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The Mezzanine 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 mezzanine trail is in the lower 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.
Our journey begins with the ceramic Staffordshire Poodle in the large glass walled cabinet at the foot of the main gallery.

Near the Poodle is the first keyword etched on an oak peg.

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

The Audacity of Scale

Mark, is there one artefact which you had wished you'd made yourself?

After a very short delay, Mark replied

‘The ceramic poodle – because of its poise, audacious scale, it's presence, its character, I love the slap dash blistered treacle brown glaze which trickles down its sides, I love the tail which is extruded in the traditional manner and especially the base which is like a pie crust. It is an absolutely perfect object in every way.'

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Often in pairs, Staffordshire ceramic dogs were the quintessential Victorian bourgeois status symbol, no mantelpiece of the 19th century was complete without two standing guard. Generally, much smaller than this poodle, all were decorated and finished by hand making every piece subtly different.

A popular Scottish poem by an unknown author called ‘The Wally Dug' reads,

I aye mind o' that wee hoose that stood on the brae,

Its lum was aye reekin', its roof made o' stray.

The ootside was bonny, the inside was snug,

But whit I mind best o' was the wee wally dug.


It stood in a corner, high up on the shelf,

And keepit an ee on the best o' the delf.

It was washed twice a year, frae its tail tae its lug,

And pit back on the shelf, was the wee wally dug.


When oor John got mairrit tae sweet Jeannie Blue,

The auld folks they gied him a horse an' a coo,

But when I left the hoose, ma hert gied a tug,

For a' mither gied me was the wee wally dug.


There's an auld saying, 'Ne'er look a gift horse in the moo',

But I looked that wee dug frae its tail tae its broo'

An' a fun' a wee slit at the back o' its lug,

It was stuffed fu' o' notes, was the wee wally dug.


I tain it hame tae oor Lizzle tae pit on a shelf,

An' I telt her the worth o' that wee bit o' delf.

An' we aye feed it yet through that hole in its lug,

It's a guid bit o' stuff, is the wee wally dug.
Hidden under the table near the metal pig is the keyword you will need.
 
Chapter two

The Saddleback Rider

This iron pig was once part of a merry-go-round or fairground carousel and likely to be one of a number of farmyard animals on the ride. Originally pink the pig was repainted as a saddleback by Robert Young not long before Andras Kalman purchased it.

Sally, what artefact would you like to take to the afterlife?

‘I would like the saddle pig, definitely, because it reminds me of my dad, there is a lovely photograph of my father sitting on this pig in his museum in Bath. He'd had a photographer come for some article and he is sitting on this and just looks so happy and chuffed that its all finished, the whole place is done and its looking good. Thats just such a wonderful picture so I'd take that, thank you.'

Mark, is there a novel or a writer who you feel encompasses the look and feel of the British Folk Collection?

With hardly a beat Mark replied ‘Thomas Hardy.' I don't think someone else's literature here would be appropriate as the images tell their own stories as many of them have strong implied narratives.'
Hidden under the table near the two metal birds is the keyword you will need.
 
Chapter three

The Whistling Partridges

Mark, what artefact would you like to place in your grave?

‘One of the whistling partridges, not because it's the grandest of objects but its to do with my own creativity, and I love the shape of those partridges. It's a bird I am always drawn to making an image of perhaps because of their striped markings, but they are just beautiful small objects. They also have a slightly totemic quality for me, they remind me of harvest and stubble fields or September days. I draw them a lot and had to include a pair on my large painting for this commission.'

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If you look closely at the partridges, they have detailed plumage and also interesting metal openings in their throats. Other examples of whistling partridges have a tube running from a blub bladder which works like a little set of bellows. When pumped a sound similar to that of the hen partridge is produced which lures the males close which can then be caught with a net.

Catching fowl in this manner was very efficient, in 1799 it is recorded that ten thousand head of widgeon, teal, and wild ducks being caught in that one year with use of a decoy by the Rev. Bate Dudley of Essex.
On the wall near by is a beautiful green painting depicting three preachers, the keyword you need is hidden close by.
 
Chapter four

Three Sober Preachers

Sally spent a joyous moment drinking in this painting before saying,

‘The table is so low, I love this, especially the green.' The discussion then centred around the many perspectives used throughout this work especially in the book shelf and also how the mirror appears to have moved to centre over the fireplace or whether this was a reference to double vision through drink.

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The green pigment in this painting is made from copper arsenite and was very popular in the Victorian era. The vivid greens were used in dies, paints and even wallpapers which lead to a series of deaths through arsenic poisoning. Children and the infirm were the most susceptible with the case of one family in April 1862 who lost all three daughters to the poisoning which was initially thought to be diphtheria. There was an inquest at the time which found the wallpaper not to blame, but the newspapers became incensed by the story and the cartoonist John Leech satirically made this cartoon in the same year called ‘The Arsenic Waltz'. The illustration depicts a couple in evening dress who are reduced to skeletons after being poisoned by the green arsenic dyes in their clothing.

Incredibly it was three years earlier 1859 that the first arsenic free wallpapers were on the market, suggesting that it was common knowledge even then that the papers would make you sick. But it was not until a decade later that William Morris, by far the largest manufacturer of wallpaper at the time, finally bent to public pressure to print without arsenic. Mr Morris, a central figure to the Arts and Craft movement, who incidentally owned a copper mine with the specific purpose to produce arsenic greens was not convinced, many years later still in denial he wrote,

‘As to the arsenic scare a greater folly it is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever'

Interestingly the use of arsenic in wallpapers has never been banned.
Just a little further along is a painting of a dog catching rats, the keyword you need is hidden close by.
 
Chapter five

Ratters and Baiters

Sally, which item is totally unappreciated by everyone except yourself?

‘I find these dark, see this rat catcher, pretty grisly and kind of Goya esk in their colours. In fact this dog reminds me of the one Christopher Bibby gave, they are very small but full of energy. Bear baiting was one of the first ones he got and so makes sense its in this lower space, I mean look at this collection [referring to these paintings as a group] they are literally huddling together in fear, trying to escape. Its probably from childhood that these really grab you as being very cruel with a sort of harshness about them, they fascinated me in a way.'

Sally, were these paintings hung in the family home?

‘I remember these in our dinning room, there is a lot of nostalgia for me just to see these paintings because the room had lovely American folk art wallpaper it was a dark browny red and off white creamy colour with a lovely old English circular table in the middle. I was sent in there to finish my food sometimes, I didn't associate the dining room with being a naughty girl, it was just a lovely room but this painting I do remember very vividly.'

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The most famous rat-catching terrier of all, ‘Billy', was kept by the landlord of the Seven Bells pub in London's St Giles and was said to have killed 100 rats in five minutes during a ratting match of 1823.

Badger baiting was banned in 1835, a cruel sport where a single dog would grab a badger inside a box, the dogs owner would then drag both beasts locked together from the box. He would then bite the dogs tail to release the badger which was then stuffed back in the box and the dog released again. The idea was to see how many times a dog could be pulled out having caught the badger in under a minute.
The next keyword is hidden close by the large gold swan on the gallery wall.
 
Chapter six

Phoenix Swan

Mark, if the museum was on fire and you could rescue just one artefact what would it be?

‘That's an impossible question' replied Mark, he then considered a moment before continuing. ‘I think the gilded swan, yes, it would have to be the guided swan because it gave me the inspiration in designing my wallpaper. I love its scale, its boldness, and intricacy and it has come to represent my collaboration with this collection.'

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This gilded swan sign was most likely hoisted on the side of an inn and dates from the 1750's, interestingly King Richard III in the 14th century ordered landlords to erect signs outside their premises if they intended to brew and sell ale ‘or otherwise he shall forfeit his ale.' Throughout history the size of a pint alongside that of a loaf of bread actually regulated the value of the penny, half penny and farthing not the other way around. The thithing men were tasked to monitor this, one of these important job titles was ‘The taster of the ales'.
The next keyword peg is hidden close by the large military tapestry.
 
Chapter seven

Rifle Stitch

Mark, if you can add something to this collection from another gallery anywhere in the world, what would it be?

‘Yes, a vast gilded curlew from the New York Museum of Folk Art. It's a sign perhaps from a shooting lodge from the east coast of America but what I love is the audacious improbable scale and also the wonderful graphic quality of this wading bird which would sit very well in this collection.' Mark then paused for a moment and then added, ‘I can give you another, there is a wonderful figurative quilt made by James Williams, a military tailor which is in the national museum of Wales and was also in the Tate touring show. It has a wonderful black panther on it, a Noah's ark and Adam naming the animals. It also has the same geometric patterns of underpinning like this one and is just an amazing folk art object.'

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The tapestry here was made with various scraps of military material, and is thought to have been produced by convalescing soldiers at a field hospital. The initials ‘V.R.' (Victoria Regina) and the crown honour the reigning monarch. The two central flags are the regimental colours, below which are stitched two crossed rifles, a badge that was awarded to the best shot in the regiment.
The next keyword is etched on the oak peg near the painting of HMS Indefatigable in this corner of the gallery.
 
Chapter eight

HMS Indefatigable

The British Folk Art collection is dotted with paintings and artefacts which are just joyous to revisit and Sally and Marks delight at this painting was palpable.

Sally, ‘These are fabulous, I mean bodecia . . just so fantastical. . its wonderful. I wish I new more about the history, but I love the colours and the composition with these fantastical monster like sea creatures.'

Mark Hearld ‘they are hippocampi, that's the plural of the Hippocampus – the heraldic seahorse'

Sally, do you think this collection could be housed anywhere?

‘No, I think this is an ideal location for the collection, here in the attic, where else could it possibly be? It couldn't be in a grand room with huge walls with big majestic type windows. Here it's intimate and honest.'
At the top of the stairs leading onwards from this gallery is the penultimate stop on this secret trail, the keyword is hidden on the landing.
 
Chapter nine

Melanistic Pheasants

Mark what three words in your mind sum up this Folk Art collection?

Mark ‘Joyful, rich and honest, simple as that.'

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The painting here by Mark Hearld depicts a mellanistic variant or black pheasant, Mark loves pheasants but feels that a regular pheasant would be too directly shootin' huntin' fishin' and so wanted to do something slightly different. Note that the birds body is constructed from a piece of 1940's paste paper which he brought back from Venice.

Black and albino pheasants are commonly bred by gamekeepers and known as ‘marker birds' if you were to shoot a marker bird then you would be made to pay a penalty or forfeit. At Crowcombe in Somerset on the wall of the Carew Arms is a flat cap whose owner made this mistake. Beneath the cap is the rough inscription ‘for shooting a white pheasant and not paying.' His hat had been ceremoniously thrown into the air and shot many times by the company, the ragged result warns others to take heed or else!
Walk right through the attic gallery to the far end, then on 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 there.
 
Chapter ten

Wallpaper

Mark, if you could give your wallpaper a flamboyant name, what would it be?

‘Well, we've called it ‘river blue', that's the name of the colour scheme, but its appropriate because what I wanted, is to have something which flowed through the design. The wallpaper has to carry your eye along the gallery wall, I wanted there to be movement and the idea of a river flowing through the design with fish swimming along to give it a sense of direction.'

In respects to the physical installation in the gallery, Mark was keen to take the wallpaper into the eaves and celebrate that this was once a domestic space.

‘The human connection with the servant's bedroom or a child's nursery is very much in fitting with the Folk Art collection and genre as a whole and that artefacts seem to work well when enveloped in a more humble environment. The previous gallery style was more of a white space making it harder for the items to work and we've spent a while trying to tone that down to make the collection feel more at home.'

Here at Compton Verney we are very proud of Marks artistic approach to the curation of this collection, his style, eccentricity and love for these quirky works have breathed new life through these halls.
Chapter eleven

The Attic Trail

To access The Attic Trail, scroll to the top of this screen and click the 'home' button.

Select 'The Attic Trail' and then follow the directions to the first keyword.

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

Kind regards

Compton Verney and Storywalks©
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