Monday, 12 December 2011

Hungarian rack

74. Hungarian rack.

When we moved to our present house we did the usual thing of re-arranging several walls and doorways. When the chaos was over we bought the house a present of this Hungarian shelf and rack. It hangs in a space created by the removal of a door.

It has a wonderful patina of age, with the date 1882 barely discernible in the faded paintwork. The decorative flowers and patterns will once have been bright and colourful.

The importer who was selling to us asked if we wanted him to do some restoration work on the piece.
"NO" was our immediate and horrified response.
This practical object  has a celebratory feel and was probably made as a wedding gift. Now it celebrates a happy retirement. It is barely visible beneath a collection of coats and hats, dog leads and umbrellas.

Darning mushroom

73. Darning mushroom.

I inherited this sycamore darning mushroom from my mother-in-law. She was a demon knitter and the only female in a household of males. She knitted socks and jumpers, scarves, hats and gloves. Her husband and sons must have given her handiwork quite a bashing because the surface of the mushroom is pitted from years of use. It is a satisfyingly practical object, the wood is light and comfortable in the hand, far superior to the ugly plastic mushroom that I used before inheriting this.
I was taught to patch and darn at school, a place described as being for 'young ladies'. What do 'young ladies' care about patching and darning? Very little, I can tell you! We had to practise these skills on small squares of fabric. How pointless and time-consuming it seemed. I was marked 0.5 out of 10 for all my effort.
My heart still sinks when I discover a small hole and know that I shall have to get out the darning mushroom and set to work.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


72. "Bella in Heaven"
silk embroidery by Janet Haigh.

I was brought up in a household that always included one or two dogs, but I married a man who quite definitely did not want to share his home with one, so that was the end of that. But when my father died, at the start of the new millennium, shortly followed by his faithful old spaniel, I was bereft. The only solution was to buy a dog of my own. Bella came from a breeder further down the dale, and for me, at least, it was love at first sight.

Love poem.

I have a new love.
Her greeting melts my heart.
Doe eyes, kohl-rimmed and gentle
her presence in our house experimental.
"Besotted," says my husband,
and he's right.
He'll not be charmed without a subtle fight
of wagging tail and wriggling with delight.
"That bloody dog," he says
of mud across the floor
and hairs on clothes 
and half chewed bones.
But I am charmed,
and every little chore is worth it
for my own first dog,
fox terrier,
whom I just adore.

Bella met an untimely death, chasing a cockerel across the road. I was heartbroken. My friend Janet, the owner of two wire-haired fox terriers, dyed a large square of silk into beautiful colours. She embroidered Bella, complete with a pair of wings, in the centre of this silk heaven. Her inspiration came from the Bedlington terrier paintings of Craigie Aitchison.
I felt that Bella looked lost in so much space (how rude of me) and Janet, wonderful friend that she is, let me mutilate the silk by cutting it down to make a dainty icon of her work.
This embroidery is precious to me for many reasons.

Bella in Heaven

When Bella died I cried
while Janet stitched my little dog with wings
and dyed a piece of silk bright green
for heaven.
There she stood, with matchstick legs and neat brown head
waiting to play in her silk heaven, generously large,
a gift of sympathy and love.
But in this space she looked too much alone
and so I asked, "Please can I cut her heaven down?"
Now my small dog stands square in her own patch,
the boundaries marked out in wood and gold,
happy in heaven, never growing old.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Enamel flowers

70. Flower brooches,
enamel on copper, by Janet Haigh.

The embroiderer Janet Haigh, makes the most beautiful objects, and her enamel flower brooches, in a myriad of delicious colours, are irresistible. The enamel is fused onto copper and the small glass beads stitched into place with wire thread. The pleasure in owning and wearing these brooches is intensified by knowing that they have been made by a friend.

71. Heart badge,
 enamel on copper, by Janet Haigh.

A firm fabric knot mends this broken heart. The significance of mending is an important theme in Janet's work, and this colourful little badge is very meaningful to me and to the friends for whom I have bought a similar heart.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Flower vase

69. Strathearn glass flower vase,
green and blue with copper aventurine inclusions.

This vase was a wedding present to my parents in the 1930's. My mother rarely picked flowers from the garden but it is something that I have always enjoyed.  The fluted rim provides a wonderful structure for holding and displaying whatever motley collection of flowers are placed in it. It fulfills the tenet, 'form follows function'. This vase was such a favourite of mine that at my own wedding I was given a large, green Strathearn glass vase of my own, a present from my much loved Auntie Ann. The rim of that vase is unfluted and does not display the flowers so well.
Some years ago my mother gave me her own.  

Sunday, 25 September 2011

garden book

68. 'Simple Fruit Growing' by P.K. Bear.

This much-thumbed little book is very precious to me, but not for any of the advice given within its covers. It is printed on rough, dull cream paper, "produced in complete conformity with the authorised economy standard". 

My father bought the book in 1945 when he was discharged from the army at the end of the Second World War. He filled the blank frontispiece with the names of all the roses that he had bought to make a rose garden. On the end pages he made a record of the fruit trees, planted over several years, that became our orchard.
It was a magical place, underplanted with spring bulbs, the long grass scythed only a couple of times a year.  When I look at the names that my father has written I am transported back to the orchard, my favourite part of the garden. I remember the different trees well, 'Egremont Russet',  'Ribston Pippin', the 'Irish Peach', the hard 'Pitmaston Duchess pears, and the cherries that the birds ate the minute they were ripe.
Eating cherries, 1950's.

Monday, 19 September 2011


67. Victorian cast iron doorstop,
 Woodcutter and his dog.

My father brought this doorstop as a present for our last house where it propped open the sturdy front door so that the children could run in and out to and from the garden.
The doorstop was a good choice of subject matter because we had two copses of trees and cutting wood was a fairly regular occupation. There were a few fine old oak trees, which remained untouched, but quite a number of ash, and these we felled for fuel and also for safety reasons. They had self sown and were too close together, growing tall in their competition for light. I did the roping, to be sure that the tree would fall where intended, and Peter did the cutting.
There is an old saying that wood warms you three times; once in the felling, twice in the stacking and finally when you burn it. Don't I know it!

Sunday, 11 September 2011


 Peter and I first met half a century ago. It is not surprising that a number of the objects in our home are of couples.

62. Painted Indian alabaster carving

I don't think that this carving, where a small female is subjugated to the will of a large male god, is representative of the relationship in our household! I know nothing about the object, having never thought to ask, as a child, where it came from. My mother received various gifts from India when she was young and it is likely that this was one of them. Her uncle had died in his twenties after only six weeks of marriage. His widow remarried and went to live in India with her new husband. She wrote from there to my mother, sending photographs and gifts.

63. Staffordshire sailor and wife

I bought this couple at a country auction My father was buying glass and I had gone along to keep him company. It was one of many jaunts where I was just going along for the ride and not interested in buying anything. Those are always the times when something catches your eye and your hand goes up. I have always liked the idea of a blue and white cottage by the coast, where these two would look perfectly at home. It hasn't happened yet!

64. Dogon couple 24 cm high.

This charming couple are among a number of pieces that we have bought from the Joliba Trust, a charity formed to support sustainable development in the rural communities of Mali. This, I like to think, rather than object 62, represents our life together, side by side, feet on ground, and a steady hand!

65. Dogon door lock 29cm high.

This is one of my favourite objects, another piece from the Joliba Trust, a functional and beautiful wooden door lock.

66. Adam and Eve, Hungarian woodcut

This little wood cut was a present from our elder daughter after a trip to Hungary. It hangs on our kitchen wall. I like  the naivety of the scene, greedy Eve and a very docile looking Adam!

Friday, 2 September 2011


60. Lapis lazuli necklace

I share with my mother and grandmother a love of necklaces. Each one that I possess has particular associations. The lapis lazuli belonged to my grandmother, Isabella. It is made of round, even sized stones that sit neatly at the nape of the neck. It was a favourite, worn often by of my mother, so I associate it with her. All three generations had a similar taste, none of us caring much for glitter.
Over the years my own choices have become less delicate, and, as my fingers become less agile, the type of fastening is of greater importance. Many of the necklaces have been bought as holiday souvenirs.

61. Elidoro and peridot necklace.

In the Aeolian islands we passed a tempting small jewelry shop on our way to and from the harbour. The owner stood in the doorway and smiled and we soon struck up a conversation. He and his wife were from mainland Italy. Their display of jewelry was beautiful. An amethyst and pearl necklace called me in like a siren's song to a sailor. Each evening on our way back to the hotel we would stop to talk. We learnt that the shop owners were avid followers of the British television series, 'Flog It', and this was a source of amusement and gentle joking between us, along with an ongoing riff that the price of the items on display should drop with each time that we entered the shop. They were a stylish and intelligent couple and our exchanges were wide ranging and enjoyable.
On the last evening of our holiday Peter bought me a necklace of quartz, described by Adrianna, one of the owners, as 'elidoro'. The stones are strung between small beads of peridot.

We had chosen to holiday in the Aeolian Islands after seeing the film 'Il Postino', which was filmed on Panarea. It tells the story of a local man who is hired to deliver post to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who came to live on the island for a while after being exiled from his own country.
We caught the ferry to visit the different islands, walking around patches of bubbling sulphur on the crater of Vulcano, listening to silence on Panarea, and watching from a rocking boat as sparks leapt into the night sky above Stromboli.

The quartz stones on my necklace are rough-cut and irregular, of differing smoky colours. They are a good reminder of the Italian islands, also rough-cut and irregular, a couple of them smoky, and all beautiful.
It is a necklace strung with good memories.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Mother and child

57. Stained elm carving by Christine Kowal Post
 mother and child, 94cm high

This carving dates from the 1980's, the time when we first met Christine. She had spent her childhood in Africa, where her father was working as a university lecturer. Christine returned to Britain to study at art school. I remember being amused by her description of herself as having been a painter of robins in the snow! But when she discovered carving, all the dynamism of her early African experience found true artistic expression.
The story of this mother and child is poignant. It is about a decision; the child is being denied.

58. Snake woman by Christine Kowal Post, 53 x 50cm.

Snakes were a reality of life for Christine in Africa. This one makes a delightfully decorative pattern, and although it has got the woman by the throat I am sure she will survive!

59. African carving, mother and child, 43cm high.

Joliba Trust.

We've bought a carving from the Dogon Tribe,
a mother with a child
not by her side but clinging to her back.
She is dressed well
and wears one cowrie shell
upon a necklace made of string.
She stands erect, long bodied,
full, firm breasts
squat haunches and big feet on which she rests,
leans slightly backwards and her navel forms a point.
Above the slender neck a solemn face
her simple clothing worn with timeless grace,
string earrings
and a loincloth made of sack,
a patina of dust softens the black.
All aspects of a gentle motherhood
carved out in wood
revered and understood.

Monday, 22 August 2011


56. Knitted vest.

When my first child was born, my friend, Glennis, taught herself to knit and created a very funky pair of bootees. Flushed with this success, she moved on to children's jumpers of ever increasing complexity. After a while I put in a request of my own, for the patterned vest above. I was delighted with the result and quite fancied a night-time version in dark purples and blues. It never materialised. She'd had quite enough of knitting by then, thank you very much and my green vest is the last knitted garment that she made.

She moved on to altogether bigger things, as co-founder of  'Creative Recycling.'

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Greek boy.

54. Greek boy, plaster cast, 127 cm high.

We have lugged this unwieldy plaster cast with us on each successive house move. He stands now in his most cramped position to date in our small study, his hands outstretched to the book shelves, his fingers forever unable to hold a book. He was formerly missing a few fingers, not to mention other essential parts of his anatomy. The metal armature stuck out from the palms of his hands until Peter began repairs with fine scrim and fresh plaster. It resulted in my poor Greek boy looking as though he had just returned from Accident and Emergency.
In our previous home he was placed on his plinth in the conservatory where a climbing hoya made good use of his outstretched arms. 

One evening a visiting American lecturer came to supper. He studied the cast and Peter said, "We all think of the Greek ideal of beauty and the subtlety of their carving, but look at this - they were no good at fingers." The lecturer looked more closely and agreed. (He laughed about it later!)

We have a selection of casts, all acquired from schools and colleges at a time when they were being thrown away, unwanted. 

55. Marble fragments, 5 and 4 cms high.

These small heads were rescued from a builder who knocked them from a damaged urn because he 'liked' them! We have the vandalised pieces, four in total; two sections of the urn and these heads. We noted the way that small fragments were displayed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and Peter got to work with blocks of wood, metal rod and glue to present ours in similar fashion.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


52. 'Blue Onion' porcelain platter by Meissen. 42 cm.

This old platter was kept on a plate rack in my parents' kitchen and was lifted down when used for family gatherings. It was designed by Johann Joachim Kaedler in 1739 and is one of the most popular and copied patterns in the Meissen pattern library. It is thought to have been copied from a Chinese bowl made in the K'ang Hsi Period (1662 -1722). The original design was of peaches and pomegranates. When it was given to the Meissen painters in 1728 these fruits were not known to them and so the motif was changed to onions. Over the years the pattern was simplified to make it easier to paint.
The platter now sits on top of my kitchen dresser.

53. Parian plate, 32 cm diameter.

We found this plate in a junk shop when we were first married. The message, 'waste not want not' was entirely appropriate for our financial state at the time! It has the look of a Victorian collection plate, but as you can see, we use it to store the results of years of happy beach combing.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


49. Baking booklet from the 1940's

This was my first cookery book, much used, and just about hanging together by means of some masking tape. It is not a pretty sight, but the recipes are excellent and still used. A friend recently bought me the full-colour update, in which the ingredients are no longer limited by rationing!

50. Icing set

Having children meant mastering the art of cake decoration, and this 'Nutbrown' set saw a lot of action on birthdays and special occasions. 

51. Plaster cakes, 4cm diameter

Work took me to London on a regular basis. I always tried to find a small present to bring home for my daughters when they were young. Luckily the Harrods store sold a good selection of doll's house food. This tiny plate of 'fancies' is all that has survived.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Citroen cars

47. Citroen 2cv toy S30
Raid Afric 1973, made in Italy by Polistil.

We were on holiday in Venice thirty-four years ago when our six year old daughter fell in love with this 2cv in a toy shop window. She did the nose pressed to the glass routine whenever we passed the shop en route to a restaurant for our evening meal. On the final morning we succumbed and bought the longed-for object.

My brother had driven back to England from work in Algeria in a pale duck egg blue Deux Chevaux. When an Alsatian dog ran out into the road and hit his car, the dog escaped unharmed but the car was badly dented. When Dyane's were imported into England we bought one, our first new car. We knew from my brother's experience that the car would be tinny, but also that it would be great fun to own. It did not disappoint. We made a few alterations; the round ball on the gear stick, which had a tendency to fly off, was successfully replaced by a length of ribbed hosepipe.
It was a car designed for good weather. The roof could be pulled partially back with the flick of a wrist and completely rolled back with a little more effort. On warm weekends we flung our camping gear into the boot and headed to the coast. During the summer holidays we traveled through Europe. Our tent was very small, but we always sat out in style because all the seats in the Dyane were easy to remove.
In winter months there was a muff which could be attached to the front grill, giving the pious hope that some engine heat would warm the body of the car. We were inevitably chilled to the bone for the first fifteen minutes and had often arrived at our destination before the car had warmed up at all.
After a few years Peter defected and bought an estate car but I drove the Dyane for a total of seventeen years. I was spotted wherever I went. "Saw you at .. ' friends would say and other Citroen owners would hoot their horns or wave. I knew that it was time to move on when I was overtaken while driving up a hill by a piano, (on a trailer.) By the time I sold it the car had had two engines and a re-spray. The new owners were enthusiastic and looking forward to driving it at vintage car rallies!

48. African tin 2cv

Our elder daughter, the rightful owner of object no. 47, had learnt to drive on the Dyane. Many years later, after a visit to Africa, she brought me the present of this 2cv, made entirely from a used French insect spray can.
I am not remotely a 'car' person, but, you may have gathered, I really loved our Dyane! 

Monday, 1 August 2011

White blackbird

45. 'White Blackbird.'
Limewood, 32 x21 inches.

This carving of Peter's is one of my favourites. It hangs on the staircase wall and I walk past and enjoy it several times each day. The idea came from our Japanese print of the blackbird flying through undergrowth. The colour balance has been reversed in the carving, which depicts the brambles and trees our own surroundings.

46. ' The Conversion.'
Meadow oak panel, 67 x 24 inches.

In the early 1970's we converted a granary and stable block into our holiday home and this carving records the work in progress. Two millstones had been set into the upper wall of the building, and one is still in place in the carving above. Try as I might I could not find a way of keeping them set into the wall whilst also putting in windows. The windows won out and the millstones are now in the front garden. Everyone who worked on the project is depicted, apart from me! The carving shows Tess, my Dobermann, the local farmer on his tractor and our daughter, feeding the ducks. Animals being herded along the road are a common sight in the village, although in this hill country of the Yorkshire Dales it is far more usually sheep.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


39. Etching, zinc plate, badly bitten and wiped!

I have many prints, some, as above, are my own, and others made by friends, or bought. They are an excellent source of memories.
I learnt printmaking at Leeds College of Art. The etching studio was up a flight of rickety stairs in the attics of the art school. Hanging next to the door was an etching by Anthony Gross of a Parisian park. It was a beautiful print, deserving of the close inspection that I regularily gave it. There was an intimacy to working in this studio, which was a small, private space compared to the painting studios below. Long ruminative conversations could be had whilst removing acid bubbles from the plate with the stroke of a feather, or any of the other procedures that demanded a pace of their own. Some of my happiest times at college were spent in the confines of this eyrie, with its smell of damp paper and acid fumes.

40. 'Fishpond' etching by Anthony Gross.

This print was bought from a gallery in St Ives. I was thrilled to own an Anthony Gross etching of my own and the subject seemed particularly suitable. We had spent the summer before our marriage in an abandoned farmhouse in the south of France. My first task had been to set about clearing the water cistern, a large area of dammed stream that had been entirely taken over by plant growth. It was a messy task but worthwhile because, once cleared, we had somewhere to swim. We went to market and bought some ducklings who enjoyed the water as much as we did and kept it free of snails. The postman inherited a duck when we returned to England and I later heard that he ate it for Christmas!
41. 'Fragment' wood engraving by Philip Burbidge.

This small and rather mysterious print, measuring only 4x5 cm, was made by one of Peter's students at Bristol College of Art. He bought several of Philip's prints, this one chosen because it illustrates a figure who shares my family name of Isabella.


Vetches both yellow and blue
Grew thick in the meadow lane
Isabella's shawl kept off the dew
As thickly upon her it came
A thorn bush caught her umbrella
As though it would bid her to stay
But the loving and loved Isabella
Went laughing and walking away.

42. Japanese hand-printed woodblocks by Watanabe Seitei 

These very subtle images, produced around 1890-91, were bought mounted, as seen, from a shop in the city of York. We were living at that time in an old farmhouse with a large, overgrown garden through which birds flew, often at shoulder height. These woodblocks describe exactly the fragility and the beauty that was around us.

43. 'Franchieux' etching and aquatint on copper plate.

I made this etching (of the duck that the postman ate!) using the William Hayter technique that I had been taught in my final year at Goldsmith's College. The plate was given a brown intaglio inking followed by a roll of blue pigment to produce a coloured print in a single pressing.

44. 'Ulla' etching and aquatint by Rolf-Dietrich Ratzmann.

We had spent our summer in France with our college friend Rolf, who had studied at Dortmund Art School before coming to join us in Leeds, eventually moving to the Sorbonne. He was an energetic artist and our conversations were always a lively exchange of ideas and methods, as evidenced here by his using the same technique that I had employed in the 'Franchieux' etching. Rolf's image is of Ulla, his wife, pregnant with their first child.

nb. All the above prints are framed and have been photographed through glass, with limited success.