I live in a place where history is a constant companion. There is no place where this isn’t true, but York, and Yorkshire in general feels haunted, submerged in the past, and this inspires me. Sometimes I don’t even have to imagine it– it manifests itself, like this summer afternoon at the abbey ruins of Rievaulx when these minstrels created what felt like, in the words of Hakim Bey, a temporary autonomous zone.
Today is the feast day of Saint Peter in Chains, and the glorious York Minster is dedicated to this original Houdini. I’m going to walk to the minster today and think on all the miraculous escapes in my life! A day to not only celebrate shaking off the fetters of whatever holds us back, but it’s also a time to let things come to fruition– help them rise, like yeast in bread. It is Lammas, or as the Anglo Saxons called it hlaf mas or “loaf-mass”– a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, a baking of the magic bread.
I’m not much of a baker. Sometimes I wish I knew how to fire ceramic beads in a kiln– clay instead of grain– now there’s a magic bread.
I have begun to incorporate small ceramics in some designs, like the Kitchen Witches’ pentagram ring, above. I make these in many colours, but perhaps my favourite colour is the raku pottery– which is an ancient Japanese style of firing which allows for “happy accidents”– the colour takes on hues of a stormy sea or iron rich silt or even blood. I like to imagine that the fire makes up its own mind what the colour will be! In a way, that symbolises the creative process for me.
In the Middle Ages, when people lived by the seasons, the wheat stores were running low, and the new harvest and the first breads baked with it meant that the season of plenty was beginning again.
Ironically, this is true for my own business (and retail businesses in general!) The summer months are slow and I’m busy making for the time when the harvest begins again– late summer and then into the intensely busy winter holidays.
I’ve been making lovely new pieces that I’ll roll out over the next few weeks– this is my magic bread. What’s yours?
The intricacies of illuminated manuscript borders have long been an influence on the work I make– before I made jewellery I was a painter, and my eye was trained looking at the wonderful examples of these magical texts at the Getty museum in California. There was something incongruous about these very old texts in this modern, less-than-intimate museum. Maybe that added to their power. Now I live in a medieval city, a place that often looks like something from these texts. I recognise the pastoral space, the tiny rooms, the changing seasons.
Below are ear chains designed for a special client– they hang from 5 piercings in the ears, like garlands. They were inspired by the floral borders of books of hours like the one pictured above.
I was moved by this photo of London, taken from space in 2003. It’s an exit wound in a skrying mirror, a conflagration of angels or countless corpse-lights over the cosmic fens.
London from this vantage seems ageless, eternal. It appears as a vortex of light, but this is illusion. As the will-o-wisp lures the traveler to the marsh, so is the lure of London. This is not light but molten lucre. Crystallized greed.
What can one do but be bled dry by it, reassured only that it’s ever been so, at least as long as the land were London. I marvel at the middle-English poem London Lickpenny, which takes you through a tour of London, the narrator repeating the lament that without money he won’t prosper. Totally broke, he wanders amid all the “gay gere” for sale: fine felt hats, spectacles for reading, mackerel, strawberries and sheep’s feet. He’s jostled and cursed in Billingsgate, and he can buy a pint but can’t afford to eat in the pub, so he goes away hungry. In the beginning of the poem he has his hood stolen in Westminster, only to find it for sale again amongst the stolen goods in Cornhill, but he can’t afford to buy it back. He has no peace until he gets himself to Kent.