Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Lands of Enchantment

Had another Grand Day Out on Saturday at the Lands of Enchantment exhibition at Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire. This is an annual art exhibition organised by Andy Compton of ADC Books, who acts as the sole worldwide agent for the Tolkien-inspired art of Ted Nasmith, Ruth Lacon, Jef Murray and Peter Pracownik. It takes place at the Redesdale Hall in the centre of Moreton, which is decked out in banners for the occasion:

The lobby and staircase at the Redesdale Hall
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

It was great to see familiar faces at the Exhibition; everyone welcomed us like old friends and we had several chats (and a cup of tea) before we ever got near any pictures. The two paintings of Ruth Lacon’s which I really liked were The Inescapable Wave - a Japanese style painting reminiscent of Tolkien’s recurring Atlantis dream, and which someone else liked enough to buy during the day - and Bilbo Finds Himself East of the Misty Mountains, which was full of air and space and had a real sense of distance.

As well as all the paintings, we were captivated by the appearance of a pygmy owl in the exhibiton hall. She came courtesy of the Cotswold Falconry Centre and didn’t seem at all fazed by the attention she was getting (which was considerable).

Pygmy Owl Close Up
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

I hadn’t expected to like Peter Pracownik’s paintings (I’d caught a glimpse of a couple somewhere else and thought them a bit too Fantasy-based for my liking) but they absolutely blew me away when I had a chance to study them properly. I particularly liked The Way is Closed (based on Tolkien’s design for the entrance of Moria) and Middle Earth, which had a definite feel of a 1960’s album cover (King Crimson springs to mind) and Peter agreed; he was a musician for many years - in his heyday he played the Roundhouse in Camden with Hawkwind - as it happens, I was there!! Eventually he decided he could make a better living as an artist, although he still plays in a band now. Peter and his partner Nicola (also an artist) run a gallery in Tintagel, Cornwall, which you can find out about at He had a stall in the dealer’s hall where I bought some postcards and a fridge magnet (I can never resist a fridge magnet. This one has the Green Man on it).

Peter Pracownik at his stall in the dealer’s hall
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

Ted Nasmith had a wide variety of paintings and prints on show - some large, some small. My other half would have happily taken several home with us - and so would I, but we would have chosen different ones! My favourite was Boromir’s Last Stand, although Luthien runs it a close second. Ted was exhibiting some tiny paintings, too - a sensible move in these days of recession. I was tempted by one of Frodo praying to Elbereth . . .

By now the hall was filling up with visitors. Becky Carter-Hitchin arrived with a wonderful design based on the emblems of the Noldor . It was absolutely fabulous and several of us - including Ruth - crowded round making admiring coo-ing noises over it. She had laid it on the floor for us to see and it looked like a sumptuous rug . . . we were so engrossed that when Angela Gardiner’s talk was announced we realised all the seats were taken. Still, standing at the back we had a good view!

Thanks to Chris Tolkien (Hilary’s grandson) a whole heap ( several heaps) of Hilary’s unpublished papers have been made available to Angela and she is in the process of writing his autobiography as she feels she would like to give Hilary his due place in JRR Tolkien’s life. The brothers were very close. Black & White Ogre Country is a lovely little book of Hilary’s reminiscences, which has been published as a kind of preview to the full biography. I was particularly struck by this extract: “We used to live a big part of the summer up trees, particularly a certain sycamore . . .” Angela showed us a Christmas card drawn by the boys’ grandfather, John Suffield (Mabel Tolkien’s father). He used to make one every year, and this sample had trees recognisably in the same style as Tolkien used to draw; and a tiny rendering of the Lord’s Prayer in a little circle. So that’s where JRRT got the idea of the Father Christmas Letters from! Interestingly, the book contains a small painting by Hilary in a similar style and apparently Tim Tolkien (I can’t remember where he fits in) also draws and paints in the Tolkien - or should I say Suffield - style.

Jef Murray had a huge amount of paintings on show - my favourite The Eagle of Manwe was there, along with a similar one Mearas - and his illustrations for Black & White Ogre Country went down very well - several had sold. I was chuffed when he said he remembered me liking The Eagle of Manwe - apparently he often recalls people by the paintings they prefer!

(Some of) Jef Murray’s display
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

We nearly missed out on seats again for Ted Nasmith’s talk because by then we’d bumped into the major book collector Alan Reynolds, whose lecture we’d gone to at Oxonmoot. Amongst lots of other interesting stuff he told us how even today Tolkien’s views on language are being vindicated: for years Tolkien argued with “experts” that the Roman name for the town of Bath - Aquae Sulis - meant “waters of Sul” rather than “waters of Sulis” because - as every Latin scholar knows - “Sulis” means “of Sul”. All the experts pooh-poohed his idea. Then some relics were excavated in Bath clearly dedicated to the Goddess Sul. They really should have listened to the Professor in the first place . . .

Back to Ted’s talk. He told us that he likes to paint something beautiful in a picture even when the overall subject is grim - I think he likes the contrast, such as the horror of the Kinslaying in such a lovely setting. He talked about the dangers of overpainting (which struck a chord with at least one fledgling artist in the audience) and I was greatly cheered when he said that some of his ideas for pictures have come to fruition over many years. Hope for me yet then . . . Ted discussed the pleasures and pitfalls of being commissioned to do illustrations for The Silmarillion; for example, Christopher Tolkien objected to Ted putting trees and agricultural scenery around Gondolin because JRR Tolkien had described it as standing on a featureless plain; but logic dictates that the inhabitants would have had to grow food etc somehow. I think the discussions Ted had with CT must have been quite lively!

The Bell Inn, Moreton in Marsh
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

By now we were starving, and headed to The Bell for lunch. There’s a strong suggestion that the exterior of The Prancing Pony at Bree is based on The Bell, similarities include the three storeys of the pub building (those little rooms at the top would be ideal lodgings for hobbits!) and its entrance via a courtyard, which you can just see to the right of my photo. I assume that it’s an old coaching inn. After lunch we wandered back to the Redesdale Hall, pausing only to admire the local bookshop’s window display. Full marks to them for noticing there was a Tolkien Art Show in town - that‘s what I call using your initiative!

Books on Art and Tolkien in the shop window
© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

Of course, once we entered the Dealers Room back at the Redesdale Hall I lost both the others immediately - my other half is particularly susceptible to random book-buying and by the time I managed to retrieve him, he had bagged a first edition of Owen Barfield on CS Lewis and a copy of Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce. Upstairs we were thrilled to find that the eagle - billed as Gwaihir - had arrived. I took loads of photos because you never know when you might want a reference so you can put an eagle in a painting, do you? Here’s the best one:

© teresa kirkpatrick 2009

We still hadn’t had time to get round all the paintings so we took the opportunity to do so before Ruth’s talk. On stage Ted Nasmith, Alex Lewis and Madeline Anderson were reprising the songs they had sung at the last Oxonmoot Ents and it made for a very pleasant atmosphere. Ruth’s talk was the last of the day. She’s now using more and more acrylic - she finds that she can get even more textural results than with oil paints and finds it good for introducing emotion into a painting. Sometimes she will try out a subject in gouache and do another version in acrylic. The reason she generally puts borders on her paintings is that they represent a safety line between our world and the sometimes strange and terrifying world in the picture. All her paintings are carefully researched - meticulously based on Tolkien’s texts, but also in other ways; for example the one of Beorn dancing with the bears has several distinct varieties of bears in it. She told us that she was careful to represent Wargs rather than grey wolves in her picture Fifteen Birds in Five Fir Trees because she was trying to get away from the idea of a Western European grey wolf. Although her paintings are not photo-realistic they are based on reality - hence the need for careful research.

By the time we drove out of Moreton past the Hall the doors were firmly shut for the night. Artists and organisers had all departed for an evening of beer and song at The Bell. And why not? They deserved it!

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