Monday, 23 July 2012

Announcements like the petals on daisies

THE SUN HAS COME BACK! As it blinds us beautifully, glinting fondly remembered through high hedgerows and bouncing its spectrums from spider threads, we rejoice. But, alas we cannot bask in it - we're packing up the van for a long trip north tomorrow. Our road will take us to Scotland, and I don't know whether this longed-for sun has got as far up as that. We'll be travelling almost as far north as it's possible to go - to the Isle of Lewis, which I'm very excited about - I've never been to those islands off the west coast, up in the high north seas, where the edge of the land is a jagged archipelago. 

So, in the midst of doing last minute rehearsals and writing many Lists of Things To Take on the backs of envelopes, I'm popping in here to tell you about our storytellings, and make a few other announcements, before we dash off.

We'll be doing four tellings of Ivashko Medvedko - Little Ivan, Bear Child - the unparalleled Russian Folktale comprising a very strong man, a clever maiden, three giants, underworld journeys and, of course, the Baba Yaga herself. Tom will tell the story, which I will illustrate with accordion and shadow; I'll have a little exhibition/stall at each place where you'll be able to buy prints and paintings, too. Here are the date and times and places and ticket information:

Friday July 27th, 7.30pm - Old Well Theatre, Moffat.
Tickets - £7 - available at the 'Present Time' gift shop, 2/3 High St, Moffat, or from the theatre. Here's a map.

Saturday July 28th, 3pm - Elshieshields Tower, Lochmaben.
Tickets - £5 – call 01387 811 470. Here's a map.

Wednesday August 1st, 7pm-10pm - Galgael Trust, Govan, Glasgow.
with special guest: Bulgarian singer Viara Ivanova.
Tickets - £6/£4 - available online here or on the door. Here's a map.
All proceeds in aid of the Galgael Trust.
Event pages here and here.

Saturday August 4th - Isle of Lewis.
Please contact Sharon Blackie of Two Ravens Press and Earthlines Magazine for more info: info [AT]

Tom has written a lowdown of our trip here. In fact, whilst you're there at his new blog, you'd do well to read some of his stunningly moving poetry and stories of bears...

It's all a combination of exciting and terrifying. Will anyone come? Will we be strangled by nerves or fly with the story? 
I urge and entice all of you who live in Scotland or know those who do to buy tickets and spread the word. Each venue will have a quite different feel to it, so choose whichever draws you.

In between, we'll be visiting old haunts, meeting friends and exploring the wilds of our north. Lewis is almost on a level with the bottom tip of Greenland, when you look at a map - I forget how northerly this little island of ours is.

~ ~ ~

And what else? Well, of course a two week Storytelling Tour of Scotland isn't enough! As soon as we get home, on the 9th August, we'll be storytelling again here on Dartmoor at Chi Camp, organised by Angus Clarke of Living Movement. And then the following week we're off to this year's Uncivilisation Festival, which promises to be an altogether wilder, more acoustic and edgy affair than last year's. Have a look at the full programme - full of thought-provoking, soul and mind-stirring talks, performances and discussions, honourings of the road protests of the 1990s, superb music, scything workshops, herb walks, writing workshops, poetry, feral theatre, Brythonic music and fireside dancing courtesy of our friends Wod, childrens' council, folktales and much much more. For some time we've been plotting with a group of others - Mearcstapa - tasked with the weaving of art and a certain strangeness into the festival. As the programme describes us:

A collective of artists and performers who have been granted a fool’s licence to bring an anarchic creativity to the festival. They will provide an unpredictable extra layer to the programme: shape-shifting theatre; art and performance on the edges; the festival’s dark fringe spilling from the woods into the main spaces. There will be opportunities to take part, make your own art, and join them for a wild hunt in the woods!

We can't tell you what that will involve yet, you'll have to look out of the corners of your eyes when you get to the festival, but we hope it will honour the old gods of the land, and whip up an uneasy delight.

And the story Tom and I will be telling around the fire on the friday night will be a strange and wonderful and icy tale from the ferocious mythology of Chukotka, on the far eastern tip of Siberia. As the programme says:

Tom Hirons and Rima Staines bring you a tale from the Chukchi people of the far edge of Siberia: a tale of flying tongues and talking skulls, underworld wives and star-brothers, transformings and boundary-crossings and obsidian and fire-breathing reindeer. Sit by the fire; bring your blankets and your unrepentant strangeness, and be ready for curious happenings. At the main firepit, by the marquee.

If you'd like to buy tickets for Uncivilisation, be quick about it, there are less than 60 left, and they do tend to sell out.

~ ~ ~

If, as we head north tomorrow, you should be heading south-west, I must recommend a lovely little gallery of local art and craft that has recently opened in Chagford - Artisan. I have work on show there - giclée prints and originals - alongside some of my talented Dartmoor neighbours: Virginia Lee, Danielle Barlow, Jason of England, Miriam Boy, Helen Melland, Yuli Somme and many others to come. 

The gallery is run by Colette and Martin Brady, who wanted to create a space for local artists and craftspeople to showcase their work, and Chagford is delighted! Martin is also a leatherworker and his little workbench sits at the back of the gallery space, where you can see him completing the many commissions he's received since opening just a few weeks ago.

For those of you who can spot my work here amongst all the other delights, and are wondering who made the beautiful rustic frames - these are by David Winter, up in Yorkshire, who now provides all my frames for shows and galleries. He makes them from old pallets and wood found in skips, which he transforms into beautiful rustic dark-waxed frames, some still with old nails and staples embedded in the wood. I'm delighted to have found him, as these frames he makes are exactly what I'd make if I had the time to frame my work myself. I'd heartily recommend his craftsmanship and friendly service to anyone wondering how to frame prints of my work. He has an etsy shop too.


And for those of you in and around Devon during September, I'll be taking part in the popular Devon Open Studios event, for which I'll have to prepare frantically as soon as we return from our summer shenanigans.

~ ~ ~

In our little cottage, as we stack boxes of kettles and tarps and prints and masks and diesel oil and spare loo roll and firewood and tea by the door, Macha looks at us reproachfully, knowing Something's Afoot.

Across the blue sky of July, the sun stares eye to eye with the daisies - each radiant eye looking into this day of ours, full of as many plans as daisy petals.

And we stand in the sun's light, our shadows long and reaching north. The three of us, off on an adventure...

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Stories of Summer

ROSE PETALS AND EAVES drip in the unending rain that falls and falls and falls on us down here in the south-western corner of England. Each morning we wake to rare shafts of sunlight and think today will be a summer day, but by the time we reach the bottom of our first teacup, the skies are weeping, the tree branches are blown roughly against our windowpanes again and we decide to light another out-of-season fire. Everything squelches and chills. Those planting vegetables are beyond frustration, potholes are lakes and sheet lightning accompanies us home from evenings out with friends.

But there was a time a few weeks ago when the the skies were cloudless blue and we basked under trees in the dappled happy light of early summer. In the hopes that brighter stories might conjure back our sun, I shall tell you of our colourful days these past weeks gone, straddling May and June, when wheels rolled, tunes were strung, hands were joined and tales were spun...

(You may want to make a pot or two of tea...)

This sun and moon I painted for the wedding of our dear friends Doug and Cari, who married on May's  Lunar Beltane amongst their families and friends under a granite-held woven green bower on Dartmoor, where the sun hid until festivities began.

We played music for Cari as she made her way between the rocks toward her husband-to-be and again as the whole joyous and colourful entourage meandered away down off the moor toward the party. These evocative photos below were taken by Alex Furtado and are used with kind permission.

We stayed for the weekend in their be-tented wedding wonderland amongst the trees, and danced til dawn, pausing just a little to go and look at the biggest moon I've ever seen rising above the silhouettes of woods.
We wish these tree-loving dears the happiest of partnerships. As well as a gardener, cook and permaculturist, Cari is a wonderful illustrator - do go and have a look at her Harvest Moon blog and etsy shop.

~ ~ ~

Not long after these nuptials, we tessellated a thousand and one Necessary Objects into the back of our little red van and wended our way east to Weird and Wonderful Wood fair and East Anglian family and friends.
The road was beset with rain and we hoped that we'd overtake the clouds and leave them in the west. We parked overnight down a green Wiltshire lane where hares leapt through the quiet fields as dusk fell, and we cooked dinner on the back step.

A damp and dripping morning brought thoughts of the next lap; Macha and I explored the hedges whilst Tom re-jigged the chattels.

Around one overgrown corner we came across a delapidated mossy shed, laced all around with bejewelled forget-me-nots.
And what should we find behind?...

...But two lovely curly-tailed, wise-eyed, mobile-snouted snorters!

A sign with feeding instructions nailed to the shed said they were called Sophie and Pippin.
Macha was not sure...

Eventually we left them (squealing in dismay, as they'd presumed breakfast), and squelched back down the dew-heavy lane to the van where back-step tea was brewed and an early departure beckoned.  

The rain followed us and made us wary for the weekend fair. It's a long way to go and a lot of diesel to buy for a muddy people-less occasion on the other side of the country. 

We crossed our fingers and drove on, listening to the BBC Radio adaptation of Lord of the Rings in 12 long episodes, Mordor coinciding uncannily with Milton Keynes as we zoomed past the hellish airport-sized monstrosities that are retail distribution centres (painted, can you believe it, in variegated pale blues to match the sky!).

But we reached Suffolk and the rain stopped! We were fed and welcomed by Tom's mum, and there we stayed and wandered towns where the houses are all painted in bright colours...

This is Bungay, where the creepers sneak green across the blue and leave behind little footprints, like the tiptoeings of frogs.

Here is the window of the cabin of our dear friends Brenna and Calum and their new baby Ossian, who we met for the first time this May.

We visited St Peter's brewery with its wonderful thatched barn, on our way through the lanes and fields of Tom's childhood.

The skies were huge again, and we were sun-blest.

Then it was time to make our way to the little village of Wetherden and my favourite Weird and Wonderful Wood fair...

I always feel a happy homecoming warmth on arriving on the friday evening, as other folk assemble stalls and tents and we greet, catching up on a whole year's passing.
Soon the warm conviviality turns into exhausted peg-hammering, hungry canvas-fathoming, and somehow turning this sort of pile into a living space and a stall before nightfall...

Soon after dusk has come in, and we have gratefully kicked off our boots and lit a fire in our tent to cook dinner, a wagon rolls past. This little one used to belong to old Bill, who was a friend to many. Nowadays it's owned by Candy Sheridan who was our neighbour again this year.

Our wonderful ex-army 10-man Arctic bell tent is proving an excellent, warm and comfortable temporary home when we're away at fairs. Yet again I have no interior photos to show you, as my camera will not cooperate in the low light the heavy 24-hour-daylight-thwarting Arctic canvas affords us. 

But this tent is joined this year by another, also exchanged for painting (this time, I am painting signs for Dartmoor feltmaker Yuli Somme whose stall tent this was). What an improvement to my ramshackle little stall last year, into which customers were required to duck! Now, my wares can be displayed luxuriously; there's room for a table and a hole for a flue! It stays dry if the clouds open, and steady if the winds blow. Inside, several people can look at my work at once! And it's beautiful too; made to a specific design for Yuli by Albion Canvas, this stall tent pitched in front of our Arctic living-tent makes for a perfect little camp, where we can shuttle the stove between tents as night and day lap each other.

The stove we could've sold a hundred times over. It got as much interest over the weekend as my work! It is certainly one of the most useful things we've bought. For those who are intrigued, it's a Frontier Stove. The legs fold up, the flue stows away inside, and the whole thing can be carried with the handle on the side, weighing no more than a small suitcase. They also do a water heater that wraps round the flue, which I've got my eye on. 

Weird and Wonderful was as delightful as ever. I can't quite put my finger on the rightness of this gathering, but there's something there, perhaps in the people and the crafts it attracts; perhaps in the memory and yearning for a vagabond life which coils over the tents in the woodsmoke and which you can see in the shine in people's eyes; perhaps in the groundedness of loving trees and appreciating tools and all the ways wood can be wrought.

At the beginning of the weekend, the ground was so sodden from previous weeks of rain that the organisers asked us to be extra cautious with the grass. No vehicles could drive on it for fear of the fair not being allowed back to Haughley Park again. But the weather smiled on us brightly, and for the first time ever, not one drop fell all weekend!

This wheelwright had an ingenious fold up canvas bowtop on the back of his car!

I love to take my work out into the world, and to meet and talk with all sorts of folk who are drawn to it. It's a strange thing leaping between my quiet solitary Dartmoor home studio with only the sparrows to disturb me and the bustle and multiplied human energy of a fair, not to mention the raw exposure which both warms and overwhelms me.

Things you see from inside the stall: a huddle of folk peer at my backwards Mad Hatter clock, followed by a young girl, herself handsomely behatted...

Candy and Andy in the pitch next to us sold flowers and antiques and were helped by the smallest companion who attracted more attention even than our stove...

Full to the brim with friends and firelit music, woodsmoke in our hair and grime in our clothes, as the sun fell on the second day we dashed about to look at all the things we'd been too busy to see earlier in the weekend, including an oak that's over 1000 years old, which I'd not seen there before.

And just as it had at the beginning, Bill's old wagon rolled past at the end.

And we turned our little camp once more into a pile...

Heart and pocket-full, we drove away exhausted.

~ ~ ~

And after only one sleep, we headed south a bit to tell stories to children...

Bealings Primary School is nestled in the confusing green lanes between Ipswich and Woodbridge, and we'd been invited there by its energetic headmaster Duncan Bathgate (all of these photos courtesy of him) to tell a story and paint.

At first glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a Steiner School... 

The front gate is a wonderful artful metal knot of cobwebs, lamp posts, seats and bells, made in collaboration with the artists Hebe Vaisey and Steed Doe.

There's a hand built iron age roundhouse, a yurt, a garden, a cafe, and art by the children all over the walls, inside and out.

I was particularly taken by these horses on the playground wall...

The children don't follow lessons in the usual way, instead the whole school - parents, kids and teachers together - take part in term-long projects, which will encompass the whole curriculum whilst it actually seems more like an adventure than learning. They might be refugees from Poland trying to escape across a border before the outbreak of WWII, or they might be setting up a Safari Park, or studying the legend of the Wild Man of Orford...

But this is a state school; the parents do not have to pay fees to send their children there. The whole energy of the place and its students was wonderful to witness, and the fact that this place exists, thrives and gets away with such wonderful un-schoolish teaching is down to the boldness of its visionary headmaster.

Tom told the 6 and 7 year olds the Russian tale of the Firebird, to my accordion embellishments, and the delight of a boy who happened to share the hero's name - Ivan. And then we all painted an enormous firebird on a big piece of paper on the floor.

Dartmoor called us home the next day, and so we travelled back across the country, overnighting this time high over Wiltshire's yellow patchworks, where flew red kites and scudding white clouds and chalk white horses, and Macha, too, when she could.

~ ~ ~

We had much to return home for, not least our Gypsy storytelling event Tales from the Wagon Steps.

The week or so before the night of our event, we began preparations... 
One of the wagons was brought to the field where the stories would be told, Tom buried himself in Gypsy folk tales from many lands, learning six new stories by heart in almost as few days, and I painted a silhouette backdrop on an old sheet strung between two trees. During this time the sun shone bright and yellow and promising, and everything rang iridescent green: the fervent verdant grass, the shimmering beetles who visited me whilst I painted, the light through glass and cold water laced with mint leaves. Macha lay in the shade and snapped at flies, and the wagon shone in many-coloured beauty.

As the day got closer, our nerves knotted tighter. Lisa and I practised our tunes, and Tom scribbled story-notes. We negotiated numbers, and counted chairs, and perforated tickets. Typically, most people left it til the last day to buy their tickets once they'd seen the sun was shining, which made planning the amount of food rather tricky.

But the day came, as we'd known it would. By now we were quite beside ourselves with barely disguised terror. At this point of a performance, we ask ourselves... why do we do this?! The scene had to be set, too: we carried chairs and hung bunting, dug fire pits and collected wood, as the wagon owners (Derek and Carol Ambridge who restored these vardos so beautifully from collapsed shells) and their friends opened the wagon doors and put up an example of a traditional bender tent. We had a final sunny afternoon run-through, as the nerves crept ever closer.

People started to arrive early to explore Stone Lane Gardens, and slowly the chairs and mats filled with folk old and young and in-between. The canopy of birch and alder leaves echoed with children's squeals, woodsmoke curled through sunlight, the trees and the people alike waited to be told stories...

... And so they were. Tales strange and comic, sad and ridiculous. In between each story, Lisa and I played music on fiddle and accordion. And half way through it all, delicious food was served in the barn. Philippa Burrell was our chef for the night, and she'd made traditional John Doe stew for both meat eaters and vegetarians, home made bread, and a bright green wild garlic sauce for the top (...whizzed up ramsons in olive oil with a pinch of salt, she said; verdant and delicious it was). Here's a little taste from half time, filmed by Peter Redstone, and used with kind permission. The tune we're playing is Imala Majka from Bulgaria...

Dusk began to fall, and children ran about, climbing log piles and chasing each other through the long grass. Our nerves were abating a little now... it was going well, and we were remembering why we do this after all. The tickets had all sold out, there'd been enough food for everyone, and the air of happy enchantment was palpable. Derek and Carol, wagon-restorers, had brought a barrel of home brewed cider; and there were strawberries.

Tom was magnificent in his telling and memory of these six Gypsy tales from Russia, Wales, England, Scotland and Romania. He held the space and wove the magic perfectly. The Romanian tale - The Red King and the Witch - was a wonderfully strange and gruesome story where a baby girl leaps from her crib, her fingernails growing into axe heads and her teeth becoming shovels! (She's the witch of the title in case you hadn't guessed!) Here's some more rare footage of us performing (I attached my camera to a tree branch to catch a piece of the story for those of you who couldn't be there). Tom tells the end of The Red King and The Witch (watch closely how as the wind enters the tale, it becomes manifest around us too), and Lisa and I play the traditional Yiddish tune Papirosen, suitably mournful to match the unhappy ending...

And night joined us eventually, though she was late to the party, I'd been waiting for her. The idea for my silhouette sheet painting was that in the dark with a fire behind it, a flickering eerie scene would be conjured, and so it was, though photographs do not do it justice. The last story ended and we collapsed elated and exhausted with a tankard of sloe cider and the happy stragglers, enjoying the last flickers of firelight and the silhouettes of crows and chicken-legged huts fluttering amber under our deep blue star-flecked Dartmoor sky.

Thank you to all who helped and contributed to such a wonderful evening, including those who were the audience - the other half of the circle, without whom the performance spell cannot be cast. Thanks to Duncan Rice, Peter and Suzanne Redstone, and Derek and Carol Ambridge for their lovely photographs of the evening. 

~ ~ ~

And thanks to you all for patiently joining me on this epic story of our summer doings.

There'll be more storytellings, too. Next weekend we're telling at another wedding of friends on Dartmoor, and then later in July we're heading up north to Scotland, where we'll be telling the Russian folk tale Ivashko Medvedko - or - Little Ivan, Bear-Child, alongside small exhibitions of my paintings.
The first night, Friday 27th July, for which tickets can be bought already will be in Moffat at the Old Well Theatre. Following that we'll be telling and exhibiting in Elshishields Tower in Dumfriesshire and at the wonderful Galgael Trust in Glasgow. I'll post details of those events as I have them. 

In August we'll be telling on Thursday the 9th at Dartmoor's Chi Camp organised by Angus Clarke of Living Movement and then onto the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire for 2012's Uncivilisation festival, from August 17th - 19th, organised by the Dark Mountain Project. This year's gathering is set to be a wilder, more acoustic event, where we'll not only be storytelling and selling wares, but creeping around the wooded edges masked and puppeteering, giving talks and creating land art around the site. But I'll write more about all these things as they approach...

pencil drawing 
© Copyright Rima Staines 2012

Meanwhile, we build our days between the raindrops. I'm painting and writing and reading and drawing and busking and wandering my beloved hedgerows. The honeysuckle is celebrating every chink of sun that comes through, the long dusky mauve grasses shush and wave in ripples over the hills, and I even found a clutch of reddest wild strawberries in the hedge just down our lane; they were succulent and they were good.

I was commissioned by Paul Durrant to create a drawing to celebrate his wedding to Jane, which took place in May in Canada beside a waterfall. The resulting piece feels to me like a slightly Chagallesque reverie of summer where lovers and dragonflies, snakes and rabbits, birds and water droplets float in the heady air of somewhere not quite here and not quite there. Prints of this piece Wedding at the Gate of There are available in my shop.

The wild plants are coping better with this wet season than others. Our verges are shouting green and upwards, and everywhere I look there is minute beauty, sparkling and speaking and telling me the thousand-petalled stories of summer.

POST SCRIPT: And here's the cloth of this tale woven with Tom's own wonderful storytelling threads: Wagon Steps and Damp Footprints of June