walk of Life (Sold)

My “The Walk of Life” painting has added significance for me. When I painted it was struck by the old lady’s determination and how tiny she was in comparison with the younger people around her.  I thought the composition captured the variety of life on Swansea, Oxford Street on a summer’s afternoon.
I never thought that I would have my own zimmer frame, but I do. I have to keep the weight off my healing left leg for another 4 weeks so it is vital for getting from my bedroom to the bathroom. It’s a fantastic bit of kit. Light and simple yet sturdy and reliable. Like the lady in the painting, mine has two wheels at the front and I will sometimes carry an object like a book in a bag from one room to another. I have tried holding stuff in my mouth but it just doesn’t work.
I am delighted that the American collector who recently bought this painting is a nurse who works with elderly ladies like this one. He will understand just how liberating a zimmer frame is to the disabled and elderly. During my stay in the hospital, I watched very elderly ladies, who had fallen, broken their hips and had them replaced,  push past pain and discomfort slowly but steadily make their way up and down the ward with the help of a frame. Once they proved their mobility they could negotiate their return back home.  I have a set of crutches but I like the frame better. So although “The Walk of Life” always was a celebration of the human spirit and determination, but I now know that the old lady is just getting on with her life. She probably doesn’t want applause or pity but she certainly might want to have a good chat.

Painting Swansea people by Emma Cownie
Soldiering On

 

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International Women’s Day: Some remarkable women of Swansea

Painting of Mumbles Pier and lighthouse
Mumbles Lighthouse from Bracelet Bay

Today is International Women’s Day. As I drove through Mumbles yesterday afternoon I was reminded of two remarkable Swansea women and I was pondered on why we like to focus on very unsual women, rather than remarkable ordinary women. It got me thinking about other notable women of Swansea, past, and present

Here’s my list of five that came to mind:-

First comes the women of privilege:-

1. Thereza Dillwyn Llewelyn (1834 –1926). She was an astronomer and pioneer in scientific photography. She came from a wealthy family and her father was a pioneer photographer, astronomer, a botanist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. She made some pioneering telescopic photographs of the moon in 1857/8.

 

2. Amy Dillwyn (1845-1935) – She was a radical novelist, feminist campaigner, and early female industrialist. Amy was first, a novelist, and a supporter of sexual equality and  women’s suffrage. When her brother and father died in the early 1890s she found herself responsible for a workforce of 300 and a spelter business crippled by debt. Impressively, despite losing her home, she decided to run the business herself, which she did successfully. She was a strong supporter of social justice and in 1911 gave her support to 25 striking seamstresses, who worked for Ben Evan’s, a local department store. These dressmakers were demanding a living wage in return for their long hours. Amy called for a boycott of the store and encouraged her friends and family to not shop there.  Her eccentric appearance, her habit of smoking cigars and lifestyle make her appealing figure to modern eyes.

Now to some working women.

2. Jessie Ace and Margaret Wright (neé Ace) these two sisters were the daughters of the Lighthouse Keeper, Abraham Ace. In the winter of 1883, these two sisters valiantly rescued two lifeboat crewmen, in the midst of a terrible storm, by tying their shawls together to use as a rope. Margaret supposedly exclaimed: “I will lose my life than let these men drown” as she waded into the icy waters.

4. Iris Gower (1935 – 20 July 2010)- This was the pen name of Iris Richardson a prolific novelist who wrote many historical romances set in this area. I once heard her talk about her writing and was left with the impression of a resilient, hard-working woman with fiery red hair, who was a force of nature. She talked about her early days of writing, about getting up before her 4 children to write, before going to work! I don’t think she ever let up, writing about 35 novels and many articles too.

And finally (as I drove down Mumbles Road and passed her beautiful house on the hill) I was reminded of

5. Bonnie Tyler – who I once saw in Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve several years ago. She looked very glamorous holding her wire basket in the tea and coffee aisle. I don’t think I have ever looked that glamorous, probably not on a night out and certainly on a trip to he local supermarket. Bonnie was the daughter of a coal-miner and grew up in a council house and left school with no qualifications, but talent and a lot of hard work led to a phenomenally successful musical career. Her two singles “It’s a Heartache” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” are among the best-selling singles of all time, with sales in excess of six million each.

It’s hard not to focus on exceptional women like these. Often, we end up focusing on unusual people because we know more about them. There are newspaper articles, books, and photographs of them. I cannot find an online image for the “Ben Evans’ Girls” who went on strike in 1911. Those 25 striking seamstresses that Amy Dillwyn supported, would have been just as hard-working as Amy was, but lacking in the advantages her privileged upbringing and family connections had given her.

Ben Evans, Swansea
Ben Evans, Swansea

Interestingly thousands of Swansea people attended a mass demonstration in support of their cause. I could not find out if they had won of lost their cause for a decent wage. Iris Gower’s fictional women, may have been romanticized, but their hard lives were real enough. So here’s to all the women of Swansea (and everywhere else) the world, past and present, famous, infamous and obscure!

 

If you want to find out more:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thereza_Dillwyn_Llewelyn

https://www.swansea.ac.uk/crew/research-projects/dillwyn/

https://companieshouse.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/14/amy-dillwyn-lgbt-history-month/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Dillwyn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessie_Ace_and_Margaret_Wright

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_Gower

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/g/iris-gower/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnie_Tyler

 

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Art of the Protest

The Art of the Protest

My career as a student activist was a decidely inglorious one. I was a lazy student when it came to protests and demonstrations. I think I may have gone on maybe three or four demos in all my time as a student. Some of them were protests about against introduction of student fees and a later one was against the building of the Cardiff Barrage.  I caught a bad chill after getting soaked at one demo in London and was ill in bed for a week.  Sadly, I never had the courage/organisational ability to make my own poster or banner. That takes thought and effort. So I’d end up holding a boring printed poster made by some radical left-wing organisation that didn’t quite sum up my sentiments. So I am always very interested in what people put on their home made posters. I wrote a some blog posts about Art and Protest in Art of the Protest (also in Germany & China) quite a while ago, but this is about a homemade protest.

On Friday there was the global Climate Strike to protest about the climate crisis. I had no thought of going along until I heard the day before that adults were asked to attend too.  There were hundreds of people of all ages in the centre of Swansea. The fact that it was a hot sunny day in late September, just seemed to illustrate what is going wrong with the climate.  Extinction Rebellion had a big presence, many of its supporters were carrying homemade drums (made from plastic washing up bowls and dustbins). They have a clever logo which is a clever play on the “X” in Exctintion and an hour glass, implying that we are running out of time.

There is an Extinction Rebellion sticker is at the bottom of the poster
There is an Extinction Rebellion sticker is at the bottom of the poster

I know a Swansea artist,  who has given up painting to direct all her energies into working for this environmental group that believes in non-violent protest. They divide opinion, even amongst  environmentalists, who say that their activities may be cause the government to increase anti-protest legislation rather than focusing on tackling climate crisis. Yet, they were only one of many organisations that came to their protest. There were people from political parties, trade unions, the Quakers, the Wildlife Trust, as well just ordinary people. One of the student organisers, who was one of the stewarts,  worked with Swansea Trades Council. He said they’d been planning this protest for months and he was delighted at the numbers who had turned up.

Here are a selection of the wonderful homemade posters. I particularly liked the ones made by children. They had clearly spent a lot of time designing and making them.

#8

Made on a pillowcase

#2
Beautifully made banners

Teenagers’s posters tended to be simpler with clear and heart-felt statements

#10
Small but beautiful!
#16
Just in case you wanted to criticse her for missing school…

The rally then morphed into a march that wound its way through the busy shopping streets of Swansea.

#19
3-D!

Stopped some traffic…and ended up outside the guildhall where anyone in the crowd was invited to step to say a few words. So they did. Young and old.

Although it wasn’t planned the march ended up inside the Guildhall inside the Council chambers. I think the protesters just asked to be let in and the security guards let them. This was later reported in the local newspapers as the protest “occupying” the council chambers and the police removing them.  It was hardly, that. It was a bunch of well-behaved kids, and a few adults. Some of the adults and kids said a few words including part of a speech by climate activitst Greta Thunberg. Although we probably had all had heard her say those words before, they were still moving. We all then filed out, chanting and druming all the way. There were some police near by, chatting to each other, in their van. It was very benign. You can watch a clip of it on the BBC website here. It was much more fun than my student day protests!

So it seems that protests and posters are like a good party. They need a fair bit of preparation. You hope people will turn up. Finally, you probably enjoy other people’s far more than your own!

#27
In Swansea council chambers.
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Gower Coastal Walk: Llanmadoc to Crofty

Ivy House, Landimore

Part 1: Llanmadoc to Llanridian

I was feeling very nervous about this walk as I would have to change buses in the middle of nowhere. I very nearly chickened and got in my car after a fellow blogger commented that I “should not bother with rural buses but drive. However, it was a long walk, just over six miles, and I did not want to break it up into two or three circular walks. I wanted to walk the length of the north Gower coast in one go, if I could.  So I got up and packed sandwiches, lots of biscuits, a banana in its strange yellow banana “gimp” case and two bottles of water. I had decided that thirst was the worst torment on my last two solo trips and I was going to be better prepared this time.

Map of North Gower
North Gower Coast

I had caught the same bus to Port Eynon (the number 119 to Rhossili, if you interested) and had changed at Scurlage but this time I had to change at a location called Llanridian Turn. I have studied the map and I think I know where it is. I don’t remember passing it from the previous bus journey and it doesn’t really seem to be “on the way” to Rhossili. So I check with the bus driver as I buy my ticket.

Buses at Llanrhidian Turn
Buses at Llanrhidian Turn

The bus arrives at Llanridian Turn and it pulls in behind another bus, a number 116, but its not the one I want. So I ask the driver about the 115 to Llanmadoc and he says that he’s driving it and walk towards a small bus that has just arrived and he swaps buses with the new driver. He’s a friendly chap, with a sparkly diamante earring in one of his ears. So we set off. I am the only passenger.

St Madoc's, Llanmadoc
St Madoc’s, Llanmadoc

I end up standing at the front of the bus (holding on to the special rail) chatting to the driver for most of the journey. “You couldn’t ask for better weather” he says. He’s right. It’s a sparkling bright spring morning. It’s cold though. Only 7 degrees Centigrade (that’s 44 in Fahrenheit). He fishes out a timetable for me from his rucksack. It’s a timetable that covers all Gower buses. I have not seen this before, it certainly wasn’t to be found in the bus station anyway. “Where do you want to get off?” I have never had a bus driver ask where I want to stop before. This must be one the joys of rural bus services. I eventually get off by Llanmadoc Post Office. I wave at the bus driver as he drives away as if we are old friends.

I find a path, not an official coastal one, but it is sign posted for Whiteford Burrows, which seems the right direction, so I take it. It’s more of a farmers’ track than a path. I walk down a long muddy track, pass cattle, sheep and an old tractor and eventually reach the same point as we did on our detour from Cwm Ivy (to avoid the breached sea wall). I find it more by luck than any thing. It is very muddy.

This is Landimore Marsh. It’s a saltmarsh, an area of coastal grassland that is regularly flooded by seawater. Springs, small rivers called “pills”, flow out into the estuary, in meandering lines that make maze-patterns in the marsh. The main pills crisscrossing the area are Burry Pill and Great Pill.

Pill House, Llanmadoc
Pill House, Llanmadoc

For hundreds of years, the people who lived along its edge have used the marshlands for grazing their animals. They still do today.  The lambs that are raised on the salt marshes are reputed to have a distinctive and special flavour, but I cannot speak from experience as I am a vegetarian. Although the cows and ponies know to move off the marsh with the advancing tides, especially the spring tide that can move with great speed, the sheep for some reason don’t. The local farmers have to bring them in. Although sheep can swim, as all animals can, for a short period of time, if they get cut off by the tide they will drown.

The walk along the marsh path is very muddy indeed. I have visions of me sliding and twisting my ankle or falling flat on my face, but I manage to survive without incident. I take the low tide route, but I spent much of my times sliding around wondering if the high tide route would have been less muddy.

To my right is North Hill Tor, or Nortle Tor, on which are the remains of a partial fortifications, probably dating back to the Iron Age period (c. 800 BC – AD 43). According the the famous Swansea-born historian, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, Nortle Tor was quarried in previous centuries. During the Napoleonic Wars, one of its extensive caves provided useful hiding place for local young men when the press gang was spotted coming across the estuary from Llanelli.

North Hill Tor, Gower
North Hill Tor, Gower
Landimore Marsh, Gower
Landimore Marsh, Gower

There is a wonderful presence about the marsh. It stretches away as flat as a proverbial pancake. No sea, or River Loughor in sight. The marsh is indented by patterns of muddy pools, creeks and channels. It is very peaceful and I get drawn into the atmosphere of the marsh. The grass has a curious white-ish tinge to it which I assume is from the salt. I see a lot of sheep’s footprints but no sheep, although I can see a few ponies far away on the marsh. It turns out that the sheep are in the farmers’ fields with their lambs.

The path eventually passes a couple of houses and leaves the marsh. I see my first fellow walkers of the day.  I only see one other couple on the path today. I see, however, vast numbers of sheep and lambs, marsh ponies, robins, sparrows, a red kite and a large Great White Egret flying over the marsh.

The path reaches Bovehill, where it turns further inland and passes the remains of another fortification, Bovehill Castle, a fortified mansion with walls a metre thick. It was once the seat of the 14th century crusader knight, Sir Hugh Jonys and later Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a support of Henry Tudor (the father of Henry VIII of six wives fame).

Call Box at Landimore
Phone Box at Landimore

 

Ivy Cottage Landimore

Ivy Cottage Landimore

The “coastal” path then turns off the road onto Bovehill Farm. I can’t see the sea and now I can’t really see the marsh, either.  I don’t see the marsh again for a long time, perhaps for about as much as an hour as the path trails inland. In fact, it turns out its about 2 and a half miles to Llanridian. The path instead, runs through the farmland, parallel to the marsh.

This get a bit confusing. I often enter a field and have little idea of where the path goes. So I set off at a 60 degree angle only to adjust my course when I eventually spot the stile in the opposite corner of the field.

Where is the path?
Where is the path?

There have not been enough walkers recently to make tracks for me to follow across the fields.

Landimore
Landimore, North Gower

I see swallows (the first I have seen this year) over the fields by Landimore. Weobley Castle, another fortified manor house, is a dark presence looming on the cliff above me. From the time of the Norman conquest of Gower to the 15th century, Weobley belonged to the de la Bere family.

Weobly Castle, Overlooks Llanridian saltmarsh
Weobley Castle, above the path

Just below Weobley Castle there is a road that leads out into the marsh.

The saltmarsh by Weobly Castle
The salt marsh by Weobley Castle

Where does it go? It doesn’t seem to go anywhere, as such.

Marsh Road by Weobly Castle, North Gower
Marsh Road by Weobley Castle, North Gower

At the end of the track, there is a odd wooden structure out in the estuary. I can see it with my naked eye but my camera is struggling to get a good picture. I think its made of wood. I can’t tell. You can see it from miles around.

What is it? Wooden structure in Burry Estuary, Gower.
What is it? Is it a wooden structure in Burry Estuary, Gower?
LVH0247_Burry_Estuary_Anthrax_Bomb_Test_ar.jpg
What is it?

According to historian Wynford Vaughan Thomas, the American army used the marshes as a firing range during the Second World “War. It turns out that it was the US army that built the causeway out into the marshes. The strange building, is not wooden but made of concrete and brick. It was a look-out built by the Americans. I have to search online for close up photographs.

Photo credit: mylifeoutside.co.uk

There is a very dark tale about the Burry Estuary during the Second World War that Wynford was probably not aware of, as it was kept secret until 1999. There had been rumours about the secret testing of chemical and biological weapons in the estuary during World War II for many years. This story is to do with the British government and experiments in biological warfare, not the American Army.  The wartime government had asked Porton Down, its chemical warfare research installation, to conduct trials of an anthrax bomb. Anthrax, is a lethal bacteria, which was seen as having “enormous potential” for biological warfare. I would like to point out that biological warfare was, and still is, banned under a 1925 Geneva protocol. This is why countries will make a big fuss about its use on civilians in Syria or even Salisbury, England.

Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim

In 1941 there had been a series of tests of anthrax bombs on the uninhabited Gruinard Island, off the west coast of Scotland. These tests had produced contradictory results, primarily due to the soft, boggy ground at Gruinard, so it was decided at short notice to carry out a single replacement test on the firm sand of the Burry Inlet.

On a Wednesday afternoon, in late October 1942, the scientists carried out an experiment over the north Gower salt marshes,  dropping an anthrax bomb from a Blenheim aircraft. Two lines of 30 sheep were placed downwind of the aiming mark, spread at 10 yard intervals. When the bomb fell it made a crater of about three feet in width and two feet deep. Three days after the trial, two of the sheep died of anthrax septicaemia, and three others were ill for a day or so before recovering entirely. Apparently, the scientists proclaimed the test result ‘very satisfactory’, especially as this was the first time such a bomb had been dropped from a plane flying at operational level.

Warning sign on the marshes
Warning sign on the marshes

According to the report, the site was ‘effectively decontaminated’ by the incoming tide a few hours after the test took place. The carcases of the dead sheep were ‘buried deeply at the seaward edge of the marshland area’. The remaining sheep were observed for seven days after the test, the survivors then being slaughtered and buried.

This all seems a bit of a casual clean up and in marked contrast to the situation at Gruinard island, which had served as the previous test site for anthrax. In that case the entire island was set ablaze and subsequently closed to public access for nearly 50 years. Even today people and animals alike avoid the island, despite efforts to decontaminate the island in the 1980s. All I can assume is that larger quantities of anthrax was used in Scotland.

Update: There’s no need to worry about the dangers of anthrax as it was confirmed in 1987 that “investigations …[after the] trial revealed no evidence of any residual contamination”.

Gruinard Island
Gruinard Island

When the path finally reaches Llanrhidian, it seems like quite a shock after all the open space of the marsh and the fields. I think about walking up to the main road where I could catch a bus home but instead I press on .

My next post will be my final stage of the coastal path, from Llanrhidian along the coastal road to the village of Crofty.

 

 

 

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Proud Poetry – a Swansea painting

Where we live is very important to us. Where we grow up shapes us for the rest of our lives, for good or bad. When I have an anxiety dream its often about moving house. I put this down to the fact that during my childhood we moved many times; Hereford, Newcastle, Whitley Bay and Gloucester. I had been to 9 difference schools by the time I was 11. I carried on moving for my education, first to Cardiff, then to Peckham and Greenwich in London and finally Swansea.

The house where I spent my teenage years in Gloucester no longer exists. It was knocked down several years ago. It was built in 1976 and was gone 30 years later. I find that odd. I have been past the spot where it used to stand and I find its absence unsettling. I think that’s why I love the solid Edwardian terraces of Brynmill, these houses have been here for over a century. The grand mock Tudor houses of the Uplands, built in the inter-war years of the 20th century will last and will, hopefully, last another century.

David Fry bought a painting of mine, “Proud House”,  a while back. Imagine my surprise and delight when he contact me to tell me that it had brought back many childhood memories for him and it inspired him to write a poignant poem about it.  I thought I’d share it with you.

WHAT I SEE – A Proud House

Join palette with oils tincture and powder to display

The artist draws down with sight and prodigious emotion

As alchemist hails a canvas sharp lined spare skilled too

An affectionate depiction smoothed fine in occult lotion.

 

What do I see in authentic rendition so germane

A rare gift in practiced thought and summit won

Is this an ethos for other endeavours by artists told?

No…mesmerised true in a story book I am held by this one.

 

Maybe I glimpsed what was intuition a fable in the making

To bind a time and way to a journeyman’s remembered sight

But mostly I am filled with a bitter sweet regret

From childhood certainty in family life to lonely night.

 

A house transcends all purpose and design

And paint surpasses in hindsight the record of focussed light

Imbued with lives lived rich and sheltered in wallpaper defined

Something raised above all description a distillation bright.

 

School friends gone their paths fade in narrow winded days

Histories will reveal life travels worn their purpose long set

Hope boxed my laughter hard with glass at times half full

But the proud house survives still and is well met.

Proud House.jpg
Proud House

I am taking a break from my Gower walk until mid-June to work as an exam invigilator for the university.

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Walking the Gower Coast: Mumbles

Mumbles

I love looking at maps. I have been gazing at the map of coastal path around Gower for days now. The Peninsula juts out westwards into the Bristol Chanel. Its about 17 miles in length and 8 miles width at its widest point. I am planning to walk around its coastline, approximately 38 miles in length, maybe a bit less. I am, however, going to start with a map of Swansea Bay. People who have never been to Swansea make jokes about the place as if its somewhere to avoid. Quite the opposite. The hilly city sits alongside the sparkling sea and beautiful sandy five-mile beach.
Swansea Bay
Swansea Bay
I have decided to illustrate this series of post with my paintings and with (mostly) my own photographs. The paintings have been completed in recent years, some as a result of this trek, other are older. The photos are mostly from 2018 but a few are from my 2016 attempt to walk the Gower coast. I started my first attempt at Mumbles in 2016.
26907770_1925593071038159_2048231183779527812_n.jpg
Photo Credit: Gower Flight Centre
The pretty Victorian village of Mumbles sits at the far end of the western arm of Swansea Bay. This is where my journey around the Gower coast begins.
Round Mumbles Bend.jpg
Round Mumbles Bend
Mumbles was originally a fishing village. It did not catch fish but rather, oysters. It was, for a time, a thriving industry. Part of Mumbles is known as Oystermouth and many people often use the two names interchangeably to mean the same place.
The Strange Afternoon.jpg
The Strange Afternoon (Mumbles & Oystermouth Castle)
Many people often associate South Wales with coal mining, and coal was certainly vital in locating the copper industry in nearby Swansea. It was the need for limestone, however, that changed Mumbles’ fortunes. Limestone was used as a fertilizer, in steel making, pharmaceuticals, and also as a construction aggregate (in other words, gravel).
Tide's In, Mumbles
Tide’s In (Mumbles)
Mumbles was made of limestone and that fact brought the modern world to the front door of this tiny fishing village in 1804 when the Oystermouth railway line was built in order to transport limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea Docks. This track was the world first passenger line, the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, carrying at first horse-drawn carriages, and later steam locomotives.
Mumbles Pier From Knab Rock.jpg
Mumbles Pier from Knab Rock
The trains also brought many day trippers for a time. The railway is now long gone, closed in 1960, but there remains a sturdy promenade that runs along the sea front where the trains used to run. Locals and visitors alike still love to walk its length and admire the spectacular view across the sweep of Swansea Bay.
Afternoon Stroll in Mumbles.jpg
Afternoon Stroll in Mumbles
The promenade runs up to Verdis, a popular ice-cream parlour and thence to the Mumbles Pier. The Victorian pier was built in the last years of the 19th century and was the last stop for the Railway. Here tourists could catch a paddle steamers for a tour along the River Severn and Bristol Channel. The Pier hosts a great cafe (with self-playing piano), an amusement arcade and tiny art gallery.
Mumbles Piers.jpg
Mumbles Pier
On the other side of Mumbles Head is Bracelet Bay.  Mumbles Head comprises two tidal islands. At low tide those with stout boots can walk out to the islands and look at the much-photographed lighthouse.
Towards Mumbles Lighthouse (2).JPG
Towards Mumbles Lighthouse
The octagonal lighthouse lighthouse was built in 1794 by Swansea architect William Jernegan, who also designed Singleton Abbey which later became part of Swansea University. This was the second attempt to built a lighthouse here. The first one started a few years earlier, designed by someone else, collapsed before it was even finished!
Clouds Gathering Over Mumbles Head
Gathering Clouds over Mumbles Head
This is where the real Gower coast walk begins! In my next post I puzzle over myriad bus timetables and eventually feel brave enough to leave the car behind! In the meantime here’s a cool video of a drone flying around Mumbles Head.
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Frank Brangwyn and Brangwyn Hall

You cannot miss Frank Brangwyn’s name in Brynmill, Swansea as there’s a huge hall that takes his name. These past two weeks or so I have worked as an invigilator for Swansea University. One of the venues used for exams is this beautiful hall. The murals that adorn the massive walls are stunning.

Frank Brangwn was born in Bruges, Belgium (Welsh father, English mother) in 1867. His father was a church architect and craftsman. Frank was largely self-taught but that did not stop him from becoming a painter, water colourist, engraver, illustrator and progressive designer.  In his youth, Brangwyn had joined Royal Navy Volunteers and travelled extensively including Russia and South Africa.

DSC_1857
Frank Brangwyn

He was an astonishingly proflic artist. As well as paintings and drawings, he produced designs for stained glass, furniture, ceramics, table glassware, buildings and interiors. He was also a lithographer and woodcutter and was a book illustrator. It has been estimated that during his lifetime Brangwyn produced over 12,000 works. His mural commissions would cover over 22,000 sq ft (2,000 m2) of canvas, he painted over 1,000 oils, over 660 mixed media works (watercolours, gouache), over 500 etchings, about 400 wood engravings and woodcuts, 280 lithographs, 40 architectural and interior designs, 230 designs for items of furniture and 20 stained glass panels and windows.

 

Known as the British Empire Panels Brangwyn spent a total of 7 years producing 16 large works that cover 3,000 sq ft (280 m2). When you see the size of the murals you can understand why they took 7 years to complete.

In 1928 the House of Lords was commissioned  Brangwyn to produce a series celebrating the beauty of the British Empire and the Dominions to fill the Royal Gallery.  Lord Iveagh tried to secure Brangwyn full artistic freedom to design and paint the commission his way. Unfotunately, Lord Iveagh died in 1927.  After 5 years of work the panels were displayed in the Royal Gallery for approvial by the Lords, but the peers refused to accept them because they were “too colourful and lively” for the place. It was worse than that. Some of them mocked his work in the national press. Lord Crawford, a Tory Peer, wrote in a “The Daily News” that the painting would be more suited to a night club than the House of Lords: “Just imagine five feet long bananas and grinning black monkeys looming over them!”

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One of the Panels that Lord Crawford criticised

It has been suggested that, this was rejection was part of a increasing restriction on artiostic expression that accompanying the birth of totalitarian movements across Europe. Fortuantely for the people of Wales and Swansea in partricular 1934 the panels were purchased by Swansea Council in 1934 and were housed in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. 

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Brangywn Hall, inside

The House of Lords’ loss is Swansea’s gain. These panels are absolutely astonishing. They are massive, colorful and packed to the gills with detail. Apparently, the height of the Hall’s ceiling had to be increased slightly to accommodate the tallest of the panels. They dominate the very large hall and the photographs fail the capture the huge scale of the panels. The are a true feast for the eyes.

The Glynn Vivian Gallery and Brangwyn Hall has on display quite a few of Brangwyn’s beautiful preparatory cartoons. He was a brillant draughtsman.

 

Interestingly Frank Barngwyn used modern technology to aid him; photography. The squaring up technique is one that artists have used for centuries, and is still used today by many (including me). If you look closely at the murals you can see the feint pencil lines of the grids he used.

The animals and people are incredible but the foilage of each country has also been painstakingly researched. I initally thought that the mass of green were sort of generic foliage but when I looked athe panel for England I was blown away when I realised that I recognised every type of leaf and flower; oak leaves, horsechestnuts, sunflowers, pears, apples, foxgoves, irises, blueblues. This is true for all the panels.

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The England Panel

I particularly enjoyed the details at the bottpom of the panels as they were at eye level. There were lots of tortoises, rabbits, bugs, butterfies and reptiles. The only thing thatappeared to be missiong were fish and aquautic mammals!  In the 1930s, before colour television and nature programs (and the nearest zoo in Bristol) this riot of creatures must have been quite a relevation for the people of Swansea.

Frank Brangwyn’s evident enthusiasm for the British empire was somewhat out-of-step with the increasingly introspective times of the inter-war years. Interestingly, his treatment of the different and diverse peoples of the British Empire was powerful and energetic. There are plenty of impressive female breasts but the women are strong and vital figures, not overtly sexualised. Perhaps, his celebration of empire makes for uncomfortable viewing in a post-empire world. Yet, the men and women of the Empire are depicted with dignity and sympathy, and the accent throughout is on the people, animals and plants of the conquered countries rather than on the activities of the conquerors.

Sadly, the rejection of the Panels by the Lords devasted Frank Brangwyn and it caused lasting depression in him. He became increasingly pessimistic and a hypochondriac and began disposing of his possessions during the 1930s. This is so sad as these murals are so wonderful!

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Was this grinning monkey Lord Crawford objected to?
Brangwyn, Frank, 1867-1956; British Empire Panel (14) Australia
Australia

Brangwyn, Frank, 1867-1956; British Empire Panel (9) Burma

Burma

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East Africa
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Siam

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Snow, snow, everywhere but here.

In the Brecon Beacons it has snowed. In Stroud, where my parents live, it has snowed. Here? Nope. We had about ten minutes of sleet yesterday morning and that’s it.  That’s what you get for living next to the sea, mild winters and damp summers.

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Winter Beacons

The last time it snowed here was about 7 years ago. I’ve been a long time waiting.

I love watching snow falling out the sky. I like to stand outside and look up into the sky and watch the flakes tumbling one after another down to the ground. I love the muffled sound and the creaking sound under foot. But its not to be *sigh*. It’s just not the same with rain!

Winter Snow on Mumbles
Wintery Mumbles c. 2010
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Elysium Studios – #1 Mansel Street

A great way to see art on your doorstep is to visit open studio events. Often these studios are in the artists’ homes. But not always. This weekend saw Swansea’s Elysium gallery’s 10th-anniversary celebrations. Elysium has grown steadily over the past decade and as well as running a Gallery and two international competitions its provides affordable studio space in 3 city-centre locations for up to 100 artists. This weekend there were open studio events throughout the day in the city centre. Today I am going to share photos from the studios in Mansel Street.

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Winnie the lurcher was a very popular vistor

Mansel Street Studios – a set of studios on two floors above a mid-century parade of shops. There was a beautiful wooden staircase. It is home to painters, textile designers, painters and a gnome.

Ann Jordan  – Photographs do not begin to do justice to her work. The wall hanging was fabulous – it was massive and luxurious. Originally made for an installation in a lighthouse at Portishead, the flowers were meant to evoke the flowers cast on waters for a sea burial. Very poignant.

 

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Wall Hanging by Ann Jordan

The fleece work was also magnificent – the texture and depth of each piece just does not come across in a photo. They were wonderfully thick and woolly; being made up of raw Welsh fleeces from Brecon.

www.annjordan-art.co.uk

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Felted fleece – Evoking the contours and rivers of the Beacons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words that Burn  

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Still from Words that Burn: “The Crunch” podcast

The Crunch is a multimedia poetry magazine –Each issue features a single poet, who has three of their poems filmed and uploaded to our video archive, and joins us for a short podcast. We chatted with Richard James Jones, a very talented poet. Poets he tells us, need quiet places away from the humdrum cares of the home, to come and think and work.

Carys Evans – has a wonderful large studio with windows that reach from the ceiling to floor. She has an exhibition in Cardiff later this month at the Oriel Kooywood Gallery in Museum Place.

 

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Carys Evans

 

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Carys Evans

Graham Parker – Painter and campaigner. Graham is fascinated by the sea that skirts Swansea Bay but for some reason, it was his paintings of lemons that took my fancy.

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Graham Parker – Still  life with lemons

Amir A Nejad – his studio wasn’t participating, which is a shame but his stunning portraits lined the corridors.

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Portrait by Amir A Nejad

My next blog will be about the High Street Studios.

P.S. Here’s the gnome I mentioned earlier.

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Arty Gnome