A true love story set during World War 2 of the early part of my Mum’s life in Ceredigion. This is being serialised by Ego magazine, for those who want to hear more, I have made a 45 minute audio recording in five parts of the story from letters by airman Fred Lloyd. This is supported by Anchor. https://anchor.fm/alison-pierse9
Have some tissues handy.
Sunbathing on the roof of the Grand Hotel Borth. 1941 Rosemary is in the middle.
My mother was desperate to see the Bardo museum. Naively, I used to think it was something to do with Brigitte Bardot; not so! She made two thwarted attempts to visit the museum at great cost. Why the fascination in the Bardo Museum, Tunisia? It contains the largest collection of mosaics in the world including the famous mosaic representing Virgil, the poet.
Just before she died, I bought a book on the Bardo hoping to find out why she so wanted to visit; her interest was in mosaic hunting scenes. Indeed this is a wonderful repository of images but since the rather dreadful attack on tourists in the museum in 2015, I suspect their footfall has dwindled. That aside, what excites me is the range of colours of the marble found in these mosaics. Not all the mosaics in the Museum are from Tunis of course. Have you visited this museum?
For this post, I want to focus on one detailed area of the Ulysses mosaic found in the House of Ulysses. This depicts part of the story of the Odyssey. This one was found in Dougga, 60 miles inland from the sea, situated in the wheat-growing belt. Although the settlement of Dougga is much older; the mosaic is 4th century. Dougga was taken over by the Romans; there was a building boom and families competed to commission grand building projects. The whole mosaic shows three different methods of fishing; can you think of three different types that would be used in ancient times? I can only imagine that the commissioner of the piece must have a lot of connections with the sea.
Now, let’s unravel this piece. There is a lot going on in this mosaic. We have a wooden boat with a design of a figure head embedded within the structure. The prow of the boat seems to show a squid impaled by spears. Inside the boat are people and we also can see people in the sea too. Are they people?
We have Bacchus in the middle of the boat wearing a blue tunic or dress; this isn’t the portrayal of Bacchus, god of the grape harvest, we are familiar with. (The Romans and Greeks confusingly had different names for the same god; he is also called Dionysus) What a pity Bacchus has lost his head; what it does do though is let us look and search to decipher the story. At his feet is a big cat of some sort eating or attacking something. I believe the cat is a leopard as Bacchus is often represented with that animal. What is the leopard doing though?
Pirates have attacked the boat and Bacchus has expelled them in to the water, the figures form a serpentine composition to the main subject. The men (pirates) are metamorphosed in to dolphins. The water is changing their body. Once in the water the tesserae turn blue. (blue in marble mosaics is often lapis lazuli) The leopard has caught the pirate by the feet, as he dives in to the water, the head and the rest of his body has transformed already.
Who is the large man to the right? He is the companion to Bacchus, Silenus; a satyr often depicted with beard and cloven feet. He has eaten well and is over seeing the scene but seems to be touching Bacchus or reaching for more food – it looks like a speared lobster?
What attracted me to this piece rather than the more popular Ulysses mosaic, was the octopus. At first glance you see that it is out of the water, but the scholar, Chris Knutson states that the zigzag forms are a crude representation of waves. The octopus has tiny little eyes with different coloured marble. The andamento roughly follows the muscles of the figures to help the viewer understand the scene. Then you have this bold pattern on the rim of the boat; this helps the viewer understand the differentiation of activity. Imagine if that wasn’t there, it would be hard to decipher. Do you see another animal in the boat? What do you think it is?
Last Sunday I held the garden gallery event to showcase new work. I was intensely working on my chimney pot project in full sun. The skills was new to me…different glue, vertical surfaces and multi-tasking talking with the public. You could view from the pavement and all very safe. I’m not a mad fan of the glue or adhesive, its a bit messy, so I need to do a big clean up before embarking on the grouting process. We live and learn, but the exterior adhesive does work if a bit fiddly. I will then seal the interior of the chimney and remaining exposed terracotta with brick sealant. It will return as pot on a chimney stack, but not the third floor; the scaffolding costs are prohibitive.
I was rather relieved to finish and make it to the end as I did two stints, setting up and talking to folk after a day’s work. Nice as it was to see people and enthuse about mosaic, I won’t repeat that, the Covid isolation has weakened my social skills a bit.
A little diversion from mosaics in this post. This idea of a whale shark salt cellar has been ruminating for about 7 years. I had to purchase extra clay to finish my big batch of moaning mermaids and I had some clay left over – I pounced on the chance to get the salt cellar made. My family have always had a salt clear in the house; salt is of course an essential element to life – in moderation of course. Ancient scriptures describe the union of salt as a significant element in a binding agreement. Think of the phrase ‘worth his weight in salt’ in fact the word salary (salarum) stems from the soldiers allowance of salt. The bible has a Covenant of salt – Chronicles 2 13.5. An Irish tradition tradition for a betrothal was a union of salt; each partner would contribute a pocketful of salt to seal their union and make their promise by joining the two bags together- it is also a symbol of good luck. Who throws a pinch of salt over their shoulder?
It seems appropriate then, that these whale shark salt clears can sit decoratively and functionally on your kitchen workbench. Just purchase some salt and a little spoon and away you go. He sits on plastic pips so not to scratch the kitchen surface. A reminder of the significance of this element for the early preservation of meat and fish.
Who do you know who is getting married and would like a present of a salt cellar; or you just might like it for yourself. I have one left that will be available to view at my pop-up garden studio. 20th June.
Ooooh what a week. I filled in the census and found that I had lost a year! That was sobering news! This little fella is just a sheer piece of whimsy. It started with a pebble – his eye; remember that from a few posts ago? I had also been reading about Portuguese men of war jellyfish, they transport themselves with a sail. and then the idea starts…anyway, using a little complementary colour to make the image sing, I have used glass beads, millifiore, a sherd from a favourite tea cup made by potter Pru for my flag, Portuguese cinca (of course) ceramic tiles and vitreous tiles peppered with iridescent tiles in the background. He’s bright, jolly and perfect for this grim part of the year. Sail away on a sail fish and forget all this Covid rubbish! He is for sail / sale. Haha just contact me.
The last lot of grumpy mermaids leaves the house today. I’ve been making these girls for over 20 years on and off. They are made to house air plants or witches broom plant; the mouth drains excess water. This batch have lost their tail and I’ve sliced their arms off as a nod to broken classical sculpture. No wonder they are grumpy! They are about 18cm high, made from terracotta and cobalt oxide that gives a nice patina. They work best when one is talking to the other and set on a mantlepiece – I have also called them conversation pieces; air heads and grumpy sirens. As the design has evolved they have gotten more grumpy. This is the lockdown version! Each has a different expression and they kind of emerge; I have a plan but they make themselves!
If you wish to have one I will add your order to the next batch. £28. Just let me know.
Proverbs were a popular theme in paintings. Do you know Breughel’s proverbs painting?
This is my contribution to Proverbs. A Storm in a Teacup. I have used mirrors for the lightening and matt vitreous tiles for the white. This started as a wood cut, finely chiseled from boxwood and printed. see below. Woodcuts are tiny little prints. I love this process working on a tiny block of boxwood.
Anyway, how were proverbs paintings meant to be received by the viewer?
Proverbs are older than the Bible. They were documented as a narrative to question one’s values, moral behaviour, our conduct and the meaning of life.
The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon – King of Israel.
Storm in a tea cup is first raised by Cicero, 106-43 BC. He wrote ‘Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo’ meaning ‘stirring up waves in a ladle’
Who was Cicero? He was an orator, a Roman statesmen, writer, lawyer and scholar.
Storm in a teacup was more popularly used in 19th century to warn people of blowing things out of proportion. I think I am guilty of that at times!
Oh hello, what’s going on here then? A bit of grape pressing in a Byzantine church of the Saints Lot (of pass the Lot) (more later) and Procopius in Jordon. Procopius was a scholar and historian. His great tome of secret writing was planned to be published after Justinian died for fear it might unsettle the readers.
This mosaic is a section from one of the best mosaics in Jordan situated near the town on Nebo, possibly made in @ 557. It is a clever and sophisticated design, mocking a oblong carpet with an interior of bordered roundels of curving grape vines. The roundels theme depicts general life, harvesting, hunting and domestic animals. The four corners lavishly display large sculpturally designed acanthus leaves. The roundels have donkeys, geese, camels, fox. dogs and these grape squeezers, treading merrily away. It is executed with just 5 colours of marble; I love it. All the men have a startled look on their face. To the right is a boy who looks like he is pulling a cork out of a bottle but it is actually an early flute.
However this isn’t the whole floor. Surrounding the mosaic carpet are pairs of animals designed in symmetry. Stags drinking at waterhole, geese that look more like long legged dodos and a Nilotic scene of fish, water lilies and ibis.
Oh how we miss travel and being able to see rich heritage, thank goodness it has been restored, Lonely Planet say you just need to find the bloke with the keys.
Now about Lot, the Welsh have a saying when at the table, pass the Lot. If you know your Bible you will know what that is. If you don’t, it is what we have with fish and chips.
Facing Manchester Albert Square is Manchester Town Hall. A grand municipal building looking like a jumbled up Houses of Parliament; it was acknowledged for its beauty by John Ruskin. This imposing Neo-gothic structure was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1877. Manchester is known for its hard working ethos; the factories formed during the Industrial Revolution generated cotton for the nation. Like many northern cities, all the civic buildings are within one area of the city; museums often mock the architecture of Roman temples, banks, grand structures and entrance doorways with slender columns.
Let’s talk about its décor and opulence. The central clock tower has a psalm inscribed on it and for me, the main focus of the building. Inside needs a lot of restoration, restrained stained glass windows were designed to allow as much light in to the building in order to counteract the Manchester gloomy weather. Sorry Manchester.
The opulence continues through the building, murals by Ford Maddox Brown, a sculpture hall of busts of significant people and the floors!
Cue the bees! There are 67 of them interspersed with a cotton flower design, set within a black and white tiled mosaic floor. The bees are worker bees, the symbol of Manchester.
You will find bees on the city coat of arms, in murals, rubbish bins, on metal bollards; the Ariana Grande disaster has created a resurgence of the bee symbol.
This mosaic would have been made in reverse, on sheets of brown paper to be able to transport it in to sections and set in to a screed on site. The wings and body of the bees are emphasised with opus vermiculatum, weaving around their outer edge. The floor has a large crack along the floor, which rather spoils the effect but shows its age and wear. It is stated that the mosaics are Venetian, however Waterhouse had a strong alliance with Jesse Rust who provided mosaics for Waterhouse’s buildings. I wonder why he didn’t use Rust to make these?
There is a big ongoing renovation project costing £330M to restore and update the building and keep the integrity of the design for future Mancunians. I can’t wait to see the final project which is due to finish in 2024. Perhaps my friend Tracy may share her wonderful mosaic bee.