GOODNESS! It's June! Somehow we have leapt over Spring and a wet May, and stand barefoot and blinking on the other side in the tall dry grass. The green is no longer just emerging: it is wild and abundant! The hedgerows quiver and the leaves are warm. I'm sitting writing this looking out on trees and plants alive with industrious bees and sparrows, and scuffled-under by our three resident chickens. Since last I wrote, we've moved to our wonderful new house on the hill and spent time nesting in under the thatch. House moves are rather momentous and exhausting apparently, and it's taken me some time to gather my wits from amongst the fluff and old twopences at the bottoms of all the cardboard boxes as we've unpacked. We're hallooing at the wonder of our happily-found home and I shall tell you tales of this new and idyllic residence in due course, but there's rather a lot of other news to report too, not least an adventure to the other side of England (during which we visited both our families, Tom sat a Chinese Medicine exam and I completed two oil paintings!!) to tout our wares at my favourite fair: Weird and Wonderful Wood. So for today, I'll show you the wonders of that wonder, and hope over the next weeks to bring you a few more regular updates on things painterly, homely, masked and summerly...
This year's Weird and Wonderful Wood fair welcomed us in its own friendly arboreal way on the Friday evening to set up camp in good time for the weekend's impending festivities. This year I'd chosen to be outdoors again: I like it better on grass, and under the sky, and I am coming to a conclusion that the outdoors is my favourite gallery too.
We came equipped with the most excellent tent: A ten man ex-army Arctic bell tent, which came in part-exchange for a painting still in progress for tipi-makers Ian and Merle of Hummingbird Tipis. It's brilliant to be able to stand up in your tent, we have space to wander about inside... in fact if you'd wanted to swing a cat you could've. And to add to the luxury-under-canvas, we had our new portable woodburner to keep us warm in the evenings and on which to cook all our meals and brew all our teas. This fold-up wonder, The Frontier Stove, originally designed for use in disaster situations, just works so well. The stove pipe comes apart and stows away inside the burner, the legs fold up and you can carry it away in one hand; it burns hot on just a handful of gathered wood, and can be closed down with the damper to burn quietly for hours. It even has enough space on top for a frying pan of bacon and eggs, a pot of coffee, a pan of milk and two small breakfast breads. And so we ate and lived like Wayside Royalty and sat out under the wide East Anglian skies with mugs in hand and thoughts of summer.
In front of our tent (which sagged a bit round the edges due to the fact that the guy ropes are measured for horizonless Arctic wastes, not snug festival pitches – this will need to be further mulled upon for a solution, though it was fine inside) we constructed a canvas emporium with an ochre roof, alder supports and garden trellis for walls. Ropes tied to trees and ground pegs held it all up and the interior was a patchwork of assorted fabrics and old carpets. Pictures were hung inside, and bunting triangles (cut out gallantly by Tom's mum from her vintage fabric collection) were attached to guy ropes to prevent midnight accidents. The Mad Hatter grinned from a tree, and a witch perched atop an easel on which rested a brand new painting (about which more soon).
But the crowning glories of this year's display were Tom's Magnificent Masks! We hung them between tent and tree and all down the tent-mast where they watched passers by with mischievous interest. These beautiful Smickelgrim Masks are exquisitely handmade from oak-tanned leather, hand painted with leather dyes and polished with Tom's own-recipe beeswax polish made with the help of local Dartmoor bees. I'm dearly and immensely proud to see our creations displayed together like this, don't they match perfectly?
But this brilliant project of Tom's is only just beginning, and awaiting a website and all (which the multi-talented maskmaker will create once he's finished his end of year Acupuncture exams!), so I'll not tell you the whole masquerade here, I'll just whet your appetite with a few pictures and with a whispered hint that there are some masks appearing for sale in Tom's etsy shop now for early birds (or indeed discerning vagabonds, incognito Romantics and stylish revolutionaries) in need of a disguise. This is just a trial price too, so be quick to be the first canny owners of these harlequinned works of art!
The fair passed in a whirl of faces and fascinations, and I'm sorry to say my photo-documenting was a little thin on the ground. I got none of the cosy interior of our tent, so you'll have to wait until its next outing for those. But our shop was busy with old friends and new friends and everyone in between. I was delighted to meet the flesh-and-bone versions of a few folks from this online world, particularly Francois Latreille, who was travelling the UK for some months before heading home to Canada and the beginning of his studies, and whose path steered him through Suffolk for this fair and to give me a poem, and Julie Howe who gave us candles :)
Friends and families came too: here I am with young Taliesin, dear son of friends Poppy and Curt (and Macha who is looking more like some sort of heraldic weasel). And we were happily pitched by Ash and Sarah whose wagon was the scene of last year's idyllic firelit evening.
This year they were selling vintage books and their own glass-etched brilliant signs. Their daughter Tilly was proffering wares too...
In between us Candy Sheridan had her resplendent Roma caravan and old-time Gypsy-painted wares. On our other side were Jon and Amalia, makers of the artfully blacksmithed Windy Smithy woodburners.And the rest of the fair? Well I hardly left my perch, but in brief dashes to buy lemonade or nip behind a bush, I spied many inspiring and industrious folks conducting a thrilling range of workshops for children and adults alike... all with wood in one form or another.
There was puppet making, paper making, withy weaving, spoon carving, and a myriad other distractions. That's our friend Jason Parr teaching folks to carve spoons – he gave us one each too; aren't they lovely?
There was impromptu music and wandering stilted tree-people, there were pole-lathers and artisans, timber framers and axe carvers, chainsaw carving using a fallen trunk of sequoia from which I squirrelled offcuts for future paintings, and drawers of old tools through which to rummage: we brought home a mallet of wood and a mallet of copper, and a handsome machete which now chops our kindling.
These fairs are always an exhilarating melee of inspiring and enjoyable and exhausting talk, earth and wooden tent pegs and woodsmoke and damp socks, money changing hands, faces familiar and new and half-remembered, children and animals and ice-creams, dirt under your fingernails, wandering performers and minstrels-in-the-distance, wonderful handmade artefacts and battered old bric-a-brac, ale and bunting, and the glowing tiredness of sun-browned cheekbones.
At the end of it all, wares and wherewithal packed small, we took Macha and a bottle with a mouthful of cider left in it and a small tray of halva for a walk in the wide green Suffolk fields under the wide blue Suffolk sky and we sat amongst the stems, jangling-eared and happy, and Macha swam like an otter through the barley.