Dorothy’s Room (2018) created by Louise Ann Wilson

Image of Dorothy's Room art installation

Contributor: Louise Ann Wilson

Location: Rydal Mount, Ambleside

Dorothy’s Room (2018) is an immersive, multi-media installation made in response to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Rydal Journals, written between (1824 -1835) whilst she was living at Rydal Mount near Ambleside.

The installation makes material Dorothy’s deeply-felt longing to be outside when, due to illness she was bedroom bound for long periods, and also reveal how she was able to walk her longed-for landscapes by using the ‘power’ of her imagination.

The installation was originally created for Dorothy Wordsworth’s bedroom at Rydal Mount, Ambleside, Cumbria where she lived with William and Mary Wordsworth from 1813 until her death in 1850, before transferring to the Wordsworth Trust Museum, Grasmere, the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster and the Royal Geographical Society, London.

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Goya’s Dog

Image of cupula frescoes by Francisco de Goya depicting St Antony

Contributor: Clare Brant

Goya’s Dog

In the Ermita San Antonio de la Florida, a chapel in Madrid with frescoes by Goya, there is a circular scene around the cupola. It shows St Antony raising a man back to life in order to answer the question: who murdered him? The saint’s father has been accused; the corpse says he was not the murderer – but does not say who was. A crowd watches: in contemporary dress, all sorts of characters look on, in all sorts of attitudes. Among the figures is a hunchback with a beautiful dog, a brown hound, who leans forward towards the saint with more attention than many of the people.

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A Lace Boudoir Cap and Lace Undersleeves

A lace boudoir cap and lace undersleeves

Contributor: Susan Reynolds

Location: Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, UK

Description: When we admire the portrait of Mary Unwin (1724-1796) in her lace cap and that of her friend the poet William Cowper (1731-1800) with the lace ruffles at his cuffs that are held in the Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney, we may wonder not only at the skill required to create such lace but also about the conditions in which it was produced. Although we know that this lace cap (OLNCN:1279) was designed by John Millward, we have no information about the maker who executed it, or any such details for these lace undersleeves (OLNCN:1311) which were not worn by Cowper himself, but are later in date. The names of the traditional local patterns (Buckinghamshire point ground border, Bucks point crown) have survived, but those of the craftswomen who worked them have not. All too often these enchanting gossamer-like webs of delicate thread were the results of hours of painstaking and painful labour which was poorly rewarded and took a heavy toll of the maker’s health. With only a rushlight or tallow dip for illumination in their cottages, the lace-makers of Olney either worked by daylight or risked lasting damage to their eyesight.

This lace serves as a reminder of Cowper’s sympathy and support for the local lace-workers and their plight expressed in his letters and verse.

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William Cowper’s Shaving Mirror

William Cowper's Shaving Mirror

Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, 3945

William Cowper’s Shaving Mirror

It is morning and the poet
still in white nightshirt
is shaving

at his washstand, a mirror
catches his bedroom
backwards

adding a sliver of town
all-night drunks stumbling
out of the Red Lion

the poet’s face is long and bony
wide mouth, soft eyes are sensitive
his faculties are god-given

every day, scrape away
sin
a mirror within

every morning he looks in his shaving mirror
to perceive himself
as cheek and chin

no mark of sin
upon cheek and chin
upon throat his hand trembles slightly

percussive birdsong merely
blackbird hymn
praising the God of Light and upper lip

he dips his blade in cold water
his skin stiffens
his nightshirt is thin

whinny of horses beyond
clatter of pattens below
rustle of leaves, spit-splat of rain

every morning
new promise, good faith
benediction of cheek and chin

every morning this mirror frames his face
his face fills this mirror
innocent

his hands are clean
our Redeemer’s blood
all washed away

leaving love
of God
of shaven cheek and chin.

Clare Brant

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William Cowper’s Summer House

William Cowper's Summer House

Contributor: Joanne Reardon

Location: Olney, Milton Keynes

Description:

I catch your eye from the bottom of my garden, my hidden place.

The season smiles high in the great blue vault of the sky, the cold catches corners of the wind, whispers around my wattle and daub box. I watch you narrow-eyed, pulled down towards dust, my lilting walls tipping to the place where I keep my secrets buried deep in earth.

My damp plaster will dry in the cold bite of early Spring which my wooden door is too fickle to keep out. Crammed with too many voices dug deep into my walls, I would cover my ears, yet it hurts when they leave me. I long to hear them again, what they have to say to me, calling me out of silence.

I sense him still, sitting with a friend ‘as close pack’d as two wax figures in an old-fashioned picture frame’.

You stand outside, looking in, leaning through the half-door imagining it, the figures trapped behind glass. I know you want to release them.

You imagine, beneath his feet, the trap door, the desk above it, his shoes tapping a rhythm as he writes. You watch his words spiral outwards, unravelling as their fingertips touch the four walls, slip through the window, under the door. Always a door you think, always shut, the world on one side and he on the other.

But it wasn’t like that.

Life slips in when doors are shut. Under cover of darkness it comes: through a mole hole, a crack in the plaster, the glass in the round window hollowing will let in light from the moon, the voices on the ceiling will sing their sorrow and the names on the walls will always have stories they are waiting to tell.

If you let the outside in, it will blossom like a bee-bitten flower.

The ‘two wax figures in an old fashioned picture frame’, this tugs a memory in you of a pendant belonging to someone who loved you, long gone. A scene unfolding in a glass bowl on the end of a chain, small enough to fit like a teardrop in the palm of your hand. A whole world was living in there, a gathering of tiny wooden figures seated in a clearing, spinning threads of bright silk, trapped forever in time. A memory so small you had forgotten it, but you remember her, the woman you loved, the way she twirled you high above her head, reciting poetry, always letting the outside world in.

You leave me in the spaces between time, slowing as night approaches, falls. Mice scuttle through the grass and rain casts its spider-webbed fingers in curtains across the garden and, wait…here he comes, making his way through the pathways, trailing thoughts in his footsteps as he always does. The veil of fading light settles on my eaves as he opens the door, finds his chair waiting, his pen ready, his heart full.

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A Lock of Goethe’s Hair

A lock of hair framed with a portrait in an oval, gold frame.

A Lock of Goethe’s Hair

(cut on 2nd March 1823, now in the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford)

Clear as melt-water, the March air flows into the room,
Carrying the delicate notes of the birds’ first thin calls
In that garden in Weimar. The Herr Geheimrat, propped high
On his bulwark of pillows, the doctor dismissed at last,
Waits for his barber. Time to be tidy and kempt,
Fit for the salon, although his condition is still
Fragile as Meissen, and weaker than camomile tea.
The cold blade slides down his neck, gliding, and with it there falls,
As his dead hair scatters, the years of his well-worn past –
Italy, Frankfurt, the court and the theatre, the verse –
`One lock – as a favour?’ Yes – far in the past, those old Greeks,
They cut off a curl of their hair as a gift to the dead,
And the Roman boys severed a strand at their coming-of-age…
Outside, Frau von Goethe, her wholesome cheeks shiny and scrubbed
As a winter apple, goes bustling, shuffles and scolds.
Excellent woman! He thinks of Charlotte von Stein –
Her pale smile, ironic, her manners, that filigree cage
Of etiquette, trapping a passion that fluttered and cried…
Whose are those voices? Next door, or much farther away,
One, like a violin, springs in a light curving arc
While Mozart’s viola responds in its full rolling tone:
`…cut from the head of the poet as he convalesced…’
The barber is gleaning the scatterings in a white towel,
Murmurs excuses – but under the crop that remains
New rhythms and phrases are stirring, as down in the park
The tentative fronds are uncurling around the oak’s roots.
Yes, one slip of hair is a sacrifice he can afford,
In thanks to the Fates who have spared him their shears – just for now.

by Susan Reynolds

Read the blog post on Goethe’s Hair here.