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The Attic Trail

Threaded throughout these two galleries are keywords etched on oak pegs, each will sequentially reveal content about selected artefacts chosen by artist Mark Hearld and Sally Kalman.

This attic trail is in the upper gallery.

Other guides to the British Folk Art collection are available too, although the histories of these artefacts are often shrouded in mystery, which is perhaps why this collection is so enigmatic and loved.
At the end of the lower Mezzanine gallery, walk up the steps and into the upper attic gallery.

Near the painting of the lion and tiger with cubs is the first keyword etched on an oak peg.

Type this keyword into the box below to reveal the content.
 
Chapter one

The Tenderness of Lions

Mark, what is it about this painting which makes it one of your favourites?

‘The charm, the domesticity of the lion and the fact that its licking the keepers face like a family dog. The grumpiness of the lion cub, the acuteness in painting of the lions face, I just think it's the perfect painting. Its graphically so satisfying in the same way as the rat catcher. I've always been drawn to it as an absolute masterpiece, the clarity, the strength, the conviction, it is really really great, plus the tenderness as well.'

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At the time these cubs caused a sensation and King George IV declared them ‘the greatest curiosities he had ever seen'. Ligor cubs grow larger than both their lion / tiger parents making them the largest cats on earth but they are naturally very lethargic. This lethargy is probably why the tamer can be in the cage with the animals.

Mark, if music was required to enrich the collection what would you choose?

‘I wouldn't want there to be a soundtrack to the collection, though what I would love, is at certain times for a band to be here and play amongst the pieces or perhaps play to the artefacts and collection rather than the visitors! ‘

‘But if I did have to choose then I would have to say something personal, as when I worked with Terry Shone who lived in a fabulous sea captains Georgian house in Whitby, with a bottle necked window. In the run up to Christmas I would often go and work with him and on a loop playing was a folk band from the 60's called ‘The Magpie Lane'. I have already made a Christmas print inspired by the tune ‘The Boars Head Carol' about a procession carrying a boars head into Oxford, a great traditional song linking specifically to an object.'

‘If anything, my connection with that special moment really links to this collection as a whole, plus perhaps folk music is the most honest sound equivalent of what we have here.'
In the next bay you will see a painting of young girl in a blue dress, the keyword is etched on an oak peg close by.
 
Chapter two

Girl in the Blue Dress

Sally, what is it about this painting which draws your eye?

‘I think my father thought she might be an American girl, he was drawn to this sort of painting for their simplicity, their charm, and for the fact there was just no pretence about them, what you see is what you get. He also loved the fact they were inexpensive and he could afford them!'

‘So when he went to the American Folk Art Museum in New York they have a much bigger tradition with higher prices at auction, generally people knew more about American folk art.'

‘He just felt that this girl from her dress and the composition was American but he never actually found out one way or the other.'

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It is thought that the necklace in this painting is red coral, which would turn pale when the wearer was sick, coral also protects the wearer against nervousness and has power to avert the evil eye. Likewise cherries are the symbolic fruits of paradise, often used in medicines and cough mixtures and interestingly linked through folklore with cuckoos to divinate your life expectancy.

When a cuckoo calls from a cherry tree you must repeat this rhyme.

‘Cuckoo, cherry tree,
Good bird tell me,
How many years before I die?'

The following cuckoo calls must then be counted to ascertain the number of years you are going to live.
The next keyword is hidden close by the large metal teapot.
 
Chapter three

An Accentuated Delight

Mark, as an artist tasked to rehang and curate this collection, how and where did you begin the process?

‘I have been thinking for two years about the collection, but what was terrifying for me was that I hadn't made any real plans on how I was going to hang it. It wasn't until I got the artefacts in the space I could make strategic decisions about where important and prominent pictures could be placed. I put those pieces in situ first, along with other objects which I had a strong feel for and off the back of that I could begin to group everything else.'

As part of Marks research he visited Mary Niece who used to run the Folk Art museum in Bath, she explained that Andras, when hanging used his own sense of placement designed to ‘accentuate a delight in the objects and help them talk to one another'.

Mark, ‘The analogy with the approach to this hang is similar to the way I make an individual collage. Basically the gallery is a collage with three dimensional elements, each piece has to tell its own story but also has to help its neighbours, you don't want one aspect having a visual argument with another.'

‘It is so often you can get a wonderful object which is diminished by its placement, like here placing the still life over a table or the butchers shop over this box. You know you've won when you put something in a place and you can't image it being anywhere else.'

‘The same with the Kettle and Daniel Lambert, together they are a key grouping as when you've put them side by side you couldn't image them anywhere else, or how there could possibly be a better combination.'

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This is one of many portraits that were painted of the celebrity Daniel Lambert (1770-1809), famous in the late Georgian era as the self-styled ‘fattest man in Britain'. He died suddenly in Stamford aged only 39 and weighing 52 stone (330 kg). Even though he was provided with a wheeled coffin, it took 20 men to drag his casket into the grave.
Around the corner on the screen is a painting of a very square sheep, the keyword is etched on an oak peg close by.
 
Chapter four

The Beady Eye

Sally, what is it about this painting which drew your fathers eye?

‘Oh, the square sheep, this is just iconic, this is obviously a portrait and given as much importance as the man of the house. I love the beady eye looking out, I think they must have exaggerated the creamy fur against the idyllic landscape, such gentle ancient wisdom in his face.'

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A farmer would commonly mark his horse or sheep by punching a hole in the ear, so when collected from open ground or the moor they could be identified more accurately. In 1853, a farmer named J.S. from Meavy Parish between Tavistock and Plymouth lost a good many head of cattle and sheep. Frustrated by these losses, he took matters into his own hands by taking an animal up to Catesham Tor, where he killed and burnt it. The offering did indeed have the desired effect as he lost no more of his stock after that. He told the vicar the Rev. W.A.G. Gray, of his actions who noted that the farmer seemed under no illusion that he had done a superstitious thing.
The next keyword is etched on an oak peg close to the painting of a dentist extracting a tooth.
 
Chapter five

Stronger than the sum of its parts.

The sequence of these three paintings was carefully considered by Mark and the team knowing the path of the visitor through the gallery. The final character you land on is a lady looking perhaps rather dismissively and almost scornfully back at you.

The barber-surgeon trade was seen as one profession through the middle ages rather than two separate occupations. It is well known that the barber with sharp knives was indispensable on the battle field or as part of a ships company and would have learned his trade as an apprentice rather than through study. It is noted that today the trades and training of these professions are very separate which means that thankfully surgeons are no longer obliged to cut your hair.

The Dentist painting

The popular artist John Collier, a Lancashire schoolmaster who published illustrated books in Lancashire dialect under the name of ‘Tim Bobbin', painted a number of pictures of contemporary dentistry designed to be engraved for his collection of Lancashire dialect poetry titled Human Passions Delineated, 1773. This book of illustrated verse, satirised the behaviour of upper and lower classes alike and was widely reproduced.

This scene was engraved to accompany Collier's poem ‘Laughter and Experiment':

A packthread strong he tied in haste
On tooth that sore did wring:
He pull'd, the patient follow'd fast,
Like Towzer in a string.

He miss'd at first, but try'd again,
Then clapp'd his foot o'th chin;
He pull'd – the patient roared with pain,
And hideously did grin.
With your back to these paintings you will see the next keyword peg across the gallery near the painting titled ‘The Pleasure Garden'.
 
Chapter six

The Pleasure Garden

Mark, what is it about this painting which makes it key to the Folk Art collection?

‘For me this is why this collection works so well, its direct and rich, it not pretentious. I find it magical and mysterious, I love the trees and the almost Tuscan primitive hill-scape.'

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This key piece known simply as The Pleasure Garden, is painted with oil on canvas and depicts characters and couples perambulating around the paths and strawberry beds of a pleasure garden. The painting is full of distorted perspectives and curious characters, one touting ‘Rare old port, strawberries and cream ladies.'

It is an important picture for Mark as in the left panel you may also recognise the shape of the trees which he has used in his wallpaper design.

Mark suggested ‘if you asked a family when they are looking at this painting, what do you think the other characters are saying, what further speech bubbles could we add or create, you would get some great answers.'

At the end of this gallery in the Coxon Reading Room, Mark has created a fabulous drawing book for visitors to scribble and scribe inside, perhaps this would be the ideal spot for you to annotate your addition to this painting.'
In the central partition is a window with a painting mounted in such a way as to allow viewing from both sides, the keyword is etched on an oak peg close by.
 
Chapter seven

Daisy the Cow

Mark, is there a quote which for you sums up our relationship with the folk art tradition?

‘Yes, if fine art joins your head to the heart, then folk art is the guts which cements it all.'

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This painting of Daisy illustrates nicely the history of Folk Art coming out of the sign-writers tradition where boards have been re-appropriated for other uses. Mark commented that the sign writing was possibly far more sophisticated than the painting of Daisy on the reverse.

Mark ‘It wasn't that they weren't necessarily untaught, it was that they were doing their trades and their work lead to creative endeavours.'

Sally, your father amassed quite a collection, where did he find the pieces?

‘I'd say from the late fifties to the mid eighties he was still acquiring things, he would go out at night with his torch taking the dog for a walk and peer through the windows of what then were more junkie type shops in Pimlico and Fulham. Then the next day he would ring up and say, how much for that one in the window? Other pieces would just roll up in the back of a car, literally they'd open their car boot and he'd buy it like that.'

Sally, how was the collection stored, around the house or elswhere?

‘By the end in the early nineties he had the museum in Bath for the collection so there was always a place to hang them. They toured through the States and in Scandinavian countries so they were on the move a lot. He took them all over America, to Sweden and Germany and even a department store in Oaska, Japan. They were having a British week or something, so everything to do with Britain came to this department store. They were fascinated by the art, it was record breaking for them, and it wasn't just the paintings, there were jams and everything from the UK, you can image what it was like!'
Walk through the doorway into the Coxon Reading Room (at the top of the main stairs) the last keyword for this trail is etched on an oak peg in here.
 
Chapter eight

Wallpaper

Sally, what are your thoughts about Marks wallpaper?

‘I really love the paper and I love the way that it is connected to the collection and yet is made today, it bridges the two and the furniture looks great against it.'

Sally, are there three words which for you sum up this collection?

‘Delightful, Unexpected, Informative ‘
Chapter nine

Comments Book

For his works at Compton Verney Mark commissioned a large visitors book, hand bound with his own 'river blue' wallpaper design. This is the opportunity for you to add your words and drawings for others to read and enjoy.

Wallpaper and artwork is available from the Compton Verney shop.
Chapter ten

Thankyou

We would like to thank you for completing these special trails and hope they added a fresh layer of insight and intrigue to the British Folk Art Collection.

These trails have been made possible through the generous patience of Mark Hearld, Sally Kalman and Annelise Hone - the Compton Verney collections manager.

These digital trails were compiled through research and interview by Christopher Jelley of Storywalks.info©

We hope you have enjoyed them.
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