RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: Remembrance

The Red Hat

 

Sometimes I’m asked about the stories behind my paintings.  More often than not they’re personal to me and I prefer to leave the viewer to connect (or not) in their own way so that the image becomes meaningful to them.  However, this year I have been working on a collection inspired  by the World Wars in particular the First, the end of which in 1918 left a trail of fragmented families and shattered lives.

I’m not even sure that ‘inspired’ is the right word – how can you be inspired by such carnage, such ‘….guttering, choking, drowning ….’ as Wilfred Owen wrote?  I think it would be more correct to say I’m awed by the people who were there and those who were left behind, by their ability to ‘carry on’ in the face of extreme adversity.  It’s this ability of a human spirit to navigate the unknown, the uncertainty, the highs and the awful lows which speaks to me.  During those long endured years the highs were to be snatched and savoured, wherever and whenever possible, moments and memories created eagerly, providing new escape routes for an anxious mind.  Like buying a new hat.

A year ago I attended a talk by Magnum social photographer David Hurn.  Now in his eighties he was both fascinating and entertaining, not just for his wonderful images but for his personal and insightful stories.  He’d never considered becoming a photographer until one day he picked up a copy of ‘Picture Post’ and saw a photograph which changed the whole course of his life.  The image was of a Russian Army Officer buying his wife a hat in a Moscow department store.  It moved him to tears as it reminded him of how his own father, home on leave from the Second World War, had taken his mother to buy a hat.  In that moment he realised the power an image can have on it’s viewer and he was hooked.

This story only came into my mind as I was in the final stages of painting ‘The Red Hat’.  The woman wearing it is my maternal grandmother ‘nana’ – her husband I never knew even though I carry his genes.  As a career naval man he survived the First World War and despite being in his mid fifties was called up for the Second, which he did not.  I don’t know what to call him – grandfather or grandad implies a familiarity which we never enjoyed.  I’d never seen a photograph of him until last year and it was a powerful moment, to witness for the first time someone who I recognised despite never having met. It moved me to tears too.

This series of paintings called ‘Futility’ – a reference to Wilfred Owen’s poem of this name –  is my way of acknowledging his existence and contribution, of weaving some kind of relationship between grandparent and grandchild.  So the paintings are full of stories, not just mine but other people’s.  As for the hat, I don’t know whether it was red or not so I indulged in a little artistic licence!

‘The Red Hat’

Rebecca Pells Fine Art

PLATOON of POPPIES

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”

On the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 Wilfred’s mother received news that her son had not survived.
He lost his life just six days before the armistice.
 
 
Platoon of Poppies‘ by Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Transition

001

Listen for the voices urging us heave

quieten the whispers of they who leave.

  Those memories which sear recall with care

a wound opened, too sore to bear.

Afraid to forget, moments linger still

tempting and taunting as dreams beyond will.

Nothing to trust but the beckoning haul

of voices and future yet to call.

003‘Chasing Reflections’ by Rebecca Pells Fine Art

https://www.fineartseen.com/product/chasing-reflections/

Between the Lines

008

Weave  between the lines you see;  search for what lies beyond,

the portal to a life lived four score years plus ten and then four more.

Cocooned in a chair, reduced in presence and time as synapse fade

but within those four walls a human soul beats on,

  memoir script upon her face, invites us as witness, scribe to her life.

Touch gently that place,  the trigger to find, a flicker of recognition

lights up the entree to memories, illuminated, transported in time.

Each crease, every fold of sagging, mottled skin belies a chapter,

an experience gained, a lesson learned, heartbreak and joy.

As a pebble dropped in stagnant pond, ripples radiate

 as rings in a trunk strip back the years in lucid clarity.

 Hesitant at first, then like a wave memories flow

 to wash upon the shore where long held dreams splash forth

and like a child  she dances once more.

The Somme 100 Years

026 (2)

The Somme 100 Years

1st July 1916 marked the start of this bloody battle

57,470 casualties

19,240 died

And that was just the British

In a single day.

Today

in a fractured  Great Britain

on the cusp of cutting ties of friendship with Europe.

Least we forget the terribly consequences of political failure.

Peace must be prized above all else.

033

(Installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock)

Lighting a Candle to Mum

008

To mark this Mother’s Day, I felt the best way to remember my Mum was to hand this space over to her.  Twenty years ago I asked her to write some memories of her early life and the following extract is taken from her own words.

Until I was fourteen years old, although by then we had electric light in the home, I still went to bed by candlelight.  My mother thought it was cheaper, so electric light was used only downstairs and then sparingly with low watt bulbs which made reading or needlework difficult.  To this day I ‘put out’ the light in one room before going into another.  It was thought very wasteful to have more than one room with a light on.

The house we lived in until I was about ten years old had gas lights.  The gas-pipe came down from the ceiling.  A delicate gauze-like ‘mantle’ was lit with a proper paper ‘spill’ lit from the fire.  A glass globe shade spread the light around the room and two chains enabled the gas to be ‘put up’ or ‘down’.  Usually ours was ‘down’ unless reading or writing demanded a brighter light.  And then one sat at the kitchen table directly beneath to obtain the best possible light.  The ‘front’ room had a similar light but was only used at Christmas. The back-kitchen had a light on an arm on the wall but was never used. For evening chores – washing up and the like – the door of the kitchen we lived in was left open and jobs were done in the gloom.  This also applied to bathing in the zinc bath on Friday evenings.  It was bitterly cold in the back-kitchen and sitting in the bath in the gloom the mice would run out from the pantry – which was the cupboard under the stairs – and the odd black beetle.

Ready for bed, a tin candlestick holding the candle, I had strict instructions to get straight into bed and blow the candle out.  I never did!  I used to play at making shadows on the faded wallpaper.  And best of all making ‘warts’ on my hand. I sat in bed, took the candlestick on my lap and tipped it slightly until the melted wax ran in hot blobs over the back of my hand where they set, looking – to me at any rate – like proper warts.  Once cooled and set I would pick them all off one by one.  Then my Mother’s voice – angry as usual – shouting up the stairs that if she had to come up to make sure the candle was out ‘there would be hell to pay’.  A quick puff and it was out before her foot was on the stair.  I often wonder if she ever thought of the hazard of sending a small child to bed with the naked flame of a candle.  At that time I would have been about seven years old.

When we moved to a new house, when I was nine or ten, there was electric light in each room and probably a power point , although no electrical equipment.  Even the iron was a gas one.  It was not until the Second World War when I was fourteen and my Father died in The Royal Navy and we had to take in ‘war-workers’ to make ends meet, that we finally gave up candles to go to bed by.  The bathroom had electric light but up until then we bathed with a candle standing on the floor.

I still keep a stock of candles in a jug – just in case.  J.K.

I too switch off the light before leaving a room and keep a stock of candles.

I will be lighting one this evening in loving memory.

Joyce Kathleen Pells nee Davis 1925 – 2004

Goran Haven 1963

                                                      Gorran Haven 1963

Olive’s Table

005‘Olives’s Table’ 

available from

https://www.artfinder.com/product/olives-table/

A couple of weeks ago I was contemplating the subject of my next painting and looking for inspiration.  Around the same time I took delivery of a small mahogany sewing table which originally belonged to my great Aunt Olive.  When she passed away some thirty years ago it came into my father’s possession and has lived the last three decades in his spare room, somewhat forgotten.

A journey of two hundred miles in the boot of the car has brought it to rest in my home.  An ideal size and height and with a suitable covering for protection, it is has found it’s place in my studio as a table for my brushes and water pot.  Practicalities aside, I’m surprised at how fond I have become of this little table, this physical link which ties one female generation of my family to another.  Slightly battered in places it is of no great monetary value, neither would it take pride of place in a smart antique shop.

However, it does exude charm and on investigation of the deep drawer suspended below the table top, I found my aunt’s personal sewing items – half used reels of thread, a wooden darning ‘mushroom’ and most touching of all – a felt needle case embroidered with her initials.  Immediately I was reminded of my mother’s needle case with it’s navy blue initialled cover and I clearly remember how she taught me to make my own.  I now have all three, a very real thread to the women of my family, items which would have been in daily use by them and as a young girl my own was too.

Then it became unfashionable to make do and mend and financially possible to buy new socks, or a skirt from a boutique rather than homemade.  And thus  a small sewing table became just a piece of furniture, no longer used as the cabinet maker conceived.  But this little table has come into my life just at the right time and  has found a life anew and is in daily use once more.  I also found my inspiration, as I felt this small piece of my heritage deserved a painting of it’s own and so I set it up with a vase of white roses in memory of my recently deceased father along with a book of Longfellow’s poems, a favourite of my mother’s and the result is ‘Olive’s Table’.

002

Remembrance

Leaving - Copy (2)

POPPIES

The act of remembrance is also a reminder that we are still here, standing at the new horizon as the old makes a distant retreat.  The lost horizon is always there, carried within us but the act of remembrance focuses our gaze upon it.  A portal through which we approach that fading vista, remembrance offers up the door through which we are beckoned by our lost loves – by those we are in gratitude to – but through which we can never fully walk.  Forever kept apart on the threshold of what was and what is we are either the memory or the memorised, we cannot reside betwix the two.

We are the life which has come from death.  In the viscerous fog of our mourning comes the lucent mist of our own morning.  For some there is heartbreak, still fresh, tender and yet to form time’s cradling scar.  Exposed and raw it is the sweet burden of loving someone who is now beyond our reach.  We have been asked to let go but as yet, cannot – haunted by a presence which is no longer present.  Remembrance helps us to release gently that which was not ours to keep, it enables us to step into our own discarded clothes once again, where we will re-discover the familiar shape and form of our own life and inhabit it once more just as we are supposed to do.

With remembrance comes responsibility to go on, to live our lives as a precious cherished gift from those we now remember.

003

My grandfather Claude Pells (seated) with an ‘Unknown Soldier’

during the First World War.  My grandfather survived the trenches of France and lived into his 80’s.

I do not know the fate of his brother in arms.

POPPIES from one of my paintngs.  To see more of my work click here.

%d bloggers like this: