The time capsule

Last week I received an email from an extremely kind man in Ireland who had found what he termed ‘my art school folio’ at a car boot sale in Dublin. I was flattered to read that he had picked it up thinking he could actually sell some of the drawings in it on ebay, and touched to learn that on looking through it he had realised it was an object of extreme personal value to someone and that before breaking it up, he should try and find that someone and ask them if they wanted it back. He searched for me online, (my name was inside the front cover) found my email address, and asked me if I would like my folio to be returned to me.

From his descriptions I hoped fervently that it would turn out to be the sketchpad I had in 1995/6 when I was 17, which disappeared some years later from my locker at college in Ireland. I didn’t want to get too excited about it, but the drawings he cited sounded exactly like the ones I remembered – and missed – from the lost book. When the package arrived yesterday, I knew at once that it was indeed this sketchpad.

The heft of it in my hands is as familiar to me now as it was fourteen years ago when this treasured tome went everywhere with me, and the pages are well-worn and dog-eared from time spent in the bottom of a rucksack travelling all around the UK and Wales, and wherever this book has lain since it went AWOL in 2001.

The book has the quality now of being a kind of time capsule, documenting my visits to various exhibitions in London, my hitch-hiking adventures around various hippy camps of the UK, extended stays in Tipi Valley and my teenage, spiritual crises as I struggled to understand ‘The Patriarchy’ and distance myself somewhat from it by embracing a more ‘Feminist’ earth-based spirituality. The clumsy, didactic terms in which I documented this religious transition are cringe-making to read now, but I cannot help also feeling a touch of admiration for my younger, former self, who drew hunting warrior women everywhere, and spent afternoons drawing Goddess statues in The British Museum.

If I remember rightly, I planned to document my spiritual transition through a series of etchings featuring myself walking from inside The Patriarchal Church to the Arcadian, Feministical wonderment of Nature beyond, via a stained-glass window. Although ideologically problematic and flawed on many, many levels, I do like the pages of drawing research I have dedicated to realising this artwork; copying Rembrandt’s windows to see how he gets the light right, drawing the church windows at my own church, doing colour studies featuring ‘the blood’ of Christianity vs. ‘the green life’ of Nature beyond, etc. As a now qualified* Teaching Associate, I am proud to see that when I was younger, I showed good initiative when it came to conducting independent research.

Time has thankfully mellowed my views on ‘The Patriarchy’ and I have less black and white views on religion, but there are fundamental ideas that I learned in and with this sketchpad that have stayed with me and evolved.

For instance this drawing of a water-carrying vessel which I apparently saw at the ‘Museum of Mankind‘ is accompanied by an unusually thoughtful note about the blending of spirituality and function within an everyday object. I was clearly very interested – and still am – in the idea of ascribing value and meaning to everyday things. The cultural significance of ordinary objects is a secular concern for me now, but a love for materiality and the real world around me began as a pagan exploration of religion and a fascination with Earth-goddess figurines. Such figurines represented to my younger self a cultural worldview in which religion and art and moments of ecstasy were not abstracted or removed from normal life… an idea that has matured now into an appreciation for the language of things and objects, the value of the everyday, and an obsession with the tactile and audible qualities of the world around me.

Tlazolteotl, an earth goddess also associated with filth and carnal sin’ – according to The British Museum website, who now have an online page about the same statue that I drew in their galleries in 1996.

Amidst these deep ponderings I am glad to say that there is much evidence of my playing in a sketchpad; an activity I still firmly believe has great value for anyone who wants to make and create things.

Collages abound throughout, featuring club night fliers, cigarette packets and other detritus from the less salubrious side of my life. And these are interspersed with thoughtful drawings where I was trying to understand the construction of ivy, or how precisely the waterlillies in my pond were arranged.

I remember the pond vividly; I insisted on having a garden at the end of my parents’ garden where I grew an extremely untidy and largely neglected batch of sunflowers, and enjoyed hosting bonfire parties where me and my friends would sit smoking and drinking and listening to the splashes of the frogs and newts in the pond nearby. The neighbours hated this Dionysian activity and the stench of woodsmoke, and so the fireside parties ended.

I also vividly remember – and I think this is my favourite sketch in the whole book – taking an afternoon to go and draw a tree that grew near my parents’ house in Shirley. It was a beech tree and it grows there still as far as I know, and I remember very clearly the careful hours I spent sitting in a clearing on a warm summer afternoon trying to exactly document the way its branches related to each other.

Another great artwork from this era is my elaborate hairstyle. Dorrie was responsible for putting all those hair-extensions in, and we wrapped them in wool together, and made fimo beads with which to adorn the ends. It weighed a tonne and I had to lie down after washing it because it was so heavy!

I also had a cardigan which I would very much like to recreate now I have seen it again; it was fluffy with a huge collar and massive pockets.

It has been very rich for me to rediscover this treasure from the past and it comes at a timely point when another birthday looms large and when I need reminders that it is good to get older (and hopefully wiser.) It’s also a valuable reminder about how amazing a sketchpad is as a document of life, and what a tactile, material, gorgeous resource it becomes in future years. I love this blog, but in 14 years’ time I won’t be able to hold it with the same trepidation, mix of feelings and recognition of a younger-self that this special book invokes with its hand-drawn lines, exuberant photo-collages and random musings.

I am really so grateful to Duncan for returning this book to me, and hopeful that in 14 years’ time I will feel equally forgiving and retrospectively curious about all the things that I am making now.

*I learned yesterday that I have gained the Associate Teacher’s qualification that I was working towards when I wrote this!

12 Responses to The time capsule

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Aunty Hilary

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