Distant spires

Michael Strutt, Distant Spires (2)

Michael Strutt is a clock restorer, a bell ringer (at Gosberton) and a photographer. He use Blipfoto, which has the distinction of allowing photographers to add only one photo a day, taken on the day it is shared. The resulting photo diaries allow the viewer to imagine the connections. They highlight how sequencing images – putting one after another, making a beginning, middle and end – nourishes our natural instinct to compose stories.

With Michael’s permission, here are two of his images of churches, which he captioned ‘Distant Spires’. Although I see steeples all the time, as I drive across the fenland, I’ve found it hard to capture the feel of them with the camera. There is a visual paradox at play here. Last night, coming home from Wrangle, I noticed again how much taller the Boston Stump seems from a distance than it does when you get closer. So it’s a pleasure to be able to share these fine photographs.

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Michael Strutt, Distant Spires (1)

Ancient presences

These four heads hold up the roof of Cowbit church, above the altar. They are probably the oldest carved stones in the building and they didn’t start out where they are now, though they were always made to support a roof, probably for a church built in the 1100s. They are crudely made – at least in comparison with the skillful carving you can see at, say, Pinchbeck – but they are full of life. Their wild, untamed faces, seem either threatening or fearful.

They speak of an older world, far more insecure than ours, where suffering and death could strike from a blue sky, without understandable cause and therefore without the possibility of mitigation. In such times, the church’s protection must have seemed a vital defence against the randomness of life.

These heads belong in Cowbit church. As sculptures in a white-walled museum, surrounded by unrelated treasures, they would be prisoners of an alien culture. It’s good to see them where they have always been, rooted in the place they were made, their eyes meeting the descendants of those who made them.

Flatter

tom-eckersely-Lincolnshire-poster

 

When Tom Eckersley made this design for British Railways in 1961, the great age of the railway poster was almost gone. For fifty years at least, some of the best artists of their day had been commissioned by the railway companies, London Transport, motoring organisations and others to produce work that perfectly combined form and function. The commercial interests of the commissioner was restrained by the cultural interests of the artist.

This poster simplifies Lincolnshire to fields, trees, sheep, church and sky. Above all, it reinforces the idea of flatness, though it makes it beautiful. And it does it with witty nods to current trends in painting: Piet Mondrian’s abstract grids and the flatness sought by Jasper Johns and Frank Stella. But even in this modernity, the ancient church remains the focal point, holding everything together.

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Contemporary art in churches

Altered

Most village churches are hundreds of years old, and they look it, ancient and old-fashioned. It’s easy to think of them as embodying stability in a changing world. So they do, because they have survived so much for so long – and yet they were once the height of fashion. They were built to the latest trends in contemporary art and architecture. Each new aisle or window or sculpture similarly reflect current tastes.

It can be hard to see that now for several reasons, which is one reason why it can be so exciting to encounter contemporary art in an ancient church. Altered is a partnership between the Diocese of Lincoln, arts NK and the University of Lincoln to commission artists to create new work in churches. The experience is well captured by this comment from the Dutch artist Pat van Boeckel, who created work last year:

‘The challenge in Heckington for me was to make artwork which would not disturb the unique atmosphere of the centuries old church. In between the various projections I left room to look at the beauty of the church itself. I was surprised how much the church and the video could strengthen each other.’

Several installations have now been completed: they’re documented on the project’s website. The next one, by Carol MacGillivray and Bruno Mathez, will be at St James, Dry Doddington, next Bank Holiday weekend, Saturday 24 to Monday 26 May. Definitely worth a visit…

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A ship of light

Edward Burne Jones, St Frideswide Window (1858) in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Edward Burne Jones, St Frideswide Window (1858)

This roundel is at the top of the St Frideswide window made in 1858 by Edward Burne-Jones for the Latin Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. It fits within an ancient iconography that connects ships, church and community in a metaphor of the human journey through life.

I’ve seen some lovely stained glass at Moulton and elsewhere but I haven’t yet discovered whether there is any among the 14 churches in this project made by an artist of the calibre of Burne-Jones. But it wouldn’t surprise me: churches are full of art that you’d usually have to go to a museum to see.

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Drawing Algarkirk

Algarkirk Church, charcoal drawing by Rosie Redzia
Algarkirk Church, charcoal drawing by Rosie Redzia

Rosie Redzia

Rosie lives and works in the Lincolnshire Fens, where she grew up. Her year as artist in residence at Woodlands Farm produced a wonderful series of drawings that capture life on the land today. These images of Algarkirk Church, near Woodlands, stand in a very long line of drawings of churches by artists. Rosie will be doing drawing workshops with a local school shortly, taking the church as a subject: some of the results will be shared here in due course.

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Algakirk Church (Rosie Redzia)

Sketching churches

Here are some lovely images from Neil Baker’s Sketchcrawl yesterday in Moulton. Neil will be running these community sketching events ‘on location’ for Transported throughout this summer. He’s inviting everyone to get involved, whatever their skill or experience of drawing. To see some of the first results, follow the links to the Sketchcrawl blog and the Facebook page.

I’m off to Moulton shortly, to visit the flower festival and Handmade in Moulton; Jo Wheeler, who is doing another of the artist commissions will be there too. I’ll post some images of the day here tomorrow.

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An elephant in Gosberton

The steeple of St Peter and St Paul’s in Gosberton reaches 160 feet into the Lincolnshire sky. Stone spires are a special feature of churches in the East Midlands, and Gosberton’s is one of the loveliest. Each angle of the octagon is decorated with little crockets, while four exceedingly thin – and structurally useless – flying buttresses connect it with the tower corners. The whole elegant construction dates from about 1300.

Gosbert Elephant Gargoyle (AA 1963)

But the most surprising thing about this spire is the elephant carved on the east side of the tower. This drawing, which I found in the 1963 AA Book of the Road, is very evocative, though there’s a modern photograph in this recent story about the church repairs in the Spalding Guardian. The elephant is a gargoyle, a sculptured stone spout used in the Middle Ages to throw rain water away from the building, and its trunk is made of lead that needs to be renewed.

Whoever carved the elephant, probably a jobbing mason who would follow the work from site to site, was very unlikely to have seen an elephant so the accuracy of the representation is remarkable. This image, from a 15th century herbal held in the British Library, is characteristic how medieval artists imagined the strange creatures travellers told stories about. Perhaps the Gosberton sculptor had encountered a real elephant in his journeyman life.

Elephant from a herbal (Italy, c.1440) British Library