RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: Second World War

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

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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Letter writing by hand is a lost art.

In an age of digital swiping, likes and emoji’s, putting pen to paper is considered so last century!  But I miss it – both the writing and especially the receiving.

There is something visceral about a hand written letter;  it requires the will to make the effort to sit and be still for a few minutes or more, to concentrate and compose, unaided by ‘Alexa’ or auto-correction.  It’s an ongoing conversation, into which we can ease ourselves,  share more of our feelings than we may be willing to risk face to face.  It’s the passing of a moment from the sender to the recipient, bearing not only a postmark but the hallmarks of our personality, our quirks and flaws scribed in ink.

During the First and Second World Wars letters were emotional lifelines, the only means of communication between family and friends.  They were precious, longed for and savoured, read and re-read, kissed and cried over.  The physical nature of the letter was as important as the words it conveyed, a small but tactile presence which was able to transcend the dividing miles, transporting the author into the private domain of the recipient.  Letters which were so precious they were often kept for years, the faded handwriting belying the central role they played in so many lives.

In today’s instant society where even greeting cards are sent digitally is there still a place for a hand written letter ?  We are once again embracing the audible richness and variety of vinyl and the depth and perception of photographic film both of which transcend the sterile perfection of digital.  I would love to think that for personal messages at least letter writing can enjoy a similar revival.

 

‘Letter Home’ mixed media original painting available from Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Lighting a Candle to Mum

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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

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