Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Candlemas 2016; Mary at Southwell Minster

Southwell Minster has been hosting an exhibition The Art of Mary  here as a lead into the celebration of Candlemas. It presents the work of 22 contemporary artists whose names I've included below. It's a really unusual and exciting exhibition showcasing an amazing variety of images that provoke conversation between themselves and enliven the attempt to conceptualise the Mary hidden in the stories, biblical and traditional, we have about her. This is the interaction of theology and art at their best.

Matthew Askey's very personal oils portray the 'self effacing generosity' required by motherhood while Mark Cazalet's Epiphany Star is universal in scale, combining ideas from the Magnificat and the Magis' profession to produce an extraordinary canvas ranging across the joy and grief of Mary's experience and connecting it to the experience of all humanity touched by the Divine. Nicholas Mynheer's ten Scenes from the Life of Mary encompass most of the narratives we have about Mary 'from the teenage mother (who pondered the word of God in her heart) to the young mother who seemingly overrides Jesus' words at the mature mother at the foot of the cross.' Each picture introduced me to some observation or question about Mary I had not encountered before. Karen Thompson's photographs, although 'inspired by the art of Renaissance painters and 'Old Masters',' had a very contemporary feel and raised for me questions about memory and generational wisdom passed between mothers and daughters. One of the most striking paintings, (perhaps its impact was enhanced as it was the first one I saw) is Roger Wagner'Writing in the Dust. At first viewing it does not seem to be about Mary at all but about the woman taken in adultery in John 8. The artist's comment explains why this depicts something significant about Mary but I won't spoil the impact by repeating it here. However, the painting is haunting in the many, many questions it raises about first century and twenty first century relationships between religions, genders and community. Jean Lamb's Our Lady of Mercy and Our Lady of Sorrows, displayed to good effect in the Chapter House, brings Mary's open, potential-drenched womb to the heart of the exhibition and adds the teasing detail of unknown divine? human? hands holding or, more accurately, holding out Mary herself as gift among us. Susie Hamilton depicts the moments after the angel's departure showing Mary deep in thought amid gorgeous, light-filled emptiness. Sophie Hacker's First Communion of the Virgin is inspired by Oliver Messiaen's Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus and returns us to the universal significance of the Christ event - Mary's womb with a 'fragment of nascent life' presents over a background of star-scattered space. 

The other artists are Hester Finch, Chris Gollon, Lee Harvey, Ellie Hewitt, Rebecca Hind, Iain McKillop, Hannelore Nunn, Celia Paul, Gill Sakakini, Anna Sikorsky, Helen Sills, Hanna-Leena Ward, Tom Wood and Sandra Cowper. Matthew Askey led a schools-based project (the Minster School, Outhwaite and Selston schools) to create an origami nativity.

The exhibition as a whole is a wonderful preparation for meditation on the mysterious story of Christ's presentation in the temple. I went twice with different friends and both times found it a rich with insights into the way sorrow and joy, practicality and dreams, specific detail and universal significance, fear and hope are brought together in the words exchanged between Simeon, Anna and Mary.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Southwell Ploughing Match 2015

These pictures speak for themselves. We had a really fantastic day out at the annual Southwell Ploughing Match and Show, on the Oxton Estate, today. It was wonderful just to be able to stroll down the village and not worry about parking at all. The 'Digger Dancing' was something completely new - we had never seen anything like it before and it was certainly great fun. Must take a lot of practice! The ploughing was masterful and it was interesting to see how it's developed over the past two centuries. There were some impressive cattle and sheep (their owners looked quite presentable too!) A huge thank you to all the organisers for a memorable early autumn day out. And, of course, to all the animals and perfomers as well.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Monday, 31 August 2015

Mansfield's Best Kept Secret

George Fox (b. Fenny Drayton 1624, d. Islington 1692) was the son of a Leicestershire church warden. He moved to Mansfield around 1647 and settled there, earning his living as a shoe maker. His house was on the site of the present Roman Catholic Church. The turmoil of the Civil War years, the plight of the poor and oppressed and the attitude of many of the grandees of society and church convinced Fox that there must be a different way to express his faith than that provided by the established church. He became convinced that there was 'that of God in every person' and that the light of Christ and the Spirit could touch anyone who approached God in the simplicity of their own heart. A priest was not necessary. 

'As I was walking by the steeple house side [St Peter's Church] in the town of Mansfield, I heard a voice which said, 'There is one even Jesus Christ that spoke to thy condition.' (George Fox, Journal) Fox began to teach and influence others; he met with opposition and there is an early story of his being put into the stocks at Mansfield Woodhouse after speaking to the villagers at a church service.

Gradually he was joined by early members of the movement that developed into Quakerism - Timothy Garland, Elizabeth Hooton and Robert Bingham to name some of the  locally well known ones. To begin with, they met in each others' homes and Elizabeth's house at Skegby became the Friend's Meeting House which served until 1800 when a larger one was built at Mansfield. Her house in Skegby was the fist Quaker Meeting House and still survives although it is no longer used as a Meeting House.

The beliefs of this growing group and their refusal to show deference to authority (as they believed all people to be equal in the sight of God) got them into frequent trouble. They were often imprisoned in dreadful conditions. The suspicion early Quakers aroused through quite innocent practices and the way they were treated by the courts and the legal system gave rise to the abiding association Quakers have had with prisoners and their commitment to work for enlightened conditions in prisons. This concern has remained a distinctive part of the Quaker movement over the past 360 years. Of course, many Quakers were conscientious objectors and served prison sentences in the twentieth century.

Many people think that the Quaker movement began in Cumbria. Mansfield is now rediscovering its connection to the origins of this world-wide movement and has set up a Heritage Trail commemorating the Quaker history of the area. As well as seeing the Old Meeting House and Burial Ground and the New Friends' Meeting House, you can visit the Almshouses, Westfield Folkhouse (now a Young People's Centre), St Philip Neri RC Church (the site of George Fox's house) and the Metalbox Factory Clock Tower. Metalbox was owned by three Quaker families (the Barringers, Wallises and Manners.) There is a special 'open weekend' on 12th and 13th September and it's a good trail to do in conjunction with the nearby Civil War Trail at Newark as that gives some of the background and context to the rise of Quakers.

The Society of Friends, as it is commonly known these days, has spread around the world, especially across the USA where two Presidents have been Friends. Quakers are well known today for their involvement in peace work, prison visiting and reform and ecology. You can read more about them on their website, Quakers in Britain here, including finding out more about the concerns and projects they are involved with.

Settling In

Well, we have finally moved in and unpacked. The kitchen is built (thank you, Hall of Pine!) and the garden is yielding its surprises and delights. Loganberries, red currants and Bramley apples - all needing quite a bit of sweetening to be palatable but delicious with other fruit in crumbles and pies. The Bramley apple is notoriously acidic but cooks to a very smooth pulp and is good in cakes and savoury dishes. The first tree is said to have been cultivated by Mary Ann Brailsford who planted it in her garden in Southwell in 1809. We also have pears and damsons. A perhaps less delightful find was the bees' nest in the ground underneath a large buddleia. They made themselves known by stinging my mother in law in return for her valiant efforts to tame the ivy covering large parts of the ground, walls and shrubs. We've seen many different sorts of butterfly and moth including some splendid Black Admirals and Peacocks and we've also spotted a hedgehog and three rabbits playing on the lawn. 

A short walk in almost any direction takes you out along the edge of fields and woodlands. As it's light until about ten o'clock, I've been doing my exploring just before sunset and enjoying the light across the golden pre-harvest fields. Nottinghamshire is a county of contrasting colours -  the yellows and browns of the crops, the dark and mid greens of forest and woodland and the large open skies with their impressive cloud formations.

The whole area is peppered with Saxon associations and remains and I look forward to discovering more of its history. The village church (St Peter and St Paul) is a Saxon foundation with several artefacts that are probably Saxon and a Norman chancel arch and doorway; much of the church and tower date from the fourteenth century. There are many reminders of the Sherbrooke family (Lords of the Manor for over 400 years) and a rather touching memorial to Robert Scothorn, a Quaker from the village, who left Oxton to join William Penn in Pennsylvania in 1684. Lots going on at the church and at the Village Hall.

The village has two pubs and a shop and we are very conscious of the farms all around, so busy at this time of year. Kind neighbours have given us eggs, rhubarb, beans and coleuses.  And we have neighbours of the feathered kind - a cockerel and some tawny owls who all make their presence felt vocally at various times of the day. We think the cockerel likes company as he seems to join in whenever we hold a conversation in the front garden which is within ear shot of his allotment!

Friday, 7 August 2015

August Evening

Late evening views from above Oxton village yesterday. I walked out toward Robin Hood's Hill, but failed to reach it as I was so distracted by the need to photograph the unfolding panorama!