An ancient art

The Light Ships website has been growing with short posts that touch on the rich and varied artistic life of rural churches – not just art and architecture, but music, poetry, crafts and, in this case, flowers. Follow the link to get a glimpse of some of that. From June, I’ll be meeting some of the people involved now for the next stage of the project.

The Light Ships

Arranging flowers into a pleasing display must be one of the oldest expressions of human creativity. One can imagine even a Neanderthal responding to the colour and form of flowers by wanting to bring them close, to keep them as living evidence of nature’s extraordinary abundance. A flower arrangement is a still life that embodies the transitory nature of life that paintings can only represent.

Is it art? Of course it is, if art involves trying to articulate what you feel, think, believe and value through creative work that speaks to others.

In the Fenland church flower festivals people make arrangements in response to themes. Long Sutton’s ‘Count your Blessings’ inspired creations that celebrated hearing, books, music, friends and neighbours, employment and the health service. At Moulton, people represented ‘The Wonderful World of Colour’ with displays on Dulux, Cluedo, the Blue Danube and Lincolnshire Yellowbellies.

Having no aptitude for…

View original post 120 more words

Authorship and authenticity

Solomon Northup In 1841, a young father and musician was kidnapped in Washington DC, shipped in chains to New Orleans and sold into a slavery that he endured until 1853 when, through the intervention of friends and sympathisers, he was rescued and reunited with his family. From that day to this, his story has been told, retold and told again.

Solomon Northup had been trying to tell his story from the moment he found himself chained in a dark slave pen. Brutal violence taught him to be silent, but couldn’t prevent him memorising his experiences in the hope, never abandoned, that he would one day regain the right to speak. When he did finally come before justice, in Washington DC, his demand that his kidnapper be arrested was rejected because a black man could not testify against a white.

Northup was reunited with his family in New York State on 21 January 1853.  He spent much of the next few months telling his story to David Wilson, an attorney, who wrote the first person narrative published in July 1853 to immediate success. Wilson presents himself as an editor, writing in the preface that:

‘Unbiased, as he conceives, by any prepossessions or prejudices, the only object of the editor has been to give a faithful history of Solomon Northup’s life, as he received it from his lips.’

Wilson goes on to explain that his words have been read, checked and, where necessary, corrected by Solomon Northup before publication. The story of their collaboration is discussed here by David Fiske, and an exploration of the narrative’s wider context and history by Henry Louis Gates Jnr., who acted as historical consultant to Steve McQueen’s recent film, can be read here.

Chiwetel EjioforThe film of 12 Years a Slave, justly feted, is the latest retelling of Solomon Northup’s story. It shares with the original book a rigorous commitment to the truth, but the role of the artists involved must not be denied. In each case one person’s experience has been imagined by another, who has then retold it to a wider public. In doing so, they have placed their craft, empathy and creativity freely in the service of another, with a shared purpose of bearing witness. In a culture still indebted to Romanticism, our ideas about authenticity can be very simplistic—but what really matters is truth.

It is truth, in all its complexity, that can be found in the work of David Wilson 160 years ago and Steve McQueen today. Solomon Northup might not have written the narrative that bears his name any more than he made the film he could not have imagined. But he is truly the author of both documents.

The Light Ships cast off

From ‘Shadow Play’ by William Lindley, Leasingham Church, 3-5 May 2014

‘I feel quite moved that this is happening.’ Mary is the spirit behind ‘Handmade in Moulton’, her village’s arts and crafts festival, and a member of the congregation of All Saints, We were chatting about The Light Ships, the latest regular marvel, which celebrates the parish church as a centre of artistic creation in community life. I couldn’t have hoped for a more generous welcome to this project. Mary will help spread the word and host some conversations over tea when I come back to Moulton next month.

The Light Ships focuses on 14 villages in the Lincolnshire Fenland. It is a commission from Transported, an initiative to encourage the arts in this very distinctive part of the country. It will be more intensive than other regular marvels, which have taken up to three years to complete: this started yesterday and will be completed by the autumn, probably in October.

Its online presence will also be different, with a dedicated website, updated as often as I can manage. The Light Ships blog is separate from the main Regular Marvels site because it is intended as a window onto the art of the churches themselves. Updated as frequently as I can manage, with images and texts from many sources, including Lincolnshire’s museum collections, libraries and archives, it is intended to be an evolving exhibition of the art of these exceptional places. My thoughts on the evolving project – and the occasional re-blogged post – will be posted here as usual.

The Light Ships blog is now live: please follow this link to see the first few snapshots.

Noah's Ark, from the font made by William Tydd in 1719 for Moulton Church at a cost of £7 3s
Noah’s Ark, from the font made by William Tydd in 1719 for Moulton Church at a cost of £7 3s