Whilst I was driving through the winter Somerset landscape recently, thinking loosely about a new print project, it occurred to me that if Coleridge had had a camera, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to use it.
Somerset Printmakers have been asked by the National Trust to mount a show of prints in May 2014 about this larger than life Romantic, poet, philosopher and journalist, in the Garden House at Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey.
Although I am keen to take part, as a mainly abstract artist, I have to come at these kinds of projects somewhat obliquely.
We have chosen as a starting point the phrase ‘Wander in Gladness’, which comes from ‘This Lime Tree Bower my Prison’ a poem about friends, and about experiencing the landscape near to Nether Stowey.
Now this is the thing about Coleridge. He embraced things fully, uncompromisingly, in their enormity as well as their detail, whether ideas, nature, landscape, relationships, or language. He was a ‘both feet in’ person, never simply an observer. Hence the thought about the camera.
I love a camera, I love viewing the world framed, and through a lens. I particularly love the results to be in black and white and all tones between. I love to find a detail that when taken from it’s context turns into something else, gains a separate life of its own. This, at the moment, is what my work is about.
So I’ve been having difficulty reconciling my small observations with finding an image that connects with Mr. Coleridge, imagining him restless, ‘wandering in gladness’, communing with nature whilst lying under the stars, striding for miles across the Quantocks and the Lake District in all weathers.
The poem, Lime Tree Bower, was written when Coleridge was confined to sitting in the garden at Nether Stowey with a badly burned foot (his wife Sarah had spilt boiling milk on it; there must be a story there!) whilst his friends set out on a long rambling walk through the local undulating landscape and coastline that he knew so well, and recalls so passionately in words. Initially he writes of his frustration at being left out. But then, I realise on re-reading the poem, he is finding equal richness and joy in various minute details that can be experienced even from this ‘little lime tree bower’. Great! This is my territory! It has taken weeks of not thinking too hard about it finally to find my own starting point.
Somerset Heritage Centre project continues to be developed. More news soon. Scissors still hovering over ‘Folded Loss’ tapestry – I know where to cut now, but need to wait till I have a bit of time.