A Collection of Curious Connections in the Making


by Stella Harding

John Soane’s life coincided with the Romantic era – a time of social divisions and contrasting aesthetics when Enlightenment rationality was being challenged by Romantic ideals of intuition, dark emotion and Sublime aspects of nature.

Rooms in Pitzhanger Manor and the Soane Museum are designated the Monk’s Dining Room and the Monk’s Parlour respectively. Why a Monk? Could there be any connection with one of the most popular novels of the Romantic period? ‘The Monk’ by Matthew Lewis, a Gothic tale of murder, depravity and supernatural forces, inspired Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ in which a monster is created from fragmented body parts. Jo Lovelock discovered that Soane had an alter ego – a monk named Padre Giovanni (Father John) whose ghost supposedly haunts the parlour.

Lace Painting

Desire Lines

I’m making two works for the exhibition. One is a large-scale piece for the gallery expressing light, space and gestural movement. I’ve stencilled one set of white willow rods through lace, a bridal veil perhaps? Another set I’ve sprayed black. The two will be connected by long, red lines of painted willow – Desire Lines. These are the pathways we create ourselves to reach our desired destination rather than following prescribed routes.

Ceramic letters by Rosanna Martin

The other work is a collection of small pieces which together comprise a Cabinet of Curiosities. Some of them employ a spiral plait often associated with corn dollies. Corn dollies, the name is thought to be a corruption of corn idol, are shrouded in folk mythology. One is that the dollies were made as a winter refuge for the spirit of the harvest goddess – often represented as a beautiful bride who would be returned to the fields in Spring to ensure a good harvest. An Irish myth tells of the dolly as a trap for the Hag – a malevolent spirit in the guise of a barren old crone who must be contained to protect the crop from blight. Rosanna Martin is making some ceramic letters for me which I will trap inside basketry forms.

Hag Stones

In another myth the Bride and the Hag are two aspects of the same spirit; one representing life and creation the other death and decay.

I have a collection of Hag Stones picked up from pebble beaches. These are stones with naturally occurring holes right through them. It was believed that the holes were made by serpents and that these stones guarded against a distressing kind of nightmare which gave rise to the phrase hag-ridden. Such nightmares are now thought to be caused by a fairly commonly occurring neurological condition known as sleep-paralysis in which one is trapped in a liminal state between sleep and waking. I once experienced sleep-paralysis.

Dipping Spiral Plait in Slip with help from Robert Cooper

Porcelain Hag Stone

I’ve been experimenting with turning my baskets to stone by dipping them in porcelain slip. One showed a resemblance to a fragment from a ceramic figurine – a line of making being explored by Lucy Harvey.

Figurine fragment showing an 18th Century sleeve

Our makings are becoming connected in curious ways.


One Response to “A Collection of Curious Connections in the Making”

  1. lucyelsieharvey said

    This is a fascinating chronicle of your creative process, I am really looking forward to seeing your finished installation and pieces.
    Soane’s tongue and cheek love of Gothic drama is also an interesting portrayal of his desire for legacy. A bust of Soane sits within the Dome peering down over his collection and I imagine he would have liked to have joined Padre Giovanni in haunting the place. Does Soane live on through his collection?

    The superstitious objects remind me of some of my trips to St Fagans and Pitt Rivers Museums. It’s interesting to see how you are reworking some of these ideas and processes into new narratives; connections are certainly appearing between our enquiries! I would love to collaborate at some point if you were interested?

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