I can still feel the clay in my fingernails

Today I have videoed myself making four of the five objects out of clay. I found this both very moving and very frustrating. The clay I used was really moist and ‘muddy’ and it went everywhere, including on my laptop keyboard, my clothes, my hair, my glasses and my cat. The clay was difficult to manipulate. It spread easily all over my hands, and got in my finger nails. It was dirty and almost too malleable.  I found that getting an accurate representation of the objects was very difficult. I was very quickly frustrated with it and soon gave up trying too hard.

However, I felt a much greater sense of connection with the objects using clay than I did with paint and pen. I had a feel for their importance, their size, and their relationship to the gritty, dirty everyday life in the trenches.

I like the idea of creating a ‘field’ of clay World War I objects, not necessarily all created by me, perhaps some by willing volunteers.

I actually like their imperfections. They seem somehow rawer and more organic and earthy that way.

My hands now feel beautifully smooth.

The jacket in clay

The jacket in clay

The Croix de Guerre in clay

The Croix de Guerre in clay

The biscuit in clay

The biscuit in clay

The wobbly corned beef tin

The wobbly corned beef tin

One more painting, one more thing

I have audio footage about two more objects from my two days at the Shropshire Regimental Museum. But I think I will only use one more, and that is the interview about the mauser. A mauser is a gun. I had never heard of a mauser before. I have no interest in guns. In fact, they terrify me. Yet this gun, when it was placed on the floor for me to photograph appeared as a thing of ironic beauty. It is simple and elegant, and today I painted it. It was a joy to paint. The Warden at the museum who chose this object to discuss knew so much about it and was so passionate about weaponry that I feel I owe it to him to include this weapon in my work.

It is almost as if I want to feel a connection to this fearful, ugly object, which, if you ignore what it is capable of, has a calm and compelling poise about it. It makes me think of TV footage from my childhood of elderly German men going to trial for war crimes. I wanted to hate them, yet they seemed so gentle and incapable of harm that I just felt a sort of compassion for what they were being put through at their age.

The sleepy gun

The sleepy gun

My painting of the gun

My painting of the gun

 

Two more paintings to go with objects

Once I start, I just cannot stop. I’ve created two more paintings, which have been videoed in the same manner as the previous two. I haven’t viewed the video footage yet but as I am on a roll with painting, I will keep going. I love painting.

I find painting in gouache both new and interesting and intensely frustrating. My favourite paint medium is oil but I can’t video myself painting in oils as each painting would need days between sessions in which to dry. So I have to put up with the frustrations I have with gouache and enjoy the opportunity to work in a new medium. It has a certain simple beauty to it. I like the earthiness of it. I don’t like the fact it dries so quickly. I think it is an appropriate medium for this project.

The real 100-year old biscuit

The real 100-year old biscuit

My interpretation of the biscuit

My interpretation of the biscuit

The tin of corned beef - bully beef

The tin of corned beef – bully beef

My version of the corned beef tin

My version of the corned beef tin

One more painting to go.

Two paintings to go with two objects

I have been on this project for three months and I’ve spent a lot of time so far experimenting, writing, thinking and interviewing. I have now started to make ‘stuff’ that could feature in the final exhibition. I have spent the last two days videoing myself painting two of the objects selected by staff at the Shropshire Regimental Museum to go with the audio of the interviews.

It will take me a while to put the videos together and work out how to put together the footage (and how to edit out the cat who always seems to know when I don’t want her in the same room as me).

The Tanners jacket that was used as a beehive

The Tanners jacket that was used as a beehive

The jacket in paint

The jacket in paint

The Croix de Guerre

The Croix de Guerra

The Crois de Guerre in paint

The Crois de Guerre in paint

So next, to paint a biscuit.

Looking outwards, looking inwards

Working on this project, especially after talking with all of the people I met in Pontesbury and the staff and wardens at the Shropshire Regimental Museum, has led me to look towards what I know of my own family history in relation to the First World War. My great-grandfather died during the First World War and up until this weekend, that was all I knew. Every visit I made to Pontesbury to take photographs and while I was at the museum, I would try to remember to ask my mum to tell me what she knows of my great-grandfather’s history.

So last weekend I went to see my mum. She showed me a memorial scroll that she had for him. She also let me borrow a very precious scrapbook kept by my grandma (his daughter) which contained postcards sent to her from him from the front and from her mother, my great-grandmother. Using the information from these and the Internet I was able to deduce a bit more about his story.

Memorial Scroll

Memorial Scroll

I found the short time I spent reading the postcards, looking through my grandma’s scrap book and researching on the Internet very emotional and draining. I managed to find out his name, his regiment, his position, and his place of burial (or memorial). I now want to visit the grave or memorial and the village where he came from. I want to know more about what he went through, where he served and what it would have been like.I remember my grandma telling me about him. She was only a little girl when he died. I can remember feeling so sad for her from the perspective of a child with two parents who didn’t have to go off to war. I don’t want the story to be lost.

There are hundreds of these left from the First World War, but all have importance

There are hundreds of these left from the First World War, but all have great value to those who now own them

I have a lot to thank this project for.

A field of medals

This morning I spent a couple of hours at the Shropshire Regimental Museum interviewing, chatting, watching and photographing staff and objects. I was there to interview two members of staff about artefacts in the collection. I also watched the staff go about their work of cleaning and preparing the exhibits for the museum’s opening in a couple of weeks time (it shuts every winter in December until February for maintenance).

Today I learnt a lot about what it is like to work at the museum. The two people I interviewed told me about the sorts of visitors they get (and from where – all over the world), the sorts of questions they get asked, the type of feedback they get and the range of objects that get donated.

There is a lot of love in that place. The staff absolutely adore working there, it isn’t a job to them. It is their life. They all feel passionate about the museum and about its contents. I was very moved by the intensity of their feelings and it reminded me very much of how the staff at Powis Castle felt. In many ways, the passion at the SRM was more intense.

I heard some amazing stories today about the objects in the museum and I learnt a lot about military history. As well as hearing again about the jacket which was kept as a bee warmer, I was told about the precious Victoria Cross and how it was stolen from Lloyd’s Bank by the bank manager’s nephew. The story goes that he was caught out when he tried to sell it and the shop keeper was suspicious of how he had ‘acquired’ this very rare item. I also heard about the American veteran who asked to hold the Victoria Cross in his hand next to his medal, which turned out to be an equally rare Congressional Medal. I was told also about the nickname (coal scuttle) that British soldiers in the First World War gave to the German helmet, as it reminded them of that object from home. And I heard about the Brigadier who had missed out on getting a Victoria Cross for his achievements because Kitchener turned the request for the honour down, stating that he should have been behind the scenes guiding his men, not leading them into battle.

What is more important, the monetary value or the narrative value?

What is more important, the monetary value or the narrative value?

The object that affected me the most today was the very rare, and very valuable Victoria Cross (the one that was stolen). I admit that before today I would have walked past this object without much of a passing thought. But knowing about its history, its importance to the family (one of which is making murmurs now that he wants it back), and its brush with crime, I would now stop and examine it. I love it. I feel a connection with it. What an adventurous life this metal and ribbon has had!

My lasting memory of today, as I am going to bed and when I shut my eyes, is a field of medals. All I can see is the colours of the ribbons, and the sameness of the shapes of the medals. The museum has thousands of medals. Most of them stored in drawers. But what do those medals mean and to whom? Are they as ubiquitous as the red poppy as a symbol of war? I think they might be. I shut my eyes now and I see a field of medals.

The colour of war

The colour of war