Monday, 31 October 2011

Moss Garden

This time of year we all know is breathtaking for the riot of colour, of trees changing into the rich tones of Autumn.  But I've been noticing more the green, bright, almost glowing green of beautiful mosses - close up just like little forests and landscapes in themselves.  Dappled sunlight catching the mounds and bumps of cushion soft green, dew quenched hillocks of feathery frond beauty made brilliant.

Mosses are primarily found growing in lightly shaded areas and thrive in moist, average soil.  They grow slowly and live a long time.  Like ferns, mosses grow from spores.  The spores develop green threadlike branches, rather than roots, which push into a surface and then develop tiny flat leaves.  Thousands of these plants bunch together to make a single patch of moss.  Mosses obtain all their nutrients from the air, rather than soil, which is why they so love growing on stone.

So, I've been making some little moss gardens - there are many hundreds of types of moss to choose from.  Apart from vibrant green there are yellow, brown and even white varieties.

Of course the Japanese have for centuries been growing moss gardens and from a religous perspective, moss gardens have been thought to elicit a calm, contemplative state of mind.

Actually they are quite easy to grow - you can transplant moss mat into a firmed soil bed, moisten both soil and moss, pack the soil tightly round and beneath it.  Keep watering well for the first three weeks at least.  Once the moss garden is thriving it will generally only require occasional misting with water or if particularly dry.  They can be kept indoors too.

Once established you can propogate moss by taking a clump and crumbling into a blender with two cups of buttermilk and two of water.  Blend on low speed until completely mixed.  This can then be spread over any surface where you would like your moss to grow - horizontal and vertical surfaces become clothed in a velvety mass.

I've made a few stone plant pots which are now filled with moss, which seems very happy in this environment and they make a beautiful little garden, inside or out, and remain green and bright  year round. I'm looking out for small red peat moss and white toothed peat moss, small flat, lanky, and bent leaf moss to add to the mix.

Friday, 28 October 2011

English Heritage - Tour de Force

On Wednesday I went on a tour of the archaeological artefacts in the English Heritage collection in Helmsley.  They opened the doors on their vast warehouse, just packed full of stone fragments and carvings, but also pottery, ceramics, glass.

The magic is that the staff conducting the tour were those who had dug and collected the items and who had done the research and were so knowledgeable about each and every piece.  I learned such a lot, not only about the actual stone fragments, but also about the history of the time and the location.  I've come away with so many notes to follow up, and things I want to know.

I was over-awed by the racks, floor to ceiling, in row after row, each filled with pallets of ancient stone.  Examples of 5th Century heads, Roman mother Godesses, exquisitely and intricately carved roof bosses, which now were seen close-to, panels telling tales of valour, religion, folk-lore and creation.  All these stone carvings revealing the stories of local Abbeys, Monasteries and Castles, about their architecture and the beliefs of the time.

Our two guides were tremendous, what a fascinating and enjoyable morning!

Unfortunately I am not allowed to show pictures of the pieces, but these images (from English Heritage) illustrate workers in 1921 at the local Rievaulx Abbey, digging for fragments, and the beautiful stone ruins.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Rhymer's Stone

Another stop on my recent journey was Rhymer's Stone.   Thomas the Rhymer, lived from 1220 to 1298. He was a Scottish laird with a reputation for prophesy and supernatural powers.  

The Rhymer's Stone was erected in 1929 by the Melrose Literary Society and marks the spot on which the fabled Eildon Tree once grew. It was under this tree that Thomas the Rhymer took a fateful nap while hunting on the estate of Melrose Abbey.  He was awakened by the Queen of Elfland, who he kissed. He then spent seven years with her in the Land of the Elves before returning to his home in Earlston for seven years, then disappearing for good - presumably back to the Land of the Elves.

The Queen of the Elves gave him an apple, proclaiming that it would give him a tongue that would never lie.  From that time he was known as 'True Thomas' and made prophesies which came true, notably of the death of King Alexander III.  Thomas predicted  it on a stormy night, 18th March 1226, the night before the King died.

Of more immediate relevance to the Rhymer's Stone was his prediction that a bridge over the River Tweed, which runs through the valley to the north, would one day be visible from the Eildon Tree. In 1865 the impressive Leaderfoot Viaduct opened, carrying the Berwickshire Railway over the River Tweed. The viaduct comprises 19 spans, and carried the railway at a height of 126ft above the river. Because of its height the viaduct can be seen from the viewpoint close to the Rhymer's Stone - apparently proving the prediction correct.

It is a beautiful spot, and I would have stayed longer, but for the midges - as large as life and biting bigger!

PS:  I didn't know what an Eildon Tree was - but I learn it is a sacred hawthorne in the hills of Ercildoun, where Thomas was said to hail from. And the hawthorn is also sometimes known as the fairy bush, for the fey folk are said to inhabit its branches and are its guardians. Sprigs of hawthorn and its flowers used to be gathered to serve as protection from evil (thanks Stephanie).

Monday, 24 October 2011

Bridge over the River Teviot

On Saturday I drove up to Melrose in the borders.  It is quite a long journey, but made longer as I kept slowing down to look at the beautiful landscape and places of interest along the way.  I noted a number of sites I wanted to explore on the way back.

Just a few yards from the road is Old Ancrum Bridge - it spans the River Teviot close to Jedburgh.  Perhaps it was the old packhorse route, now by-passed by a wider, faster road and new bridge.

It is a beautiful stone construction of 1782, from the local  red sandstone.  I walked over it and stood watching the river.  There are little pull-in shapes about half way along, with small 'windows' showing beautiful views up, or down, river.  These refuges are formed by the shape of the pillars of the bridge, where the cutwaters are carried up to create a small angular bay which is wider than the roadway.  Little places where those on foot could escape the rush of horses and carriages.  At each end the bridge has handsome spires, great stone cones welcoming you across.  The river beneath flows fast and deep, slapping and gurgling on its journey.  I thought of the power of the water, and the steadfast, solid strength of the stone bridge.

Just a short distance ahead was the impressive Jedburgh Abbey, founded in 1138 and a frequent target for invading border armies.  The Autumn colours and golden sunlight cast the ruins in spectacular relief - many strong stone arches and a stunning rose window.  Ornate stone carving reaching to the sky and decorating every block and face in grand architectural harmony.  I need to go back.

I had also seen a circle of stones, in the middle of a field - rather henge looking, but not huge.  It was too dark by the time I got back to the spot, and I couldn't find them - cars behind flashing lights and beeping in frustration!  It will have to wait for another trip - or if you have seen them or know what they are, please let me know - off the A68 somewhere south of Jedburgh!?

Perhaps I don't need a concise road atlas of Britain, but a Britain by beautiful stone structures and objects atlas.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Working in Candlelight

Candlelight is so flattering - warm, soft, glowing.  I light candles in the workshop for this very light - it makes stone look beautiful, casting the softest of shadows, yet picking up a real stoniness.  It helps with carving sometimes, in showing the way for a curve or in judging how far to undercut.  I walk around the carving, raising and lowering the candle, making the stone dance and come alive.

How beautifully comforting and cosy candles are too, in creating a wondrous atmosphere - particularly on these dark, frosty evenings.  So, I really had to make some candlesticks in stone, and I've added these ones to my Made in Stone range.  Hope you like them.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


And it may be mental!

At this time of year I am invariably brought to a halt, by a flat tyre - not a big dramatic blow-out, just a disheartening slow puncture.  All the same requiring a wheel change, usually in wind and rain!  This is either an amazing coincidence, or down to the cutting of the hedges - they look super smart and tidy, but leave the 'choppings' as potential tyre breakers.

I am amazed how tough and spikey a hawthorne prickle can be, but it penetrates the rubber and damages the inner-tube, even weeks after cutting.

Image from Nic's blog at Nip it in the bud who makes a wonderful saucy haw ketchup

However, on this occasion I have a confession - it is nothing to do with a flat tyre, but my vehicle spluttered to a halt, the engine choking, foul smelling exhaust in white plumes behind me and no power at the pedal.  It felt like the engine had blown up.

In panic I contacted the garage, and later that day went to see them, limping and jerking along accompanied by horrible clanking and grinding under the bonnet.  Checks were made, scratches of heads, questions, connections secured, engine turned, engine off, and then I mentioned that the problem had occured almost immediately after filling up at the local garage - could the fuel be contaminated?  The filler cap came off, noses to the tank and then 'You filled up with petrol didn't you?'  A moment of numbness, I couldn't have, no, I've never done it, don't be silly.  An easy check - my fuel receipt - and there in black and white - confirmation of my stupidity - 'fuel - unleaded'!!!!  It should have been diesel!

I'm just hoping that this confession, normally I would not have owned to it, or ever mentioned it, will help my poor vehicle forgive the idiocy and not be damaged inside too much.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Animal Sculpture

When I'm selecting stone, preparing ideas, carving and working on an animal sculpture, my main aim is to get some likeness, liveliness and 'spirit' of the subject.  In the end it may not be created looking exactly as it does in nature, but will be characterised, and imbued with my very particular way of looking at nature.

Sometimes my mind is full of creatures and animals that don't exist, so they are entirely of my own making and imagination, drawn from all I have seen and experienced, with 'made up' parts.  I suppose this must be how the sculptor Waterhouse Hawkins worked (he is the sculptor I mentioned in my previous post) when working on his dinosaurs.  At that time, of course, natural historians did not have a full picture of exactly what the early life on earth looked like.  Fossils of bones had been found, but a great deal was assumed.

Illustration by John V. Lord from the book Dinosaurs Don't Die

I have a really delightful book, Dinosaurs Don't Die by Ann Coates.  I was given it when aged ten, for Christmas, as Ann Coates is my Godmother. 

It is a wonderful tale about a boy called Daniel who loved to go and visit the vast models of dinosaurs which stand by the lake near Crystal Palace Park.  His special favourite was the huge Iguanodon.

One night, woken by a huge splash, Daniel discovers the Iguanodon swimming about in the lake.  To his distress, Daniel finds that the dinosaur is a sad creature, very bored with being stared at by curious visitors, and the boy is only too pleased to befriend the monster and help to cheer him up.  Daniel christens the Iguanodon 'Rock' and goes to see him at night, entertaining him with tales of his ancestors, of whom Rock is extremely proud.  Daniel soon discovers that Rock's single ambition is to see one of his ancestors so that he can find out whether or not he has been made correctly.  When Daniel tells him that a dinosaur's skeleton is on show at the Natural History Museum, Rock won't be satisfied until he has seen it.  The story covers how Daniel helps Rock fulfil his ambition.

Illustration by John V. Lord from the book Dinosaurs Don't Die

 Hawkins' models of the Iguanodon mistakenly portray the large thumb spike as a nose horn; also, the dinosaurs are shown as quadrupeds rather than bipeds.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving on the kitchen floor, as I bent down to investigate, it leapt away.  A huge bound.  I was startled, it was only about an inch in length, and it jumped over a metre.  I did catch up with the frog and put him back in the garden.  On some of the evenings recently that have been wet and mild, the lanes have been littered with frogs, they look like blowing, fallen leaves at first, then you realise, and there have been lots, leaping and glistening in the wet.   One evening I had to drive home in zig-zags to avoid them, and get out every few feet to usher them into the verge.

I'm fond of frogs, and toads - in fact one of the first things I carved in stone was a frog.  I had visited Biddulph Grange Garden in Staffordshire and fallen in love with the frog there.  How could you not!

The stone frog is to be found in the part of the garden known as China, and is the work of Waterhouse Hawkins, the sculptor of the prehistoric animals in the park of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

Hawkins (1807 - 1894) was a British sculptor and natural history artist.

In 1852 he was appointed by the Crystal Palace company to create 33 life-size concrete models of extinct dinosaurs to be placed in the park to which the great glass exhibition hall was to be relocated. In this work, which took some three years, he collaborated with  Sir Richard Owen and other leading scientific figures of the time – Owen estimated the size and overall shape of the animals, leaving Hawkins to sculpt models.  Some of the sculptures are still on display at Sydenham Crystal Palace Park.

Just look at his workshop at the time.  Full of models of extinct animals.

And here is the little frog I carved.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Nightjar Success Story

What good news - this bird was released back into the wild thanks to the good care and rehabilitation given by Jean Thorpe.  If you remember, this bird was brought into her,  having become exhausted during its migratory flight, and landed on a freighter in the middle of the North Sea.

Aren't they amazing birds - what beautiful feather colouring, the grey-brown, mottled, streaked and barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the daytime, when they stay motionless on the ground, looking like dead leaves or tree bark.

Nightjars are nocturnal birds and can be seen hawking for food at dusk and dawn.  They eat insects, moths and beetles. They have large eyes and a huge gape, surrounded by “whiskers” so are well adapted for catching their prey.

With pointed wings and a long tail, their shape is similar to a kestrel or cuckoo. They have an almost supernatural reputation with their silent flight and their mythical ability to steal milk from goats. The first indication that a nightjar is near is usually the male's churring song, rising and falling in a long call ('nightjar' means night-churr).  

I've spent evenings out watching nightjars and it is a magical bird to see and experience.  Another sound they make is a slapping or hand-clapping noise, caused as the birds clap their wings in flight.  They also have a strange middle claw, with serrations on it, which act like a comb for preening their feathers.

Here is a collagraph print I made of a Nightjar hidden on the forest floor.

Collagraph print of Nightjar by Jennifer Tetlow

Monday, 10 October 2011

Handmade in Britain

What a partnership!  I'm tuning into this.  The V&A and BBC Four present Handmade in Britain, an ambitious year-long season exploring the history of British decorative arts. 

The season begins with a three-part series on British ceramics. From the history of domestic pottery to the heart of Britain’s ceramic empire in Stoke-on-Trent to the studio potters of the 20th and 21st centuries, Ceramics: A Fragile History reveals why, throughout the nation’s history, makers have created objects that are beautiful as well as functional.

The V&A will run films alongside the programme, which will draw heavily on their collection and expertise.

Masterpieces of Ceramics Through the Ages - Chines Tomb Dog

Already I want to get a lump of clay to squidge and shape - though usually I do more squidging than anything when I work with clay!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Betty's Brunch

A very good customer of mine, Jill Atkinson, came this morning to pick up a Birdbath that I had made for her, she had driven from Harrogate on one of her rare times away from her busy work schedule running two beautiful shops by the name The Olive Branch.  One of the shops is in the village of Addingham, near Ilkley in Yorkshire and the second was opened in Easingwold on the edge of the Hambleton Hills.  Both of the shops have a lovely history, but I'll let her tell you the stories at The Olive Branch, or pop in to see her if you're in the area.

Anyway, Jill came bearing gifts in a lovely brown bag.

And the bag had in it beautifully wrapped goodies.

A special bag for a huge Fat Rascal and a box with bow for cream cakes.

Outside the wind blows fallen leaves and dust around and I'm cosy in my workshed with tea and special, scrumptuous edibles from Betty's in Harrogate.  What a luxury brunch!

Betty's is such an institution - a 'must go to' venue when in Harrogate and I remember being taken there as a child by my mother and staring into the large glass display counter at chocolate and fine baking and being asked to hurry up in my choice of cake.

What a lovely surprise, and what a treat to have Betty's brought to me - thankyou Jill - hope you got home safely with your stone cargo.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Coldstones Cut

Coldstones Cut in Nidderdale is a huge sculpture on the edge of Coldstones Quarry.  It is the latest work by Andrew Sabin and has received the Marsh Award for excellence in public sculpture for 2011.  This award is administered by the PMSA (Public Monuments and Sculpture Association), whose work aims to heighten public appreciation of Britain's public sculpture, and to contribute to its preservation, protection and promotion.

 Image Paul Harris from Andrew Sabin

Coldstones Quarry is said to be the highest quarry in England and situated close to the village of Greenhow, on the edge of Nidderdale in Yorkshire.  The Cut is a site-specific construction, formed of quarried limestone blocks creating a viewing platform over the quarry excavations and further, far further over the landscape. 

 Image Paul Harris from Andrew Sabin
Such impressive stoneyness!   Although this is the largest public sculpture in Yorkshire, and is huge - it seems as a small mark on the edge of the vast quarry workings!

 Image Paul Harris from Andrew Sabin

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