Hi Dear Readers.
Go see this movie:
If you can leave the theater without wiping tears of wonder and awe from your eyes, well, then, you’re not me.
And so, speaking of awe, I am dedicating this post to Dear Reader Maryanne, who went to Iceland last November and, from there, sent me something to mark 2016 as a year that didn’t totally end on a bad note:
I love this object. Today, I want to mosey from my personal infatuation with this runic talisman, called the Aegishjalmur, the Helm of Awe, to London, where I was this past August (and on which I ruminated at length in this very blog for most of September of last year). Because as long as we’re talking about helms, here’s a story that I haven’t told you about a London helm that thrills me to pieces:
The only thing that I wanted to look at in the British Museum was a collection of very ancient relics dug up in the 1930s in Edith’s Pretty’s garden in a place in eastern England called Sutton Hoo. This happens a lot in Britain: start digging up any old back yard and you can come up with shovels full of Roman coins, Viking jewelry, Celtic weapons, etc. The stuff of this Sutton Hoo hoard dates from a half-mythical Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the early 7th c. (So little is known about 7th-c. England that most of what has been passed down feels more like myth than history.) This helmet was an extraordinarily rare find — only four such helmets are known from this period. It was also found in more than 500 pieces, which accounted for less than half of the original surface area.
The first assemblage of the 500 helmet pieces was completed by 1947, but continuing research showed it to be inaccurate and it was dismantled in 1968. The new restoration relied entirely on the evidence of the fragments themselves and not on preconceived ideas — that’s called intellectual honesty, Dear Readers. It took the conservator 18 months of painstaking study and experimentation to re-configure it to its current iteration, which has held steady since 1977.
Of particular interest to me, because I like winged things, is the almost entirely preserved Dragon that forms the face covering of this helmet:
The conservators now theorize that the complete helmet would have looked like this:
OMG, the power of this thing rattles my marrow.
It also happens that there are other hoards, in addition to the Sutton Hoo hoard, on display at the British Museum. The one called the Cuerdale Hoard is the one that I thought was hilarious:
It’s the “interpretation” of this hoard that I find so awfully funny. To quote: Like many Viking silver hoards, the Cuerdale Hoard housed . . . blah blah blah.
Wait. Like many Viking silver hoards? There’s that “many” Viking silver hoards??? Like, so many that this one is just your average, every day Viking silver hoard? Like, the kind of Viking silver hoard that shows up on the Saturday when you start digging out the foundation for that patio you’ve always wanted off the kitchen, the one that you think is going to take you a day, maybe a weekend at most to do, only this damn Viking silver hoard shows up and you have to stop everything and call in the National Trust to come catalog and haul away yet another load of ingots, bracelets, brooches, rings, and other ornaments? That usual, predictable, ordinary Viking silver hoard?
Only when you live in a place with so much real history as Ye Olde England, and I mean long-ago/far-away deep, real, authentic history, can you even think of writing such a thing as “Like many Viking silver hoards“.
I, reading this as a person who comes from a land where people get all excited if they find a 50-year old penny slotted in the baseboard during a kitchen floor reno, found this bit of text to be hilariously casual about, well, Vikings. And their silver hoards. I, again as a person who comes from a land with a mere skin-deep sense of history, am in awe of the cultural authenticity of a people who have Viking silver hoards strewn about them like so many, well, Viking silver hoards. [Or like runes in Iceland. See? There was a reason I started with the Aegishjalmur.]
And that is why I reject the Statue of Liberty. Because I won’t settle for fake history! I won’t be roped in by phony symbolism! And neither should you! Don’t mistake sentimentalism for altruism, side-show hucksterism for heritage. I know that we Americans are anxious for a home-grown culture, and that we wish we had tons of Viking silver hoards laying around, but we don’t, and history takes a lot of time and generations — and short-cutting it by buying into pre-fabbed patriotism only makes us corny, shallow, and incapable of telling the difference between the truth of what is real, and really “us”, and the intellectual dishonesty of a flattering myth. And as for the idea that the millions of people who have projected values of righteousness onto the Statue of Liberty have redeemed it from its ignoble origins, I say NO it doesn’t! Because America is not a cargo cult! (I hope not.)
I doubt that I have changed anyone’s mind, because we all know what happens to people who change their minds about opinions they hold dear: They die. But I had to give it a shot.
So let’s do some painting.
I took this picture on a cloudy day in 2013, in Monet’s garden in Giverny (that’s Giverny in France, not a Viking nation but still pretty historical) . I love the color scheme of this flower bed, which I hope to do right by, in my own little non-Viking way.
I had a few false starts with the background, but on my third try I got this far and remembered to get out the camera. Notice how I have left the back half of this flower bed as just blobs of paint color. That’s because I have figured out that stuff in the distance is blurry (to the eye, not the camera — and I don’t want to re-paint what the camera has already documented). You can see here the I have already applied little dabs of masking fluid for reasons that I well reveal later in the painting of this scene:
I realize that I will have to show you, in another post, how I make those woozy swirls of color to stand for flowers and greenery. I just love taking advantage of the watery aspects of watercolor to do the work of “painting”. But I make these little pools one by one, letting them dry thoroughly before I make the next one, so they don’t run together and make sludge.
Here’s how I make the little flower stems, by whisking a paint brush through small puddles of paint that are at the right stage of half-dry:
Don’t over-do the wet-in-wet stem work, tho.
Time to go bold with the blobs of darker color, to give some oomph to this pic. I do it little by little, same as I did with the blue and purple bits
Dabbing some dark blue paint into the wet green paint makes a very nice effect: (next to the bits that are already dry)
Remove the masking fluid:
OK, let’s paint in some tulips:
I think I used about 4 or 5 different shades of purple and red to do these tulips:
And now let’s dab in some Forget-Me-Nots:
I think this pic captures the way the garden feels when you are there, the way the flowers wash over your senses like pools of color.
I have learned a lot by painting this scene: how much detail to leave out, which aspects of color and garden design to emphasize, how to avoid my usual mistakes of composition, and how to paint around my limitations. And, for me, this painting is BIG — about the size of 12 Triscuits. I think I have a lot more confidence now to look at other views that I have considered too difficult to paint and have a go at them. I’m talking 24-Triscuit scenes. HUGE, for me.
Why? Why bother? That’s a good question that I ask myself about every five minutes.
My best answer is: Because if I don’t try to become the best I can be at this, I’ll have to go vacuum the living room and I really hate housework.
Which I think is a good enough answer.
So next week we’re painting the most difficult thing I’ve ever painted, which I have already made seven or eight really ugly attempts at. And of course you’ll see those too.
Although it is sunny and mild as I type this on Thursday afternoon, by the time you read this, my Wonder Ones, the Isle of Long might be under 5 inches of snow — 12 hours of bitter Winter weather are in the forecast.
I hope you all, even in Summery Australia, have a nice half-frozen bottle of champagne handy and have a great weekend!
And, oh yeah, der Drumpf is still an ass hole.