Contemporary Passions Statement

Contemporary Passions 2016         Sue Farrow-Jones

Initially I thought I would produce images of Birds and Animals for CP16. Maybe domestic animals, such as hounds, as I have lived with Irish Wolfhounds and lurchers but late last Summer 2015 I started to see hares in the lanes and fields around where we live. It reminded me of a time when I lived in Cheshire in the 1970s, and passed a field everyday on my walk into town, pushing my children’s pushchair. All year round there were many hares there.

It made me realise that the South West doesn’t have many hares, mainly owing to it being an agricultural area – hares don’t have burrows, leaving leverets at risk of farm machinery as remaining still is their main protection. I joined The Hare Preservation Trust and found out that there is no closed season for hunting hares. I found it very sad, that these beautiful, magical creatures are not protected by law in any way. For instance, hundreds are killed in the Scottish Highlands to protect game shooting, removing the natural food source of Birds of Prey, leaving partridge and other game birds to flourish only to be shot as ‘sport’. Badger, fox and protected Birds of Prey are often also killed for the same reason, damaging the natural ecological balance of nature.

I learnt about the story of Melangell, The Patron Saint of Hares. Being Welsh myself I decided to visit the church in Powys at Pennant Melangell in May, where they celebrate Saint Melangell at her shrine there. She was the Daughter of an Irish Chieftan living in the 7th Century. She ran away to avoid the marriage of convenience her Father had planned for her and started a religious community in a valley in Powys. This came about as one day, whilst out walking she saw a hunter with his hounds, chasing a hare. The hare ran to her and hid in the gathered fabric of her cloak. She prevented the hounds from catching the hare. The hunter who was in fact a Prince – Prince Brochwel Ysgithrog, was so impressed by her courage that he gave her the valley and she became the Patron Saint of Hares, protecting all the wildlife in the valley and providing establishing a religious community, a sanctuary for women and animals for 37 years, until the end of her life.

I began dreaming about hares and collecting information about their history and found fascinating ancient images and historical information, stories and myths. There are many carvings and images of hares in churches in Devon, especially on Dartmoor, So…. There are many images of hares as my exhibits in Contemporary Passions this year, drawing on these influences.

My other main influence was the poem ‘A necklace of Wrens’ by John Hartnett, the late Irish poet. His experience as a boy of being the first object that fledgling wrens alighted on as they left their nest, resonated with me. I loved the poem and had a similar experience myself, as a young girl I knew where many birds nested and loved sitting quietly and watching the parents feed the young until they left their nest.

A Necklace of Wrens

When I was very young
I found a nest
Its chirping young
were fully fledged.               

They rose and re-alighted
around my neck,
Made in the wet meadow
a feather necklet.

To them I was not Human                                                                   but a stone or a tree                                                                        I felt a sharp wonder                                                                             they could not feel.

 

That was when the craft came                                                           which demands respect.                                                           Their talons left on me                                                                          scars still not healed yet.

I love his understanding of how precious our wildlife is – ‘the scars not healed yet’ being the way the experience stayed with him into adulthood and how that close encounter with tiny birds was so special and can’t be easily captured.

For me it conjures up the magic of our wildlife, of the natural world we are so fortunate to be part of. I just wish we could tread more carefully than we do.

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