Church of the Storms

‘Close to the sea, but sheltered from it by a bluff’ wrote Nikolaus Pevsner in 1951 in his trademark terse prose. Such understatement does little to introduce this building, the church of St Winwalloe at Gunwalloe on the west coast of the Lizard Peninsula. It is fortunate that the volume’s later contributing author, Peter Beacham, editing and updating it in 2014, adds exactly what Pevsner had missed but what appears obvious to even the most casual visitor. ‘Even for Cornwall’, the sentence now begins, ‘an especially romantic site for a church, on its own on the edge of a sandy cove but sheltered from the sea by a bluff’. Without this giant rock and its attendant spikes of slate to break the waves I doubt the building would last much more than one Cornish winter. ‘So close is the building to the shore’ wrote the vicar in 1870, ‘that the waves have frequently broken away the walls of the churchyard’. A neatly-lettered sign hangs above the door in the porch: St Winwaloe, it says (one ‘l’), The Church of the Storms. (more…)

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Ruins and Fragments: Tales of Loss and Rediscovery by Robert Harbison

Robert Harbison’s exploration of the discontinuous, the broken and the forgotten in the arts reveals how we connect with places and physical objects to find a home in or among them, uneasy as that often is.

‘What is it in the air of the present that makes us suspicious of works or histories that are too smooth, too continuous?’ So begins Robert Harbison’s meditation on fragments, architectural, sculptural, textual and otherwise. Like ruins and fragments themselves which reveal the bones beneath the architectural artifice or hint at the existence of wholeness elsewhere, Harbison’s narrative is a thoughtful inquisition, peeling back the visible to question the invisible at every turn. Profound are some of the answers too. In terms of creativity, imagination and simply finding a footing in the physical world it seems that ruins have much to offer.

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Zennor’s medieval mermaid

In May 1958 the historian Peter Pool wrote the following to preface a short booklet entitled ‘Legends and Traditions of Zennor’:

‘Although in the century since the coming of the railway Cornwall has lost most of its individuality, its remoteness has throughout history tended to make it a place where old ways and old beliefs have lingered longest. Furthermore, such things have always tended to be best preserved in the Lands End Peninsula, also called West Penwith, nowhere more so than in the ‘High Country’, the name given to the beautiful parish of Zennor and its neighbours, Towednack and Morvah’.

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Colour and illusion in medieval sculpture

Most of the medieval sculpture we see today is incomplete. This is because it has often lost its surface finish of bright colour – paint and gilding – which was perhaps the most important aspect of the work in the eyes of our medieval ancestors.

Our expectation of sculpture today is that the viewer should be able to see the primary material out of which it is made. This derives from a post-medieval (specifically eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) attitude that valued ‘truth to materials’ above all else. By contrast, in the Middle Ages, viewers did not consider the interior, primary material to be the true form, but rather the exterior polychrome layers.

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A Lost Industry: Devon marble

Dead Man’s Bay, Dark Ashburton, Fossil Clouded Petitor, Plymouth Black, Pomphlett, Devon Siena, Prince Rock, Little Beltor Pink, Red Ogwell. The names are as diverse as the colours and textures of the stone to which they refer: Devon marble. Not a true marble, it’s quarrying and working was nevertheless an important aspect of the Devon economy throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (more…)

Tracing an Occult Language: Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton

Little Toller continue to push the boundaries of landscape and nature writing with the publication of Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton. Essentially a long poem divided into thirty-one sections, some in prose, others in blank or concrete verse, it is a small book with grand ambitions. These are apparent from the start, both visually – the front cover features a dynamic linocut by Michael Kirkman, as well as illustrations throughout – and in some of the opening lines: (more…)

Tintagel: On stones and landscapes

Carved stones connect us to landscapes. Through the material, they connect us to a physical one; through the technique of its production and where it is placed, a human one; through the image itself, often a spiritual one. They are points in time and through time that allow us to sense the past and allow the past to leak into the present. Over time, these records of human interaction with the land become more and more precious, documents of moments lived hundreds of years ago. In turn, they, like the medieval churches where they are often found, become part of the landscape themselves, weathering back into it, taking the secrets of the centuries with them. Stone sculpture and landscape are inextricably linked. (more…)