Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bridge To The Table Mountain

Crickhowell Bridge C-86836X
Judges of Hastings (01424) 420919
http://www.judges.co.uk

Staying on the Welsh theme, a postcard of Crickhowell Bridge. This was a thank you card for birthday presents from my niece, and so might be the newest card on this blog. It shows, in the boring style, an expanse of tufted green field, with the 13 spans of the bridge behind, carrying the A4077 across the Usk (Afon Wysg; River Usk) into the town of Crickhowell, and behind that the Crug Hywel, Table Mountain, from whence the town gets its name.

This is an intensely familiar vista for me, since I spent many long holidays in the Brecon Beacons with my family in the 70s and 80s; and my sister now does the same. My family have owned a house, up the A479 in nearby Tretower, since before I was born, and I know the area from before it was the gastropolo mecca that it is now. That’s not really the subject for this blog, which is about images, but maybe for another day. The bridge was built in 1709, and modified up until 1749 (and many times since; I can remember when cars passed on the bridge, and for many years a bailey bridge ran alongside before they installed the traffic lights. This was a feature that my father, an army engineer in Burma in WW2, was never tired of pointing out; and I follow in his tradition).

These vernacular architectures, designed by many other forgotten engineers and architects over the centuries are a largely untold story. Coming from an academic art historical tradition of taxonomies and conaisseurship, I long, Ballard-like, for a typology of these bridges, an analysis of source and influence. It’s amazing to me, especially given where I live now, that these simple structures still carry traffic, and are still known. Crickhowell was the birthplace of Colonel Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India, from whom we get Mount Everest. Names and histories are important.

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Windy Miller

CAMBERWICK GREEN
Peter Hazel collecting the Post
L6/8412
Series No. BBC19
(c) Gordon Murray Puppets ltd 1969 from the BBC tv series Camberwick Green and Trumpton

My mum sent me this from Wales to Oxford in 1986, because she knew, because she’s my Mum, that I used to love Camberwick Green. Like all right thinking people my favourite character was the de facto narrator Windy Miller, but Serjeant-Major Grout and the boys from Pippin Fort will do, as will Peter Hazel, emptying the boxes as quickly as he can. To unpack this image is to unpack everything about being English and being born in the 70’s (even down to the colonial uniforms of the cadets from Pippin Fort) No wonder that Life on Mars used Camberwick Green in an episode. Of everyone loved Windy because he not only had the best machine to work in, but he had the good life, self-sufficient and permanently drunk on his home brewed cider; try getting that into a nursery school programming today…I suppose that it makes me sound both old and privileged, but the village that I grew up in was just like Camberwick Green (bigger that Chigley, smaller than Trumpton), with a baker, two butchers, a greengrocer and a least 4 pubs. So, far from being some kind of prelapsarian fantasy world, the setting for these Gordon Murray programmes was intensely relevant for me as a child. I don’t know what we’ve lost, why we decided to lose it, and what we’ve gained in return, but I’m not sure things are better. As usual, I blame Thatcher. Which is ironic (and how my generation loves irony) since wasn’t it that kind of change what Thatcher was protecting us from?

One personal note, the postcard came from the Walnut Tree Stores in Llangynidr, and that is still there, and I’m pretty sure that you can still get these postcards. My mum addressed it to me at Worcester College, Oxford. Not sure that addressing would work today. And GET OFF MY LAWN!

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Chantilly 1695 Ingeborg-Ps F10

Another of Carl Nordenfalk’s study images from my Courtauld cache. This is from the Ingeborg Psalter from the Museum Chantilly in Conde, Paris. Made in 1195 for Ingeborg, the Danish wife of French king Philip II (Augustus); the first king of all France and the last of the Frankish kings. She was his second wife, and only lasted a few weeks before Phillip changed his mind about a Danish alliance, and Ingeborg spent the next 20 years as hostage in various castles in France. Hopefully this book was some comfort: it is one of the key works of early Gothic painting, sumptuously illustrated in bright colors on gold, 200 folios and 51 illustrations covering the life of Christ and the prophecies of the Psalms. So key in fact that other works by the same artist or aetelier are called by ‘The Master of the Ingeborg Psalter‘.

This an illustration of the passage from Genesis 18, where three mysterious men visit Abraham and Sarah on the plains of Mamre, announcing that she will bear a son, Issac. This a surprise to the couple, since both are old and Sarah beyond childbearing age: (Gen18:12): Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Tradition has it that the men were actually angels, specifically Raphael, Micheal and Gabriel. I’m not sure we can indentify which angel is which, but we can certainly see the deference on the part of Abraham and the nervousness of Sarah as she peeps from the doorway of the tent. Raphael is supposed to have healed Abraham, so perhaps it it he who gestures to the Staff of Ascelpius on the table, while the Micheal is in the center, giving the blessing and announcing the baby? Gabriel is supposed to have left the meal in order to mastermind the destruction of Sodom, so perhaps he’s the one with the “hello, I must be going” gesture to the far right of the lower panel. They were served fresh bread, butter and milk, and what looks like a particularly yummy calf’s head soup.

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The Cabin in The Woods

FALLINGWATER world-famous masterwork by Frank Lloyd Wright, designed in 1936 for Lilaine S. and Edgar J. Kaufmann. Endowed and given in their memory to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, 204 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa 15222. Please call or write: admission by reservation only.
South Elevation/Summer

Despite its aged appearance and style, this is postcard from no later than 1993; nearer 1991, I think, purchased by me and my now wife during one of our road-trips across country when she was at Brown, Rhode Island and needing to get back to Minnesota for the summer. I’m not sure that there’s much more to be said about the insanely ambitious (and largely just insane) Falling Water. It’s actually only a late-period Wright, but for me marks a point where he could have persisted to become a true modernist master rather than dissolving into the twiddlely world-building of the 1950’s. Those two crossed slabs suspended over the water fall in the woods; taking the ‘prairie style’ from out of Chicago and off the prairie and placing it deep in the Pennsylvania woods created a shocking and abstract clash of form and intention that has never been (and possibly) couldn’t be equaled.

Inside, the building’s a mess, dark (especially, I suppose, in the summer), small, cramped and pretty uncomfortable (just like a real cabin!). Outside it’s a surrealist/modernist sublime. Thinking about Albert Speer and his Ruinenwerttheorie, (this is the 30’s after all), one can hardly wait to return one day and see the whole thing collapsed into the rushing water, blocks strewn with weed, amongst a cloud of dragonflies and kingfishers.

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