Over the last six months I have been doing a lot of reading on fairly hair-raising topics concerning the end of oil and climate change. I take these things seriously though I admit to a kind of hyper-excitement about the direness of all of the predictions. I have spent the last several months pondering how my art could make any difference at all in these critical times. How will we survive at all? I wonder. What good can art even serve? Will making more stuff even begin to address the stuff problem that has gotten us here?
The home making part of me has fared better: ah! resourcefulness! self-sufficiency! local food! frugality! victory gardens! I am inspired by the issues to hand.
And life is so lovely: there is always some serendipity that reminds me of what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious, what others think of as karma or our simple interconnectedness. So it happened that a couple of weeks ago my partner in ribbon, Edith Minne of Renaissance Ribbons, mentioned to me that she had been watching an old BBC TV series about the Victorian Kitchen Garden, did I know it? I wrote back that I had used a book, based on an 80’s TV show, The Victorian Kitchen Garden, by Jennifer Davies, as the extensive resource for my series, the English Kitchen Garden, which I wove in the late 80’s. Yes, that was the series.
|The English Walled Garden, 1989, hand woven tapestry|
She sent me the link, and I have been able to patch it together on youTube. What a wonder it has been for me!
It is such a slow and gentle kind of program, dated even by the time of its making, let alone its subject. A leisurely conversation between two gardeners, lingering shots of beautiful and unusual produce. But the reality here: the goal of the kitchen garden was, of course, to provide food for the house. If it was a big house, it needed a big garden. Little question of anyone of relying upon imported food: one ate what was grown at home. If one were very rich, and had at hand 14 gardeners, glass houses, and acres of land to till, one could have pineapples brought to table, melons, bananas even. So what? a trip to the supermarket will get us all that — brought in from Costa Rica or Mexico, whenever we want (at the cost of oil and our climate) — but this was all grown in chilly, grey, rainy old England. The hunger to impress, to have a variety of stimulating and exotic foods was theirs, as it is ours, but the ingenuity required to perform all of this magic without today’s comforts of ready electricity and plumbing is simply breathtaking.
|The Vinery, 1989, hand woven tapestry|
This takes me back to my work, then & now, as it were. In 1988 or so, I witnessed what remained of an English walled vegetable garden at Holkham Park, in Norfolk, England, in the dead of winter. It was glorious: patterns of trained fruit trees etched on pink brick walls in the low and golden December sunlight; bluish glassed houses and cold frames with sheltered vines and fruit trees, rectalinear patterns of quiescent gardens awaiting spring. I took photos and flew home inspired. I took up the Victorian Kitchen Garden book for reference.
|Cold Frames & Fruit Trees, 1989, hand woven tapestry|
I look back at that work now, after watching these sweet programs, and wonder at the relevance. Here it is. I have been reading — and ranting — about year round gardening (per Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm, for example). I have been chivvying up our reluctant gardeners here in the mildest southern Indiana climate to try growing vegetables all winter. I have been working hard to convince people that our farmer’s market is worth building and worth shopping at. So I look back at my old tapestries and think,”yes, there is an answer, and I have known it for many years”.
|The Root Cellar, 1989, hand woven tapestry|
All photos and artwork copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, 1989-2012.
Beautiful post and amazing work!
English walled vegetable gardens are sheer bliss- many more of them have been restored back to working order since that tv series first aired.Holkham is just starting on a long-term restoration project, but has a long way to go yet:West Dean in Sussex has the most fabulous hot houses,Heligan in Cornwall is awesome…but there are so many of them- you should try to get over here again one day and do a tour.They are so inspiring.I just cannot resist a neat row of cabbages or a cordoned fruit tree.
Pingback: contemplating weaving again | Laura Foster Nicholson