I've been looking at some interesting architecture over the last couple of years and I'm continually amazed at some of the strange and beautiful buildings there are near where I live.
About two hundred years ago a craze seems to have started among the local aristos for building follies. Not tiny, one- off fripperies but bridges, castles and, just outside Masham, a stone temple with every imaginable bell and whistle.
From an artist's point of view they are fascinating and challenging. Challenging because they look so strange in the context of the landscape which surrounds them. How do you make them look as though they really exist?
On the left here is Mowbray Castle - one of the follies at Hackfall, a wilderness "garden" created by John and William Aislaby. The Aislabys also created the landscaping and follies at nearby Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.
Hackfall has undergone extensive restoration and much of its current popularity is down to the excellent work down by its warden Paul Mosley. Go and visit - its wonderful.
The big daddy of local follies has to be the Druid's Temple just outside Masham. Built by local folly-nut William Danby in the eighteenth century, it is an amalgam of every neolithic building feature. It has guard houses, a grotto, an altar and an enormous "phallus" stone! William advertised for and installed a hermit here for a while until the poor man deserted his post for good.
The local landowner has tried unsuccessfully for years to hide its existence, refusing to put up any signs leading to the folly. Consequently everyone knows where it is and it appears on countless websites dealing with the odd, the ancient and the para-normal.
I've got a couple more odd places to paint for the next exhibition and I'm looking forward to tackling them.
Exhibition details below.
Painting Pendragon Castle
I’ve been collecting stories from the Yorkshire Dales for a while now in prepartion for an exhibition this summer. When I started asking for it didn’t take long to realise that some places attract legends like a hedgehog attracts fleas. Pendragon Castle is a case in point.
Pendragon Castle lies on the north western edge of the Dales in the shadow of Wild Boar Fell and the crumbling ruin sits on a mound in which a dragon lives. The castle’s name is well known from the legends of King Arthur. Uther Pendragon was Arthur’s father and was reputedly born here. That’s the first legend. Uther lost the castle when an enemy poisoned the castle well during a siege killing a hundred soldiers.
Wild Boar Fell
The castle was also home to Sir Hugh de Morville, one of Thomas Becket’s murderers. Sir Hugh was haunted by the similarity between the silhouette of Wild Boar Fell and the shape of Becket’s face in death. From the right angle the hill looks like the profile of a fallen man.
As if all this wasn’t sufficient for one ruin there is also a buried treasure which is guarded by a spectral black hen. As fast as a treasure hunter digs a hole the hen fills it back in.
So, for my forthcoming exhibition, I’ve been wrestling with how to portray this mysterious place. In the first painting I played with idea of an aura, using a halo effect to enclose the castle and echo the shape of the tree. In the second I drew my inspiration from the colours of the hen: black feathers, red wattle. And in the third I tried to bring an other-wordly, unreal feeling to the castle’s silhouette.
Tulips in Watercolour
For those interested in watercolour floral painting there are still a few places left on the course I’m teaching at Constable Burton. Run by Artison studios of Masham, the course includes a tour of the beautiful gardens and lovely Palladian house of Constable Burton as well as lunch. CLICK HERE for further details and to book a place.
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