Daily Archives: October 30, 2011

Medieval Times: Every Day is Halloween

sketch of grotesqhe faces

"Grotesques", by Kerry McFall

If you’ve ever worried about Halloween being too scary, just picture living in medival times. These two ghouls would have greeted you and your little darlings every Sunday as you entered and left the church, leering down from above; in the case of the fellow on the left, even spitting cold water at you on rainy days.  He’s actuallly even scarier now, because they’ve recently added a row of needle-like pigeon-prevention-spikes inside his mouth.  Eew.  And you thought that those scary faces were inventions of Marvel Comics!

I’ve been making a point of photographing “grotesques” and gargoyles when I get close enough to really see one.  (A gargoyle is a grotesque that incorporates a gutter  downspout –  we learned that on our tour of Oxford!)  They have fascinated me ever since Koln, when I suspected that I was seeing faces in the decor on the cathedral.  And it turns out I was right.  Especially in Oxford and Canterbury, those sculptors and artists really got carried away, not just with scary faces but with mocking actual individuals.  Risky business, that.

And if you ever worry about violent video games, just be glad that we no longer sanction witch burning, wife dunking, beheading, or drawing and quartering.  I question whether or not video games represent progress, but at least the blood and gore is digital… until you make guns easily available at random of course.  So if you’re not scared on that note… BOoOOo!

The Rules… Which Must Be Obeyed

Beginning of Week 9 on the road… can this be real?  It must be – I have shipped home one sketchbook already and another is almost full.  That is my only anchor to reality, because the rest seems such fantasy, to be here, to be experiencing all of this.  Until I run up against The Rules, that is.  These British have Rules, which Must Be Obeyed.  For instance, afternoon tea is to be served in the afternoon, between 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.  No earlier, no later.  No scones until then.  Don’t even think of asking.  End of discussion. Dang.

But that wasn’t nearly as bad as:  if the Royal Academy of Arts advertises a special exhibition by Degas with a one-day workshop on drawing movement, and the web page says the class is full, it’s full.  Going to the academy and inquiring politely if there have been cancellations will earn you a scathing look from the information desk and a very cold invitation to come back 15 minutes before class.  And if you are so thick as to do so, you will receive an even colder eyebrows-up explanation from the young woman at the education desk (who is young enough to be your granddaughter no matter how she tries to hide her youth behind those tortoise shell glass frames) that – Soooory –  they Do NOT sell tickets on the day of the event, and they ARE overbooked, and you MAY be on your merry way thank you very much indeed next person in the queue please.   Dang.   Rules where I come from are made to be broken, especially in the art world.

So in the absence of the opportunity to sketch live prima ballerinas under the tutelage of a master artist, I am posting, with raspberries spit in the general direction of the Academy:

  • one sketch of St. Catherine, who, being a statue in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, was very obliging and held still for over an hour;
  • and one sketch of the skyline in Canterbury, where old priorities (the cross) meet relatively new priorities (TV antennas) on the rooftops.


"Don't Mess with St. Catherine", by Kerry McFall

 According to the description of the sculpture, (made in the workshops of Niklaus Wedemann the Elder of limewood sometime around 1500), she is holding in her hand the hilt of a sword she just demolished and standing on a broken wheel, some kind of torture device she just  trashed… whoa.  Looking pretty serene, isn’t she?

"Dueling Priorities", by Kerry McFall

 This sketch was made from inside the new Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, looking toward the Canterbury Cathedral.  Canterbury was marvelous, especially the guided boat tour of the River Stour, and the local museum.  Worth a trip across the world just for that day alone.  And Oxford was even more marvelous if that’s possible.  In the space of one hour we pressed our noses against the glass case containing one of 14 surviving hand-lettered copies of the Magna Carta – THE Magna Carta, the one to which our culture owes pretty much its existence – and the first folio of Shakespear’s complete works, and an original edition of the Gutenberg Bible, and the first page (handwritten) of Jane Austen’s first novel, and a 1550 copy of the Koran…  And if that’s not enough, about 15 minutes later we were having lunch in one of the pubs where Inspector Morse solved so many PBS mysteries!