'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Monday, 15 June 2009


The Curator

By Miller Williams

We thought it would come, we thought the Germans would come,
were almost certain they would. I was thirty-two,
the youngest assistant curator in the country.
I had some good ideas in those days.

Well, what we did was this. We had boxes
precisely built to every size of canvas.
We put the boxes in the basement and waited.

When word came that the Germans were coming in,
we got each painting put in the proper box
and out of Leningrad in less than a week.
They were stored somewhere in southern Russia.

But what we did, you see, besides the boxes
waiting in the basement, which was fine,
a grand idea, you’ll agree, and it saved the art—
but what we did was leave the frames hanging,
so after the war it would be a simple thing
to put the paintings back where they belonged.

Nothing will seem surprised or sad again
compared to those imperious, vacant frames.

Well, the staff stayed on to clean the rubble
after the daily bombardments. We didn’t dream—
You know it lasted nine hundred days.
Much of the roof was lost and snow would lie
sometimes a foot deep on this very floor,
but the walls stood firm and hardly a frame fell.

Here is the story, now, that I want to tell you.
Early one day, a dark December morning,
we came on three young soldiers waiting outside,
pacing and swinging their arms against the cold.
They told us this: in three homes far from here
all dreamed of one day coming to Leningrad
to see the Hermitage, as they supposed
every Soviet citizen dreamed of doing.
Now they had been sent to defend the city,
a turn of fortune the three could hardly believe.

I had to tell them there was nothing to see
but hundreds and hundreds of frames where the paintings had hung.

“Please, sir,” one of them said, “let us see them.”

And so we did. It didn’t seem any stranger
than all of us being here in the first place,
inside such a building, strolling in snow.

We led them around most of the major rooms,
what they could take the time for, wall by wall.
Now and then we stopped and tried to tell them
part of what they would see if they saw the paintings.
I told them how those colors would come together,
described a brushstroke here, a dollop there,
mentioned a model and why she seemed to pout
and why this painter got the roses wrong.

The next day a dozen waited for us,
then thirty or more, gathered in twos and threes.
Each of us took a group in a different direction:
Castagno, Caravaggio, Brueghel, Cézanne, Matisse,
Orozco, Manet, da Vinci, Goya, Vermeer,
Picasso, Uccello, your Whistler, Wood, and Gropper.
We pointed to more details about the paintings,
I venture to say, than if we had had them there,
some unexpected use of line or light,
balance or movement, facing the cluster of faces
the same way we’d done it every morning
before the war, but then we didn’t pay
so much attention to what we talked about.
People could see for themselves. As a matter of fact
we’d sometimes said our lines as if they were learned
out of a book, with hardly a look at the paintings.

But now the guide and the listeners paid attention
to everything—the simple differences
between the first and post-impressionists,
romantic and heroic, shade and shadow.

Maybe this was a way to forget the war
a little while. Maybe more than that.
Whatever it was, the people continued to come.
It came to be called The Unseen Collection.

Here. Here is the story I want to tell you.

Slowly, blind people began to come.
A few at first then more of them every morning,
some led and some alone, some swaying a little.
They leaned and listened hard, they screwed their faces,
they seemed to shift their eyes, those that had them,
to see better what was being said.
And a cock of the head. My God, they paid attention.

After the siege was lifted and the Germans left
and the roof was fixed and the paintings were in their places,
the blind never came again. Not like before.
This seems strange, but what I think it was,
they couldn’t see the paintings anymore.
They could still have listened, but the lectures became
a little matter-of-fact. What can I say?
Confluences come when they will and they go away.

CREDITS: Miller Williams, “The Curator” from Adjusting to the Light. Copyright © 1992 by the Curators of the University of Missouri.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Making a living

There's often tension between doing what we want to do, and making your living.  My father solved this problem for all his working life by having a series of riveting hobbies to occupy his thoughts and intellect when he came home from his routine job.  However many of us have jobs so tiring and stressful that we have no energy for anything but blobbing out in the evening and weekends.  Books exhort us to 'follow your passion' from the start.  But this can be easier said than done.  When we are young our interests are just developing, so what is the thing you love to do, anyway?  And are you any good at it anyway?  Or expectations or children come along, making money a priority over everything else.  
Ideally of course, your job is your passion.  And, ideally you have the opportunity to develop this passion until
a. You are doing what you want
b. it comes easily to you and you find people saying "I so admire you, you make it look so easy."
c. people pay you for it.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Trafalgar Square

From Baker Street we went to Trafalgar Square to see the lions  and the fountains 
 and the pigeons     (no feeding them any more), and I took another photo of N. sitting up on the same lion that she sat on when she was five:  

 While we were there I noticed a few police around, and one was interviewing a little girl of about 4.  We didn't rubberneck to find out what it was about.  Anyway, I'm not sure I wanted to know.  We just walked across the square to New Zealand House where I cast my absentee vote for the NZ elections.
It's a small world; the woman who crossed my name off came from Matamata.

Back to the square via half an hour in the National Art Gallery shop, then we walked down to the Thames and wandered along the Embankment gardens.  

And then back to Manningtree on the train and home by 6.30.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

From Above

Some oils I've done...  aiming to capture some essence of New Zealand hills.  I think I've succeeded.  
Thank you J and M for the flights.  Without them no muse. Thank you also for convincing me for a while that I was the one doing the favour for you!  
" flung our eager craft through footless halls of air. We’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle flew." 
- John Gillespie Magee

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Earthenware tiles

Using my interest in Art Nouveau design, memories of 50's children's book illustrations plus sources like the above as inspiration, I did some drawings. 
Then I transferred them to squares of clay (about 1.5 cm thick) by drawing over them with a pen which made dents in the clay surface.  
I made the dents deeper with the eye of a largish needle:

When they had dried a bit and were a little firmer I began to dig out parts of the design:

And tidied the shapes up more when the clay was leather-hard:

When the tiles were completely dry we put them in the kiln.  I used terracotta clay which goes redder when bisque-fired (a lower temperature than the clay can eventually take.):

The next step is to paint with under-glaze colour, glaze and re-fire.
I'm so enjoying this ceramics lark!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Firing up the Kiln

Here's our tutor loading up the kiln with our first pieces.  Great nervous excitement.  Did we wedge the clay enough, or are there air holes that will cause a piece to explode and blow all the rest to bits and earn us the disgust of our fellow students?  Did we join the coils properly or will our mugs and pots shatter?  Did we use enough slip to join handles and other pieces on or will they gracefully part company? Are the parts of our piece even thicknesses so they will expand at the same rate, or will they crack off?  

We'll have to wait to find out!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Monday. Madam Tussauds

Today we borrowed the car and took ourselves to Manningtree Station and then on the train to Liverpool Street Station -> Baker Street and Madam Tussauds.  How nice to be back here again after more than 10 years.  The queue looked exactly the same, 'though, and brought back memories of two hot and tired young boys, N. in the push-chair and eating sandwiches while we shuffled forwards inch by inch.  This time it didn't seem as long before we were deciding to include a 'Spirit of London' tour as well as the planetarium and waxworks.  It was all fantastic, and great to be able to walk up to and all around the figures, although we had to compete with hoards of other people to pose with our favourites. 


A lot of fun!  It was quite disconcerting at times to turn around and find Sean Connery or Robin Williams looking at you  directly in the eye.  


It really feels as if you are in a movie that momentarily has the 'pause' button on,  and that any minute someone will press 'play' and all the famous people will begin to turn around and perhaps start a conversation with you. 

The chamber of horrors was a hoot!  I was so nervous I giggled all the way through.  Real actors are combined with the figures and walk up to you, standing very close in the confines of the narrow corridors, saying such things as "Ooooh, hello poppet!" in a creepy voice while wearing dirty bandages or leprous-looking pustular makeup.  It was wonderfully scary, but I was still glad to get out!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Feeling stressed?

Listen to this,

As you look at this...

(With fond memories of the lovely walk on the Levels, Pippa.)

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Yatton Park, Tauranga

Last Sunday morning at dawn I was down at the park watching the sun come up over the Hairini bridge.

Here's looking south from the park promontory towards the Welcome Bay hills over the golden oioi (Maori for 'to shake gently') wetlands (about 1.2 m - 4 feet - tall) and the Waimapu River:  

Sixteen of this beautiful park's trees are the largest of their kind in the North Island of New Zealand.

There's the history of the park here.  

And there's information about the lovely orange jointed rush oioi (Apodasmia (formally Leptocarpus) similis) here.