A Living Tradition

In a special guest post, Sarah Harrison, Executive Director of the Lettering Arts Centre, writes about how Britain’s tradition of memorial art and letter-carving is being kept alive.

As W.H. Auden wrote, “art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.” And the art of the memorial, with its powers to help assuage the sense of loss, is perhaps the most important way in which one generation can break bread with another.

Britain has an extraordinary tradition of memorial art and letter-carving and has been a pioneer of fine lettering for much of the last three centuries. The ancient art of the stone carver continues to be passed down to contemporary artists, who are designing and making joyful, creative memorials. Memorials by Artists is an affiliation of more than 75 of the UK’s foremost letter carvers under the auspices of the Lettering & Commemorative Arts Trust, a charity which champions Britain’s rich heritage in the art of lettering.  Founded in 1988 to help with the commissioning of beautifully lettered memorials, they guide clients to skilled artists across the UK who can design and create a memorial that is personal, unique and a work of art.

The skills of the master letter carver raise what can be a drab, semi-industrial product to the level of art. No machine can match the subtlety of the trained hand and eye in making the slight adjustments in spacing which bring an inscription to life. It is a form of ‘visual poetry’ as Dr Jonathan Foyle wrote in his article on letter carving in The Financial Times.

Every aspect of the memorial, the shape of the stone, the style and spacing of the inscription, the decoration and carving are elements which work together to make a single statement, at the heart of which is the inscription itself.

Reinvigorated by craftsmen

The skills required for letter carving are hard won – the design, drawing and layout of letters take years to master. The UK has led the world in this craft in the past century, since it was reinvigorated by craftsmen like Eric Gill (pictured below) under the influence of the calligrapher Edward Johnston. The artists on the Memorials by Artists register are rigorously selected, submitting their work to a panel of distinguished experts so that only the most talented are listed.  The advisors at the Lettering Arts Trust are familiar with all the artists’ works, so that they can match client with artist.

Eric_Gill_-_self_portrait

Once an artist has been selected, client and artist collaborate closely, often using photographs, favourite texts and reminiscences to inform the design of the memorial. One of the most important skills an experienced artist offers, is the ability to help the client whittle down the layers of memories to find the most important elements to inspire and inform the design.  This process should not be rushed and the best artists demonstrate enormous patience and sympathy. Over the ensuing months, clients will often visit the studio to see how the memorial is progressing. When it is completed, the finished work will be professionally installed at its chosen site.  This gentle and intimate process; the empathy between the artist and the client; the completion and installation help to bridge the emotional journey from grief to commemoration.

As one client wrote of her experience commissioning a memorial, “The artist’s workshop was a revelation, and I was able to take my time. I was immediately aware of the great quality of the artist’s work and his wide range of approaches, choice of material and use of lettering. Every time I visit my husband’s grave I feel happy – happy memories of getting him a headstone I love, and he would have loved and happy memories of the whole experience, that took part at the lowest time in my life.”

The Great War

Not all memorials are traditional headstones.  One family commissioned a memorial bench for their garden to commemorate family members who lost their lives in the Great War. They wrote to the artist, “I don’t know how to thank for your brilliance in producing such a magnificent memorial to the children’s forebears.  The seat and your matchless stone-cutting are things of real beauty which, God willing, the children and the generations that follow them will admire and wonder over.  Thank you so very much.”

To commission a memorial, please visit www.memorialsbyartists.co.uk email advice@letteringartstrust.org.uk telephone 01728 688 934

To find out more about the work of the Lettering Arts Trust, its programme of lettering exhibitions and education, please visit www.letteringartstrust.org.uk. The charity is a custodian of the ‘Art & Memory’ collection, a permanent collection of contemporary memorial art in five major sites – Birmingham, Bristol, Perthshire, Canterbury and Suffolk, the home of the Trust.

 

 

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The Future of 3D in Churches and Heritage

 

In a guest post, Jacob Scott, who is part of the Events and Services Team at Rochester Cathedral, writes about new ways of exploring the heritage of churches using 3D modelling.

Our churches, cathedrals and other heritage sites of all shapes and sizes are full of beauty and intrigue, yet it is often obvious even to the casual observer that either by design, destruction or due to the ravages of time the vast bulk of what could have been seen at these places has been lost. Virtual reconstruction has given our imaginations a limitless canvas allowing archaeologists to tell the stories of sites through centuries or even millennia.

Reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon Cathedral at Rochester c. 700 AD (ctrl + mouse click to zoom).

Three-dimensional modelling of complex and unique buildings from scratch, however, remains time consuming and, thus, expensive. Photogrammetry, a process whereby a computer uses multiple two-dimensional photographs of an object taken from different angles to create a three-dimensional model, provides an opportunity for creating detailed models quickly and accurately. It has seen use in surveying for decades, but the formidable computing requirements have until recently limited its use to large commercial or academic outfits. Over the last few years however, photogrammetric software has been developed for ever improving consumer-end PCs and now even smartphones. This relatively simple process allows the creation of detailed models taking little more time than it takes the capture the photos required; which when uploaded to the internet can be viewed by a global audience. Models can also be viewed with newly released virtual-reality headsets, as well on visitor’s smartphones or tablets.

Tomb in north aisle, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

Heritage4D uses photogrammetry alongside ‘manual’ virtual modelling techniques to aid interpretation of historical sites and archaeological data, publishing models and media from around the UK and overseas. Being based at Rochester Cathedral in Kent has allowed the construction of several thousand models over the last year from dozens of sites and several archaeological excavations (heritage4d.org/peterborough-cathedral); where every minute detail of a trench could prove useful in future analysis yet is almost always re-covered or obliterated during the course of a dig.

Baptismal Font, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

All Saints in Ulcombe, Kent; a beautiful 12th century church containing a collection of fantastically preserved medieval wall paintings, misericords and many other features, provided a perfect opportunity to model Heritage4D’s first church. Churches offer the opportunity to create model databases across hundreds of buildings and thousands of collections. Publication of 3D models that are titled, tagged and described can greatly increase the exposure of the church online, with names of graves and tombs available for genealogy queries on search engines.

Carving of wooden misericord, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

We are still in the earliest of days, where almost everything that can be modelled has not been. As with the early days of two-dimensional photography in the 19th century, every model that is created can serve as a valuable reference for the future; sometimes the earliest visual record of an artefact or feature. Already we have modelled artefacts and features that have since been destroyed or covered, either through excavation or development. All too often in the heritage field it can feel that we’re in a race against time; photogrammetry offers us another tool with which to appreciate and conserve our heritage.

For more information visit www.heritage4d.org or contact Jacob Scott, email: jacob.scott@heritage4d.org

Contemporary Christian art in churches

In a guest blog, Revd Jonathan Evens,  Priest for Partnership Development  at St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook,  writes about commission4mission, which commissions contemporary Christian art in churches.

commission4mission was launched in March 2009 by our patron, The Rt Revd David Hawkins, then Bishop of Barking, to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches ‐ as a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for churches.

To enable this, we have a growing pool of artist members working in a variety of media and styles. Through art, we support churches in their ongoing mission, and also charities, as each year part of the proceeds from commissions is donated. From 2014 we have made Oasis our charity of choice, meaning that our charitable giving will be exclusively to Oasis for the time being.

Completed commissions

Our 13 completed commissions provide marvellous examples of what can be achieved when artists and churches share a vision for creativity and mission. They have involved nine of our artists and include etched windows, fused glass windows, a holy water stoup in oak and brass, mosaics, paintings, textiles and wooden reliefs.

In the time that commission4mission has been in existence we have:

  • built up a significant pool of creative artists able to deliver a wide variety of work to fit a range of budgets, making the commissioning of contemporary art viable for churches of all sizes and contexts;
  • gained and completed 13 commissions (most recently a Trinity window at All Saints Goodmayes, pictured below) including works at All Saints Goodmayes, All Saints Hutton, Christ Church Thames View, Dagenham Park Church of England School, Queens Hospital Romford, St Edmunds Tyseley, St Johns Seven Kings, St Margaret of Antioch Ilford, St Pauls Goodmayes, and St Peter’s Harold Wood;

blog post

  • organised a programme of exhibitions and events, including venues such as Chelmsford Cathedral, the Pentecost Festival, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Stephen Walbrook, and the Strand Gallery;
  • organised study days on commissioning and public art;
  • published several collections of images, meditations and prayers;
  • initiated an Annual Service celebrating the Arts;
  • set up Art Trail and Olympics-themed projects; and
  • developed a website profiling our artists (http://www.commission4mission.org/) and a blog giving news of our activities (http://www.commission4mission.org/blogs/).

Latest exhibition, September 2016

Our fourth group exhibition in the setting of St Stephen Walbrook (39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN) will be held from Tuesday 6 – Friday 16 September (Weekdays 10.00am – 4.00pm, Weds 11.00am – 3.00pm). An exhibition reception (6.30pm) and commission4mission’s AGM (5.30pm) will be held on Tuesday 6 September.

The theme of the show will be ‘Reflection’ and, as in previous years, will feature a wide variety of work from longstanding and new members. ‘Reflection’ is intended as a broad theme open to wider interpretation. Our artists showcase their individual engagements with this theme and we hope that the range and variety of work, both in terms of content and media, will give pleasure and prompt reflection. Exhibiting artists include: Hayley Bowen, Christopher Clack, Valerie Dean, Jonathan Evens, Terry Ffyffe, Rob Floyd, Maurizio Galia, Michael Garaway, John Gentry, Clorinda Goodman, Tim Harrold, Anthony Hodgson, Janet Roberts  and Peter Webb, among others.

commission4mission’s Chair, Peter Webb, says: “We are very fortunate to be able to exhibit regularly at St Stephen Walbrook. The exhibition always attracts a great deal of attention in the City. As before, interpretation of the theme is up to individual artists, and no doubt we will have the usual amazing variety and originality in the work submitted.”

A gift of 10 per cent of the proceeds from sales will be donated to the charity Oasis.

Become a member

Full membership of commission4mission is by annual subscription (currently £30.00 per annum) and is open to artists, of any discipline. Artist Members benefit from having a page and a presence on the website with the possibility of attracting commissions. Members are invited to exhibit work at commission4mission exhibitions, and have opportunities for other involvement as we develop. Through their support of commission4mission, Associate Members help to promote Christian art.  They may represent a church or join as an individual. Associate Members are kept in touch with all commission4mission activities, invited to exhibition receptions and our Annual Service celebrating the Arts, and to take part in other related events. All Artist Members and Associate Members receive regular news and updates, usually by email.

For more information, contact Revd Jonathan Evens, on tel: 02076269000 or email: jonathan.evens@btinternet.com.  

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