Wednesday, 25 April 2012

MODERN ROMANTICS ~ The Violet Velvet Frock Coat

Parting is  'sweet sorrow', as I've said before. At least it is when you have found an item that you really adore, and you know it must be sold.

Photographs do not do justice to The Violet Frock Coat. But you get the idea.

Unlike modern fashion which skimp on fabric, vintage clothes were made to cover and flatter the body. This 'Once Upon A Time' frock coat had a vast amount of opulent fabric in it.  Deep pile violet velvet with rich mauve satin lining,a  nipped in waist and a peplum like skirt. It would have been magnificent on the right person.

It had been dry cleaned, of course, but the faint scent of L'Heure Bleue still lingered, like a whisper from the past. 

Who had worn it, what magical days and nights had it seen?

Made in London it crossed the ocean to America where I found it and brought it home. It was such an Object Of Desire it was probably worthy of starvation to fit into, but it was not to be. Not for me anyway. Instead I had a cup of tea and a few biscuits and put it up for sale.

It sold immediately. Perhaps I had the price too low. Or maybe someone just fell in love with it, and beyond all practical reasoning about where to wear it, or how to stay slim enough to get into it, bought it and took it home to dream.

I hope that whoever has it loves it as much as I did and wears it often. Maybe with L'Heure Bleue.

Friday, 20 April 2012


I'm revisting the art of Scottish illustrator Jessie M. King (March 20, 1875 – August 3, 1949).

At the time of The Great War, or just before, many artists created works of poignant sweetness and although they are beautiful there is something heartbreaking about them too. As if within that sweetness lay the last shreds of Hope.

These artists were keenly aware of nature and interested in the conservation of buildings, places and art.  Through time we learn, forget and relearn their lessons.

In this troubled time of ours, with financial problems faced by many and war around the globe interest has rekindled in these artists with their simple, childlike message of joy and comfort in daily life.

Jessie's art is similar to another favourite of mine, Annie French, in it's lightness of hand and semblance to Gustav Klimt with the build up of colour and texture like tiny jewels scattered on the page.

From the Christmas Supplement of The Studio.

Many of Jessie's paintings are done in such pale shades and so light a hand that they seem translucent. An ethereal light illuminates all of her work.

Time has faded some of her creations though so it is hard to tell whether she meant to create in such pastel shades.

The Lambs

My favourite painting of hers is this one. She used slightly brighter colours here and captures all the joy of summer pleasures.  The Jessie M King blog says this about it: "This work was done for John Drinkwater's poem 'Holiness' using pen, ink, and color wash on paper."

If all the cats were painted gay - 1930

Pictures 2 and 3 are from the Jessie M King blog which is a wonderful tribute to her and a great resource of information. Have a read:

Jessie M King

This is an entry for her at Junker's Rare Books, written in 2003. They have some of her work for sale, it is well beyond the means of a mere working lady such as I, but it's price reflects it's rarity and beauty.

"Jessie Marion King was the fourth daughter born to a cleric’s family in a Glasgow suburb. Against the wishes of her parents, she enrolled in the Glasgow school of Art at the age of 17 where she was taught with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and heavily influenced by Art Nouveau and the developing ‘Glasgow Style’.  Illustrating over 100 books she has been described as the ‘most important Scottish illustrator of the Twentieth Century’ (Colin White).

The design for L’Evangile de L’enfance (1894) was one of the pieces that brought King into the public eye. Displayed at the 1902 Turin Exhibition, this binding won King the gold medal for book design.

King went on to design a beautiful vellucent binding for The Story of Rosalynde in 1902 for Cedric Chivers. The book is bound in full vellum with intricate designs to both covers and spine in ink and water-colour. The main image depicts two graceful knights in armour kneeling at the foot of an immense rose tree. The binding is heightened by gilt lines and an inverted Mother of Pearl heart shaped inlay. Completed in the period when Jessie was both student and teacher at the Glasgow School of Art this work is typical of the high quality detailed designs she produced in the early 1900’s.

During this time Jessie also produced numerous intricate line drawings displaying an impressive capturing of shadows and fine detail. Dwellings of An Old World Town (1909), comprising of drawings of Culcross and Fifeshire, is typical of the style of books she had published at this time.
Plate from Seven Happy DaysAs her work developed, King began to use a gentler style. An example of this can be seen in The Studio (1913) which contains King’s popular Christmas Supplement Seven Happy Days. The colours used for this are lovely pastel shades all highlighted with glints of silver or gold. The book also contains eight line drawings with the same very delicate beauty.

At the start of World War 1, after spending seven years living in Paris, King and her husband, EA Taylor, decided to move back to Scotland. They settled in Kirkudbright where many of her famous drawings are set. Having illustrated books on Glasgow and Edinburgh, King now began work on Kircudbright A Royal Burgh (1934). With pictorial Japon wrappers, the book contains 18 black and white detailed line drawings and illustrates the beauty of the town. King writes in her foreword:

‘Perhaps it is only the hand of the artist that can save for the future the beauty in danger of being demolished and it lies with the fraternity to see that the romance of this old world town set in her historic stones does not become entirely a thing of the past.’

As King’s popularity grew after World War 1, she ceased producing gossamer drawings and began work with new materials such as batik, pottery and jewellery. In her book How Cinderella was Able to go the Ball, Cinderella is forced to make her own batik gown. The process of how this was executed is illustrated beautifully in vibrant colours throughout. "

Junkers Books

Jessie not only illustrated books but turned her hand to murals, she designed ceramics, fabric, textiles, jewelry and greeting cards.

A necklace made by her, from the in depth book abut her, The Enchanted World of Jessie M King by Colin White.

Very occasionally one of her pieces comes up for auction on ebay. This little bowl is typical, simple yet joyful.  Hand decorated inside and out, it has her signature and her symbols of a rabbit and a gate.

This piece is unusual, I've never seen one, it is a honeycomb jar.

This is a typical painted ceramic by Jessie M King. She developed this line of painted pottery from 1920, and it was one of her main sources of income. She purchased the ceramics in 'biscuit' state then painted on her designs and sent the ware back to the ceramic manufacturer for glazing.

Floral painted ceramic box with a seperate lid having the form of a bee as its handle. The box has the verses 'Kissing is out of Fashion / When the Whin is out of Blossom', around the top of the four sides of the box. The work has her marks on the base - a rabbit, a green gate and the initials 'JMK'.
Place of Production:
width 140mm, height 140mm, depth 140mm"
The Stewartry Museum

Thursday, 19 April 2012

NATURE ~ More Rain, A Lone Swallow and Other Birds

We live in a valley, between two country market towns, Marlborough and Hungerford. I love them both and also enjoy the peaceful drive there and back through the rolling hills with farms tucked underneath their arms framed by old villages. It is very quiet, I don't meet many other cars but I often meet a lot of wildlife along the way. The small patches of woods and the open meadows and fields are full of Deer, Hare, Rabbits, Stoats and all kind of birds including birds of prey. While driving I scan the skies for winged things. If I go by the village ponds I meet an assortment of waterfowl as well. But my favourite birds which I always welcome back with the greatest excitement and joy are the Swallows, House Martins and Swifts.

I had to go into Marlborough today and the rain stopped just long enough on the way home to stop and photograph some of my favourite cottages and fields. I was attracted to a Kestrel, hovering by a country lane, but it spooked so no photos of him to share! I was watching the Rooks, like naughty teenagers skating on the wind over a bright field of yellow rape when out of the corner of my eye I caught the sightest glimpse of the bouncing flight of a familar graceful friend.

My heart lept with expectation - could it really be? Was it possible, even in these storms, my brave little friends have made the epic journey from South Africa? I held my breath and crept a little closer. My camera is nothing special, no big lens, so I could only hope I was near enough to be able to tell. And I am as blind as a Bat, so I had to rely on poor eyesight and an inadequate lens. YES! There it was, the deepest midnight blue, the black of the Raven's wing and best of all the blood red markings under the chin, the forked tail, and the soft white. A Swallow, all on it's own perched on a fence. Well, that is other than the Quail who was sneaking in and out of the plants underneath him. 

Swallows, House Martins and Swifts always seem to me to fly with the greatest joy, the Swifts shrieking with excitement, the Swallows and House Martins leaping into the breeze with glee, riding it ever so high and then down so low. This one, though on it's own, was chirping loudly and after allowing me a few moments of joy it was gone as quickly as it had come. Alas my camera is not swift enough to catch it on the wing but thankfully my eye was.

What they actually look like through a better lens or eye than mine!
By Molly Brett, the Fairy artist from Surrey.

This field was full of wildlife, I spotted Rabbits, Quail, Pheasants, Crows, and Rooks. And my magnificent Swallow. For a few minutes the sun shone, no rainbow but I did not care. Bliss!

I always await their arrival every year and their departure at the end of summer fills me with sorrow. Even though I am a Winter person I think that when I leave this world of which I am much fond I'd prefer to do so while the Swifts, Swallows and House Martins are on the wing in my village fields. I could not bear to think that I was leaving without having seen them one last time.

The Flight of the Swallows by JH Lorimer.

This is a favourite oil painting of mine. I love the quiet symbolism of it. The shadows against the warm glow of the light, all the pale and golden tones and the blue sky outside the window. I find it quite poignant and understood at once the feeling of the scene. It was set in Kellie Castle in Fife. It is showing the elegant interior of an Edwardian household. A mother kneels on a window cushion as she and her three children look out the window. The sun seems to be setting as the room and the sky are lit with a warm glow. One of the children is seen sitting with her face in her hands, as if crying over the loss of summer. The other two children stand with their mother waving goodbye to the swallows.

I hope that soon the House Martins who nest on our cottage will be back as well. It's raining again, quite hard, and I worry for all the small creatures, and the large ones too.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

ELEMENTS ~ Rain Rain

A charming depiction of children and dog in the rain.
 Unknown origin, possibly Mabel Lucy Atwell.
It is generally true, that old saying  'April showers bring May flowers'. We are having a bit more than just showers though. While there is a hosepipe ban in parts of England and threats of a drought, here in Wiltshire/Berkshire it's been raining for 3 days. Today you really could have said that it was raining cats and dogs. It came down sideways in great sheets and sleet covered the walks. Birds could not fly in it, umbrellas were turned inside out and our greenhouse cover blew across the village green!

Raining cats and dogs (and pitchforks!) from a cartoon by Cruickshanks
There are a lot of funny old sayings in England and "raining cats and dogs" is one of my favourites.  Used to describe an especially heavy rain, it is still in common usage today and few who say this question what it really means or where it came from. It's origins are hard to trace. There is evidence that it was used in the 17th century but it may be even older. There are a number of explanations of how it came into usage, none of which make sense or can be confirmed.

The most widely circulated is that in the 16th-century many homes had thatched roofs and animals could crawl into the thatch and find shelter from the elements, and then fall out during heavy rain. Hard to see a dog clambering up there though.

One of my favourite local thatched cottages, actually a terrace of three
which were once a toll cottage
I think it is far more likely just one of those deightful colloquialisms which caught on, got written down somewhere and made it's way into the magical folklore of language.

The sleet in our garden this morning
I like rain, perhaps not this hard or windy, but I love the way it makes all things fresh again. And while it is raining it is a good excuse to get on with tasks in the house, so I leave you with this small collection of rain art and items. Beautiful I think and sadly not mine.

I think the movement in this is wonderful.
By Giuseppe Armani, at the Florence Sculpture d’Arte

Whoo (pun!) could resist this owl umbrella stand?
It's on Amazon for $140.00

The artists's name is not legible on this, it is such a pretty print.

Friday, 13 April 2012

SHOPPE KEEPER ~ Hungerford in Spring

I love the architecture in Hungerford which has many variations. The Town Hall is a favourite of mine, and also this tall skinny green house next to it. You can see how blue the sky was first thing in the morning. To look at my photo you would never believe that an hour later it was darkly ominous overhead.

Spring  has been playing hide and seek with us here .... it comes, then hides, then returns just when we have given up hope of it,  and jumps out at us. There are yellow fields of rape, and delicate tree blossoms, yet it is decidedly nippy outside.

Yesterday I journeyed into Hungerford where we have our little stall in The Emporium Antiques and Lifestyle Shop. It was quite a refreshing day because it was a social visit instead of restocking the stall or buying for the shop. I had the time to look about the town and do a little treasure hunt with a friend. I feel very lucky to live close by and to have our 'shoplet' in The Emporium.

This fine Hound on a barge boat on the canal by Hungerford Bridge caught my eye and for a few minutes we watched each other. Many years ago I kept company with a hound, and although this was a very long time ago, I miss him still. I loved this one, perfect ears and keen eyes. If anyone knows his/her name please let me know.

The day began with sun, but suddenly the skies darkened into a deep grey and midnight blue confection which looked as if Van Gough had been at work with his brushes. And the rain came down in great torrents. But only for a few minutes. There was no rainbow afterwards, although I did look just in case! But the air smelled and felt so fresh, it is wonderful after rain.

I'd been to a favourite shop of mine, Below Stairs and found this handsome old teapot sitting outside in their garden area. It has a real Aladdin's Lamp look to it and although it's silverplate has all but vanished (except inside where you can see what it once looked like) I could not resist it. I'm not planning to pour tea from it, but I'm sure there is still plenty of use in it. I can water plants with it, or even put a delicate pansy in it. And maybe, just maybe I can summon a Genie with it!

There was an added bonus as Stewart Hofgartner, the dashing owner, loaned me one of the shop umbrellas so I could continue my shopping in town while the rain poured. Ladies, chivalry is not dead!

If you have not been there and you like unusual items pay it a visit. They always have unexpected items which capture my eye.

I could have taken home everything in this photo, the old table with the crochet skirt, the scales, the pine chair and the stained glass panel just in vision. They have an online gallery and their website is here:

Below Stairs of Hungerford

Last year they had hundreds of tadpoles! They were not for sale though they were being offered to anyone who had a suitable pond and could give them a good home. Their garden is full of frogs and the Spring rains had filled some of their gardenalia with water. The enterprising frogs had climbed into the urns and planters and left spawn, which hatched and thrived. They had to rescue them all and for a few weeks the tadpoles swam in a large, deep trough in which they were fed and loved.

I had time to window shop until I met my friend for a coffee at Azuza. The eating area is a 2 story high conservatory, with original brick walls which are perfect to display the ever changing gallery of art and photographs for sale. This fine Dragon is truly amazing!

As an avid collector of far too many things I have to wear my invisable blinkers when I deliver items for sale to my stall as passing through The Emporium is a delicious, but dangerous journey for me! I often come home with more than I sell. As our home is very small this is not a practical thing. The same applies to Hungerford Arcade where I am drawn to the bargain basement known as The Junk Shop.

I like broken things, I know it is odd, but often there is only a tiny scrack or chip and the price is much less than if it were perfect. Buying 'broken' items allows me to collect things I might not afford otherwise. Some of their beauty lies in their fragility so a little chip does not necessarily detract. I have a few items displayed which have seen better days, but they still have power to enchant and the chips and cracks are part of their long history.

Did I tell you I collect Dragons? So, this Tintagel Pottery dragon bowl (with a small chip on the rim) had to come home with me, and my friend bought a wonderful Louis Wain print of cats who happened to be artists. A fitting subject as she is a very talented artist herself and is often inspired by her muse, a large handsome cat.

If you want to know more about The Hungerford Arcade, this is their website, you can sign up for email newsletters:

And you can find magical creatures and enchanting art and jewel creations on my friend's blog. You must visit her Etsy shop - but be prepared to be tempted! ; ~ )

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


I've always had a good eye for beauty. When I was little I used to yearn for all the lovely items I came across.  As I grew older and realised that there was much to be grateful for in my life I was able to appreciate things without the need to own them. Which was a good thing because I have never had a lot of money, and try to give some of what I do have to charity, so enjoying the chase of finding and being able to admire without having to own has been a blessing!

I love window shopping and even more I like to be able to touch tactile fabrics and catch the light through fine porcelain. So browsing at markets is bliss for me.

But when the weather is bad or I have no transport I can turn to the magic of the internet. In the old days it would have been books, and often still is, but the net is vast and surprising and although I was reluctant to embrace it at first it has enriched my life hugely.

I found this old tin for sale on ebay. I was tempted to bid for it but I knew that it was so good it would go for a fair amount, it sold for £53.00. I think it is worth every penny, it is a wonderful item that shows the quality which used to go into making simple everyday things.

Imagine the joy that using this each day would bring!

Antique Art Nouveau Glasgow School John Buchanan "Jewelled" Panelled Biscuit Tin c1910.
Stands 8 1/4 inches high. Base measures 6 3/4 x 6 3/4 inches.


The top of the tin sparkles with jewel like colours.

While the manufacturers details are inside the lid. 

According to The Mitchell Library the confectionery firm of John Buchanan & Bros was founded in 1858 by John Buchanan and his brothers Andrew and Alexander. Early success brought a need for larger premises and in 1869 the firm moved to this large new factory in Stewart Street, Cowcaddens. The firm prospered, extending the factory and adding jam and sweets to its range of products. New machinery increased productivity and demand rose as prices fell. Vast amounts of fruit and sugar were imported and jam and confectionery were exported worldwide. At its height, the factory employed over 1,000 men and women.

The firm was one of the first in Scotland to employ female administrative staff.

Although this exquisite pre-raphaelite style tin in not mine I do have one which I use every morning as we keep tea in it. I found it in a charity shop for a few pounds. It has the date 1977 on it. I love it because it has nature illustrations on all sides and the top is illustrated with a House Martin, a Swallow, Wild Strawberry and Violet. Four of my favourite things of Spring. 

Each year in April I watch and listen for these brave little birds soaring overhead as they return to England from South Africa. The Swift is also a favourite and I love their shrieking, especially when they are so high up that you cannot even see them! Sadly we have far fewer of these magical birds than we used to see each year but last year, which was the second year in our little cottage, House Martins nested under our eaves.  I am always so joyful when our migrant friends return!

Pure Magic in a clear blue country sky.
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