Andrew Bernardi Brings ‘1696 Stradivarius’ to Sussex

St Mary’s Storrington

Over the centuries, it has always been the gift of great artists and composers to reflect upon the world we all share and to allow us, through their work, to glimpse something of what lies beyond our immediate perception. It is my experience that truly great music and art, like faith, has the power to transform our human experience of the world – to inspire us.

The Lord High Sheriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas, with Andrew Bernardi and the ‘1696 Stradivarius’ at Pallant House Gallery

I was delighted to spend much of this last weekend in the company of my great friend Andrew Bernardi at my home church of St Mary’s, Storrington Shipley Arts Festival concert, and at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester for the launch of the ‘1696 Stradivarius’.

Andrew and I both passionately believe that the arts have a tremendously important role in creating community and identity by providing a shared cultural narrative.

With his usual enthusiasm Andrew remarks: “For some fifteen years now I have had a vision as a violinist to acquire an outstanding instrument. I would never have dared to think that today I would be playing the 1696 Stradivarius.” For Andrew it has been an extraordinary journey of courage and determination to acquire this violin and to bring it to Sussex. He acknowledges the generosity and importance of his investors who have made this possible.

Stradivarius made some six hundred violins during his lifetime many of which now reside in museums and bank vaults. It is a rare and marvellous thing to hear the exquisite tone and range of this extraordinary instrument in the hands of a virtuoso musician like Andrew. He is clearly profoundly moved by the experience.

I am grateful that another of my great friends, Jonathan Lucas, the High Sheriff of West Sussex, is at the gallery to celebrate this moment. Jonathan shares our enthusiasm for celebrating and building community. He has a background in choral music having sung in choirs at Cambridge, London and elsewhere. His love and passion for music is expressed as he says, “Andrew’s remarkable contribution in bringing the 1696 Stradivarius to Sussex will provide an unprecedented focus for music and the arts and the opportunity to build up this fantastic community in our county.”

The concert program at Pallant House Gallery was a celebration of the Stanley Spencer exhibition on a theme of reconciliation with music from Sussex and Germany. For me the most moving was ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The piece was completed the day before the outbreak of World War One. Vaughan Williams soon enlisted as an orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps reflecting something of Stanley Spencer’s own experience of the war. There is such beauty in this piece as the music gathers and invites us to join with the lark as it rises, falls and turns as though in the soft folds of the Sussex Downs. It never fails to move me. Several of his folk songs came from the fields around Horsham and Monks Gate which he frequently visited. ‘The Lark Ascending’ was amongst the first pieces of music he returned to after the war. It was inspired by the poem of the same title by George Meredith. The following extract from that poem appears on the score:

Stanley Spencer – ‘Tea in the Hospital Ward’ © the estate of Stanley Spencer, 2013. All rights reserved DACs, National Trust Images/John Hammond

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

As you know, I have long advocated that Sussex was a centre for art and music in the Modern British period. With the Shipley Arts Festival under Andrew Bernardi’s directorship and the work of Pallant House Gallery, Sussex, it would seem, is entering a period of renaissance.

When I suggested a fund raising concert to bring together the Shipley Arts Festival and Pallant House Gallery, Andrew Bernardi and I could not have known that it would see the launch of the ‘1696 Stradivarius’. But people who are passionate about music and art should come together, united in celebration of our rich Sussex heritage. I am proud that Toovey’s sponsors these two vital cultural assets in our community.

For details of the remaining concerts in this year’s 2014 Shipley Arts Festival go to www.bmglive.com/shipley-arts-festival. The ‘Stanley Spencer Heaven in a Hell of War’ exhibition at Pallant House Gallery continues until the 15th June 2014. For more information on this exhibition and the gallery’s remarkable permanent collection go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th June 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Medieval Easter Frescoes at St Mary’s, West Chiltington

The 13th century medieval cycle of Easter frescoes at St Mary’s
The 13th century medieval cycle of Easter frescoes at St Mary’s

The frescoes at St Mary’s parish church in West Chiltington, Sussex, were uncovered in 1882. Contemporary 19th century records note their excellent colour. Conservation work was not undertaken until the 1930s.

Frescoes are wall paintings, painted directly on to the plaster while it is still wet. The artist has to work quickly as the pigments and image are fixed as the plaster dries. This technique was used throughout the Renaissance in Italy and elsewhere.

Amongst the earliest paintings at St Mary’s is the cross motif, formed from an endless rope knot. This beautiful cross is easily missed and forms part of a circular medallion in the recess over the east end of the south aisle. Such crosses are known in Roman mosaics and wall paintings. In Sussex, the pavement at Fishbourne Roman Palace contains a similar emblem. However, its significance at West Chiltington remains unknown. This Celtic cross design has been reinterpreted for the 21st century in the new porch with its glass doors. The Reverend David Beale, Vicar of St Mary’s, remarks: “I love the way that the newest part of the church is linked with the oldest by this cross and bears witness to Christians in this building for almost 900 years.”

The Reverend David Beale, Vicar of St Mary’s, West Chiltington
The Reverend David Beale, Vicar of St Mary’s, West Chiltington
The 12th century cross at St Mary’s
The 12th century cross at St Mary’s

On the north side of the arcade in the nave is a cycle of frescoes, which tell the story from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds lay palm leaves before him, to his resurrection on the first Easter Day. Illustrated here are depictions of the Last Supper, Christ washing the feet of his disciples, the betrayal of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane by Judas Iscariot’s kiss, the flagellation of Christ, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion. The scenes are portrayed within a series of three painted, lobed arches resting on slender columns and capitals. The influence of the Gothic can be seen in the figures, whose fluidity conveys genuine humanity. Compassion and suffering are clearly discernable in the depictions of Christ and contrast with the expressions on the faces of his tormentors. The directness of these paintings still powerfully communicate these familiar Gospel narratives in their now faded hues. I ask David what effect these medieval fresco drawings have on him and those who visit this place week by week to worship or pray. “They have a remarkable ability to connect people with their stories,” he answers. “This place is steeped in centuries of prayer; it is fascinating to observe how this and the pictures still cause people to pause in wonder. I suppose it should be unsurprising really in our visual age.”

We have become used to the soft hues of stone and white lime wash in the majority of our churches but St Mary’s, with her faded frescoes, allows us to experience something of the extraordinary effect that these Pre-Reformation paintings would have had on Sussex people some 800 years ago. David concludes, “It’s wonderful to glimpse how rich and colourful many of our churches would have been in the 12th and 13th centuries.”

This remarkable group of colourful frescoes reside in a working building at the heart of its community and speak of a narrative common to us all. St Mary’s, West Chiltington, is open every day and is one of my favourite places to stop and pray – a generous punctuation mark in a busy day. Treat yourself and try it! Easter services will be held at 2.00pm on Good Friday with Holy Communion on Easter Sunday at 8.00am and 10.00am. All are welcome. For more information go to www.stmaryswestchilt.co.uk

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 18th April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Eric James Mellon (1925-2014)

Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon painting a pot in his studio

It was my great pleasure to count the internationally acclaimed, Sussex-based artist Eric Mellon as my friend. Eric is most famed for his work as a potter and his pioneering use of ash glazes, but he also worked as a painter and printmaker. Eric was both artist and artisan.

Over many years Eric strived to be able to transfer drawings onto his predominantly stoneware pots and dishes. He was always counter-cultural and believed strongly in the importance of narrative and fine drawing. His subjects drew on his Christian faith, stories from classical antiquity and his pleasure in the world around him. He also delighted in the human body, particularly the female form, which he depicted with honesty and fondness.

Eric James Mellon Jessica in a Hat
Eric James Mellon - 'Jessica (in a Hat)', stoneware bowl with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2005
Daphne and Apollo by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon - 'Daphne and Apollo', stoneware pot with brush-drawn decoration and Philadelphus-ash glaze, 2005
Chalice by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon – stoneware chalice with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2011

Years of research and experimentation into ash glazes brought him worldwide recognition as an artist, a ceramicist and a scientist. The ash glazes, especially those created with the ashes of certain bushes, prevented the lines of the brush drawings on his ceramics from bleeding during firing.

For Eric, his art was his calling. He embraced this path and everything in his life was bound up with it. Eric would recall how as a boy all he wanted to do was “to be an artist and to draw and paint”. At the age of 13 he won a place at Watford School of Art, where he studied until 1944. From 1944-1947 he attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where he met his lifelong friend, the Arundel-based artist Derek Davis. It was with Derek at a party held for art students that Eric met his wife-to-be, Martina Thomas. Martina was passionate about fine art and worked as a painter while Eric brought art and craft together through his pottery, drawings and prints. In the early 1950s he set up an artistic community at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, with Derek Davis and fellow artist John Clarke. It was in 1951 that he began working increasingly as a potter. He married Martina in 1956. She was a gifted and talented artist and exhibited at the Royal Academy. They had two children, Martin and Tessa.

Eric, always an enthusiastic and generous teacher, ran summer art schools for some thirty years. In 1958 he set up a pottery at his home in West Sussex, where he worked for 56 years. To visit Eric’s studio and home was to be exposed to a lifetime of artistic endeavour and a riot of pottery, paintings and prints. He would say: “When I get up in the morning, I want, by the end of the day, to have created something new.”

Often we compartmentalize our lives but with Eric art and existence intermingled; for him, work and life were one. So when you visited him, he would hold you with that particular care, keen to know about you and your news. Fondly and inevitably, though, your life in that particular moment would become bound up with his vocation – his art – for it was this that rooted him in this life. Later, in 2011, Eric wrote, “It takes many years to learn to draw, but eventually the pencil becomes a friend and, in a few minutes, moments in life can be recorded; these I call ‘frozen time’, as the sketches are no longer mere drawings.”

Eric came to the service at which I was ordained as a priest and informed me that he had made me a chalice. The symbol of Christ he drew upon it was, he said, designed to speak to all. It reflected the importance to him of communicating narrative. When I next called at his home, he presented me with it. I suggested that we celebrate a home communion there and then. Eric’s broad smile crossed his face and he accepted. We used his potter’s wheel as an altar, anointed the chalice with holy oils for use and celebrated our Eucharist.

Eric, in the foreword to ‘Pages From My Sketchbooks’, wrote: “Pages From My Sketchbooks records the joy of new life, the anticipation of pregnant women, the sadness of terminal illness, and the incredible moment when life departs the body into eternity… an artist records his life and shares it with everyone who cares to look.” His relationships with his family and friends sustained him at the end, as they had done throughout his life.

Eric Mellon’s work has been exhibited and acclaimed around the world, fitting recognition for this generous and gifted Sussex artist, who died on 14th January this year.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November…

Concilium Septem Nobilium Anglorum Coniurantium in Necem Jacobi I, blog.tooveys.com
Concilium Septem Nobilium Anglorum Coniurantium in Necem Jacobi I (The Gunpowder Plotters conspiring), monochrome engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, circa 1605, auctioned at Toovey’s for £700.

Bonfire Night is an event that many of us look forward to with a sense of excitement and anticipation. The beauty of sparkling light, the whizzes, pops and bangs, the mist of drifting smoke and the smell of gunpowder on a cold, still November night are, for me, truly evocative. As a nation, fireworks also form part of our celebrations of major occasions: the New Year, Royal Jubilees and the Olympics, to name but a few. Amidst our excitement, though, it is easy to forget that fireworks on Bonfire Night commemorate a particularly bloody and turbulent time in our island’s history.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is widely regarded as an attempt by provincial, English Roman Catholics to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, in order to assassinate James I of England (VI of Scotland) and install his nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne as a Roman Catholic head of state. The plot, led by Robert Catesby, was revealed by means of an anonymous letter. Famously, Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder during a search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4th November 1605. He and his seven surviving accomplices were tortured, tried for and convicted of high treason and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering.

The print shown here was published around 1605 by a leading Dutch printmaker, Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, and shows eight of the thirteen conspirators, including Guy Fawkes. A copy of this print is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is an extraordinary depiction of some of those involved, giving life to this particular moment in history.

Traitors,-Garnet-a-Jesuite-and-his-Confederats, blog.tooveys.com
A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the late most barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuite and his Confederats, first edition, published by Robert Barker, London 1606, auctioned at Toovey’s for £350.

The book illustrated is a first edition of A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the late most barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuite and his Confederats, which tells the story of the Gunpowder Plot. Published in 1606, it is the earliest account of these events and centres on the story of the Roman Catholic priest Henry Garnet, who was hung, drawn and quartered in connection with the Gunpowder Plot. Many historians believe that having heard of the plot during confession, Garnet felt bound to tell no one. Instead, they claim, he wrote secretly to Rome, urging the Vatican to dissuade Catholics from such action but, sadly, there was no response to his plea. When fear overtakes understanding and tolerance, it is often innocent and good people who bear the consequences. Toovey’s were fortunate enough to auction this volume some years ago. Many of you will remember Brocks Fireworks and, rather wonderfully, the book had once been the property of the late Frank Arthur Brock, director of the firm in the early 1900s.

It is the cause for much celebration, especially for me as an Anglican priest, that these prejudices and misunderstandings are broadly behind us and that Christian people of all denominations now journey together, holding their differences, and one another, in a spirit of love, rather than fear.

Eileen Soper November 5th blog.tooveys.com
November the Fifth, monochrome etching by Eileen A. Soper, auctioned at Toovey’s for £320.

The delightful Eileen Soper monochrome etching shown probably best captures our contemporary experience of Bonfire Night. Eileen Soper illustrated wildlife and children’s books for many authors, including Enid Blyton. Her etchings often depict children and in this example, titled November the Fifth, their faces, lit by the sparklers against the night sky, display wonder and excitement.

It is vital that, as a nation, we guard against replacing past animosities with new mistrust and prejudice between faiths and peoples. If we do not, it will be the innocent who bear the consequences. Perhaps Bonfire Night can be a time to acknowledge the contemporary diversity in our ancient nation in a spirit of fondness and celebration.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 6th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Alison Milner-Gulland ~ Painting Icons for a Modern World

Alison Milner Gulland at home at the foot of the downs

This week I am with the Washington-based artist, Alison Milner Gulland, whose exhibition of Icons is being held at the parish church of St Nicholas, Arundel this coming weekend. Alison gives voice to her artistic imagination through the media of oil, watercolour, collage, print-making and ceramics. The lyrical and textual qualities of her work combine with her rich earthy palette to unite subject and medium.

‘Madonna and Child’ by Alison Milner Gulland

Alison Milner Gulland’s inherent themes and subjects include: landscapes, music, musicians and Icons. I ask Alison where her inspiration to paint Icons comes from. Talking about the ‘Madonna and Child’ illustrated here she answers “The inspiration for this Icon came from a sketch I made at a Sussex Historical Churches Trust talk at St Mary’s in West Chiltington.” I ask whether the image appeared in her imagination. “Yes” she replies emphatically and continues “The scratched, leaf tendrils are inspired by the medieval wall paintings there. I find shapes in things.” The tenderness of St Mary the Blessed Virgin and the Christ child is conveyed with an arresting clarity. Mary’s eyes are averted from us, she is lost in thought whilst the baby Jesus holds us with the intensity of his loving gaze. I adore that this scene is united with a particular church in Sussex. Alison’s Icons follow in, and draw inspiration from an ancient tradition. However, the methods she employs to create these images marks a distinct departure. This ‘Madonna and Child’ for example employs print, paint and collage to great effect, whilst the reds and blues show a faithfulness to the colours traditionally employed in depictions of St Mary.

‘The World Looks on’ by Alison Milner Gulland

In contrast to the serenity of this scene is the less traditional Icon ‘The World Looks on’. Alison comments “I was inspired to create this work by the charred panel on which it’s painted.” She explains that the images came out of a deeply held concern for those caught up in conflict and in particular for two young men she had met in a Syrian bazaar selling jewellery. She had questioned the authenticity of a piece they offered for sale. This chance meeting and exchange led to Alison finding herself being dragged up a mountain by the two men to watch the setting sun, their lives united by this shared moment. And so this Icon reflects Alison’s continuing concern for these two young men and her hope that they are safe in the tumult of conflict in their country. But the image also speaks of conflict in broader terms. Beneath the military helicopter the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace is wounded. An angel holds out her hands in a gesture of concern and blessing whilst rioters in this country and combatants abroad fight and destroy in the sight of the whole world, in the sight of all of us.

The process of painting Icons is often termed Icon writing. Writing an Icon is described as a form of prayer, each brushstroke inspired by a form of meditation and reflection. Alison’s working process reflects this. Those that write Icons speak of the importance of being at peace with themselves. To me there is a quality of prayer in these Icons and Alison is at peace in her art and her landscape.

Her Sussex downland landscapes are inspired by memories of riding on horseback through the countryside. “In my imagination the rhythm of the horse combines with the movement in the landscape” she explains. Imagination and memory synthesize enabling her to commit the Downs’ enfolding curves, ancient paths, chalk, pasture and fields to canvas and paper. These landscapes like ‘Moonlight’, illustrated here, are rhythmic. They express something of the ancient and the present.

‘Moonlight’ by Alison Milner Gulland

Alison’s Icons invite us to take time to reflect on the needs and blessings of the world, and the part we must play in it. They stimulate thoughts in our imaginations and our hearts and as   they do so we find we are engaged in a silent conversation giving expression to our hopes and concerns – which of course is prayer. Perhaps an Icon by Alison Milner Gulland might speak to you and afford an invitation to meditation and prayer at home.

Icons can be viewed at St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Arundel between 9.30am and 4.30pm from Saturday 28th September to Tuesday 1st October 2013. I hope to see you there!

Alison Milner Gulland’s works including musicians and landscapes are also being shown at the Menier Gallery, London as part of The Society of Graphic Artists 92nd annual open exhibition from 30th September to 12th October; also at the Hop Gallery Lewis and the Moonlight Gallery Hove this autumn.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th September 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.