Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Lions and Lords...

Sorry I've been silent for longer than usual. No good excuses, just busy with things, plus trying hard to focus more on getting studio work done and spending less time on the computer. I'm guessing you all know what I mean.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you an interesting day I had earlier this week, where, amongst other amazing things, I got to look at some embroidery from the 18th century, which hadn't been seen for 40 odd years!

On Sunday, John and I drove down south - I was doing a talk on Monday morning to illustration and publishing undergraduates at Kingston University. I still mostly get booked to work with children, so I really enjoy the occasional events with adults. Here I am, strutting my stuff:

It went really well. Everyone was very interested and hung around for ages afterwards, asking questions - always a good sign. Then, when I was done, John and I took a train into London for two very unusual activities.

The first was at the Palace of Westminster. The husband of the Course Leader who booked me for the talk at Kingston, was Yeoman Usher at the Houses of Parliament. He met us at a side door, Black Rod's Gate, where we had to go through airport-style security, then he took us on a personal tour - a real honour. This is him, on the left, with the ceremonial mace, which we watched him carry later that afternoon, as they processed into the House of Lords to open business for the day:

It was fascinating to be guided through the maze of corridors deep in the building, to be shown all the important rooms and have the history and ceremonies explained. Every wall was lined with paintings like an art gallery, every ceiling was exquisitely decorated, in fact pretty much every surface was either intricate gilding, mosaics or carving. Unfortunately you can't take photos.

We were taken for lunch in the House of Lords restaurant (an opportunity for spotting several famous faces), then shown into a private viewing area in The House, to listen to the Lords questions and debates. It was so interesting, we stayed for about an hour and a half. I asked if I could sketch - unfortunately not, so nothing I can show you.

But that was not all! At 6pm we had an even more extraordinary honour - an appointment with Garter Principle Kings of Arms, at the Royal College of Arms. This is where new Peers of the Realm have their family's coat of arms researched, designed and archived. Each lord's heraldry is also hand embroidered onto ceremonial tabards, which was my connection and particular interest.

The College of Arms is not open to the public, but a group of 8 of us were offered this special opportunity. We were mainly Royal College of Art embroidery graduates, including course leader at Hampton Court's Royal School of Needlework, so I was honoured to be invited.

The Garter and his assistant had gone to great trouble. They had burrowed into the archives and chosen tabards for us to look at which ranged over 100s of years. Some were embroidered onto velvet, some on silk, some damask, depending on the person's importance. The newer ones gleamed with lions, horses and harps densely sewn in golden thread, but I liked the really old ones, where the colours were faded and the wear and tear added another set of textures:

I was struck by how contemporary the illustrated element of the heraldry was: the stylisation of the faces, the almost comical lions, the funkiness of the stitching. I took photos of many these wonderful characters from lots of the different tabards. It was really inspiring.

We spent about 90 minutes asking Garter questions and poring over all the tabards, which were laid out on every available surface in two wonderful old rooms, stuffed with huge, crumbly tomes, full of heraldry and genealogy. When we were done, Garter even gave us a glass of champagne, to thank us for our interest. How nice.

What an unusual and memorable day! Thank you so much to Alison Bavistock, for setting things up.


Gina Glot said...

What an amazing day. I had the privilege of visiting the House of Lords a few years ago, it is a fantastic place.

I need orange said...

How cool. Thank you for taking us along, as much as you were able. :-)