Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Peaceable Kingdom and the loss of a thimble..

This was going to be fun as the image was to contain mainly animals in the foreground and my mind could run free as to what I might envisage as an idyllic peaceable kingdom. The image comes from the book of Isaiah chapter 11 and the verse most commonly and incorrectly known as “the lion will lie down with the lamb” is actually “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water cover the sea.” This wonderful biblical image depicts a most bazaar scenario that illustrates the impossibility throughout history and even more so today of achieving a kingdom at peace. I associate this title with the na├»ve American artist Edward Hicks who around 1835 produced at least two oil paintings of The Peaceable Kingdom. He used the biblical text to produce a foreground of the animals mentioned while the historical event of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians is pushed to the background and seem just as unlikely to achieve peace as the juxtaposition of child and animals. Edward Hicks was a devout Quaker and saw Penn’s “holy experiment” which resulted in the establishment of religious freedom and self government in the colony of Pennsylvania as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy.
In my drawing up of this scene I have tried to capture some of Hicks’s vision of the ideal made real in the distinctive portrayal of the animals but to make sure that in these days of aspirations of independence I used the archetypal symbol of the Highland cow representing Scotland and supporting an equally Scottish golden eagle on its horns. The innocence of this ideal is represented by the central joyous dancing child and it was here that I started my stitching. The flesh tones were achieved using four different coloured wool's and it is the beauty of the yarn used in the manufacture of Harris Tweed that it is dyed before being blended and spun so the colour is never solid so allows me to create a graduation of colour that would be impossible using ordinary knitting wool's. From these subtle flesh tones I then turned to the vivid yellows and oranges of the leopard which is then over-stitched with black outlines and further filled with white and a rich rusty red spot. By the end of an 8 hour stitching day my right thumb is beginning to feel tender from the pressure of forcing the needle through several layers of stitched wool. 

There is a certain sense of urgency, even impatience when starting a major work to put in as much work as possible so as to see how the image in my head appears when transformed into wool. The raised stump-work effect is further complicated when two animals which require padding are set one in front of another and touching. In some cases it is better to stitch the two animals together where they touch as must be the case with the leopard and the goat. The days are long this far north and with an unseasonable cool summer I find myself sitting and stitching full of excitement to be creating my peaceable kingdom.

The foreground animals soon took shape as goat sat tucked in behind leopard and tight curled lamb comfortably before the wolf. The general appearance looked well balanced on paper but I was still unsure about what sort of bear it might be and am now drawn to perhaps a polar bear which would help to keep the general light feel. The large horned ox is very cheerful in bright oranges behind the child and the massive eagle with outspread protective wings should give a powerful feeling of the Kingdom being safe as well as at peace.

22nd July and just passed the hundred hours of stitching the Peaceable Kingdom. There is a certain obsessive compulsive element to the work much like that of a jigsaw puzzle that is hard to leave alone when the image is beginning to take shape, particularly if like me you prefer those puzzles where the finished picture does not appear on the front of the box. With most of the animals in place the background can begin and this is where usually it remains most fluid and free style. Changes from the original drawing are frequent and as the picture develops I can already see that to the right there will be at least one tree to help create the vista through to the distant view of the mountain on the left and that will help to maintain balance. It is now that the complexity of the image really starts and the choice of colour combinations and contrast allow each animal and object to find its place within the overall picture. 
On seemingly very rare occasions this summer I’ve been able to sit outside and enjoy the clarity of a Hebridean summers day.
Already the 20th of August the month has flown by with major works on the house but still I manage a couple of quiet hours stitching morning and evening. Having lit the fire I needed to put a bit more peat in the small stove but didn’t think to remove my thimble so much has it become a part of me. Having loaded the fire I returned to my needlework only to find my thimble had gone, I glanced around and then I realised it must have dropped from my finger as I pushed the blocks of peat in place. Opening the door resulted in clouds of smoke and no sign of a thimble and more frantic searching left me only with the confirmation that it had gone in the fire. If it had been plastic then I would have smelt the result but it was ivory and from my great aunt Flo’s sewing box and an avalanche of sadness descended with the thought of all the hours of work it had seen over the years. The "Peaceable Kingdom" will forever be linked in my mind to the final work of that ivory thimble.

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