After I made the valance for my Forest of Dreams bed I decided to draw a pair of figures onto it. The valance covers the base of the bed and I liked the idea of having a couple on it.
I love being married to a poet. I told Steve about this a few days before my Open Studio last month. I was in my studio most of the day and Steve was in the salon, where the bed was set up.
When he told visitors about my bed, he said that the headboard quilt is the Imagination, since it holds the woman who is to dream of her True Love,
and the bed quilt is the Fruition, with the flowing river containing the slate and fish, whose symbolism I’ve written about here.
He showed people a picture of the figures I intend to include, hidden, and explained that the valance, which lies beneath the forest floor and the river is the Eternal aspect of True Love.
The brass I chose to reproduce on my valance dates from 1325 and depicts Sir John and Lady Aleyne de Creke. This brass is the earliest of those that represent a man and his wife and ranks as one of the finest surviving in the country. It can be found in St Mary the Less Church in Cambridgeshire.
Monumental brasses are one of the most common forms of memorial to have come down to us from the middle ages. A brass is engraved on sheets of metal inlaid in matrices cut into the stone. The main reason why brasses were laid in the middle ages was to elicit the intercession of the faithful. In Catholic theology it was held that the sufferings of the soul in Purgatory could be eased, and the soul’s passage speeded, by the prayers of the living. Thus a brass or slab served in some sense as an obit: as a way of ensuring the flow of prayers. A passer-by, seeing the figure of the commemorated, would be prompted to say a prayer or two on his or her behalf. The Monumental Brass Society is a great resource for everything you ever wanted to know about brasses and slabs.
I first tidied the image up in Photoshop by cutting the figures out from the background and adjusting the contrast to make the details more clear. I used some free software called Poster8 to enlarge the image and print it out. Then I taped the A4 sheets together on our kitchen table.
My plan was to trace the images directly onto my valance fabric. This was just a white fitted sheet that I’d sewn a wide brown corduroy ruffle onto. They were still a bit hard to see through the cotton fabric, so I traced them onto A3 tracing paper, which I taped together and put into position on a table top.
Then I used a Pentel Fabric Pastel to trace the figures. I had to keep sharpening it as it lost it’s fine point on the cotton fabric.
I didn’t really appreciate the details until I began tracing the drawing. The St Mary the Less Church website gives a lot of information about the history of the de Crekes and the details of their clothing.
There comes a time in the making of my art where something magical happens and I have the feeling that I am simply the vehicle for a Divine force flowing through my hands. At the end of the day, when I’d finished drawing the de Crekes and their animal companions, I took the valance into the salon to heat set my work. I was listening to a CD of Renaissance music called 40 Voices. The first track is ‘Nomen mortis infame’ composed by Willem Ceuleers (b. 1962) and set to a text written by Petrarch (1304 – 1374), an Italian poet and the “Father of Humanism”. The gist of the text is that sleep is death’s cousin and why be more afraid to die than to live?
I didn’t realise the meaning of the words at the time (they’re sung in Latin), but knew that I had entered sacred space. I left the room for a moment and when I returned, the valance on my ironing board looked like a draped casket. I felt as though I were preparing the couple I had drawn to lie in state. I lit some candles and mindfully ironed their images onto the fabric.
When I’d finished, I left them in front of our mantelpiece/altar.
My friend Deborah does Chinese knotting. She had given me a beautiful piece comprised of 2 knots for endless love and a butterfly (symbol of renewal and Soul). It felt right to place it on the valance.
When Steve got home later on that evening, we made the bed together, placing the valance on the divan base beneath the mattress and River of Dreams quilt. Steve is working on a poem that I will hand letter onto the fabric surrounding the figures. Something about love, eternity and sacred union which outlives the seasons and mortal years.