Wonder in Prints & Drawing Study: Gwen John & Edna Clarke Hall

Women’s Arts Association members spent a happy hour in the National Museum of Wales with Beth McIntyre, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, who had made a selection from Gwen John and Edna Clarke Hall.

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The museum has a superb collection of Gwen John’s drawing, 984 in all, and she is well-known as an artist.  Edna Clarke Hall (nee Waugh) was Beth’s suggestion and I don’t think any of us knew her, although she shared many of the same experiences and friends as Gwen John. As Beth talked, she traced the relationships and we passed round the mounted drawings, starting with early portraits of Gwen’s sister (by Gwen) and Augustus John (by Edna).

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They both attended the Slade School of Art in the 1890s, when the Slade’s reputation as a progressive force included offering women equal opportunities with men to rigorously learn art, based on excellence in drawing (and life-drawing).  Edna Clarke Hall epitomises the Slade style of cross-hatching and no smudging while Gwen John developed her own way.  Another of their friends was Ida Nettleship who became Augustus’ wife, and Dorelia McNeil.  These women were bright stars in their time, exhibited, walked across Europe on their own, but somehow have been lost to view.   These drawings are of Ida and Gwen by Edna.

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Edna CH married at 19, to her father’s collaborator in founding the NSPCC.  Her husband apparently supported her art, but also expected her to adopt the role of a traditional wife and her art became bounded by domesticity: she drew what was available, like her housemaid, or a barn (below).  Her watercolours included one of the suffragette, also an artist, Katie Gliddon, who was imprisoned in 1912 and she was involved in the movement.

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Gwen moved to Paris and had a domestic blip when she became Rodin’s lover.  She kept more independence, encouraged by her younger brother Augustus to earn, for example by modelling.  Her drawings of Rodin, and of nuns, are below.  Religion was important to her.

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Gwen J developed more interest in shapes, often by drawing the backs of people, for example in church.  Her fluid drawings of her adored cats were passed round.  She tended to draw on anything, poor quality paper or backs of things.  The drawings in this room are stored flat in their mounts, and removed only to be put in frames for exhibition.  It helps to preserve them.

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Gwen also used repetition, the same picture with minor changes, often taking things out.

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The two friends interacted, for example when Edna CH happened to be in the same area of France on holiday and painted Augustus painting his son.  Sadly, the drawings of Ida and Augustus’ children is captioned “when they were staying with us when his mother Ida died in Paris”.


Gwen J loved her garden roses and primroses.

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Edna CH lived until she was 100 in 1979.  She turned to poetry in her later life, and the last painting we were shown (below right) is almost surreal. Gwen’s beautiful drawings (eg below left) have finally been recognised, but the lives of these two great artists illustrate the difficulty that women – even when encouraged at college – have in gaining lasting recognition.  That struggle, even today, is the reason for Women’s Arts.

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We are lucky in Wales that our museums have been made free to visit, and on a Tuesday afternoon there were plenty of people dropping in, and lucky too that there is dedication to preserving and discovering women’s art: the museum is a treasure-house of good art.


Anyone can visit the Print and Drawings Study room, although there is a charge of £54 for up to 12 people.  Booking is necessary and usually a week’s notice is fine.  The link is https://museum.wales/curatorial/art/works-on-paper/

We agreed that it was a wonderful experience, and were very grateful to Shirley Anne Owen for making the booking, and to Beth McIntyre for her brilliant choices and explanation.

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Rose Davies at the Worker’s Gallery

Rose Davies is a Swansea-based artist, a prolific explorer of different ways of doing art and materials.  Her blog as Rosie Scribblah is fun and informative.  Like other artists in Women’s Arts Association, she has projects, and her latest, following the path of the boar hunt (y twrch trwyth) in the Mabinogion, has resulted in Yr Helfa / The Hunt, her solo exhibition in The Workers Gallery in Ynyshir.   I had been meaning to go to Ynyshir and the gallery for ages.

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Ynyshir, a few miles out of Porth, is all Valleys stone and greenery, and the Workers is a light space made of the former library by artists Gayle Rogers and Chris Williams.  There is no miners’ memorabilia here.  Instead, it is rampant creativity of original minds, an art library, and has excellent tea and cakes.  The blog https://scribblah.co.uk/2016/09/13/a-tidy-tea/ has fine photos of the cakes.

Rose was brought up with sagas and myths, and has been out in all weathers with prehistorian Dewi Bowen and filmmaker Melvyn Williams, tracking down the megaliths, the standing stones, across south Wales. Rose (below, back view) had chosen 30, in groups of six with a description of each stone’s place.

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Some of the groups work really well together and, for places I knew, she has subtley captured their character.  The Fabriano paper sheets were prepared, lots of them, with walnut ink, torn and stacked away, and then other media were added on site, after she selected one.  In March and April, they combatted fierce gales and cold on the wild mountains and commons. It is a monumental project indeed.

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Although the exhibition ended on 24th September, Rose’s work is available online through her site https://scribblah.co.uk/buy-scribblahs-original-art/  – and she will also welcome you, if your age is right, to sit as one of her 100 Baby Boomers (she has done 72 now). her sketchbooks were on show, with a video too.


There is always more to see at the Workers, including distinctive pieces by Gayle Rogers and Chris Williams’ dynamic wood sculptures, and other artists including Rosmarie O’Leary and Patricia Clifford.

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There is a wall of small originals at a small price and a good selection of cards from work exhibited.  They do classes too.

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An enjoyable visit, and it was good to chat to Rose from whose blog I have learned a lot.  In my experience, Ynyshir and the gallery are places people simply like.




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Wyndcliffe Court: sculpture garden

Wyndcliffe Court is to close its sculpture gardens after September 25th this year.  It was urgent to visit, and we were lucky with the weather; not so lucky with Mike’s navigation from Newport, where we picked up my Swindon friend Linda – she also blogs and has already written hers here.

If you follow the instructions on the website  it takes 20 minutes from Newport, but Mike’s scenic route via Usk added an hour.  We were hungry by the time we descended Devauden Road into St Arvans, and lunched scrummily at The Piercefield.

In the car park was this shooting brake with its wooden estate body, which was a big car of its day.  Next to it is a modern Mini, a small car for today.  Car obesity in action. Pondering such meaty matters, we drove off to nearby Wyndcliffe Court and paid our entry.

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There’s immediate wall plaques and sculptures outside the shop, and more as you go in, with labels showing the artist (and prices).  Christine Baxter and Alan Brown have added friends’ works into the gardens of the Grade II listed, arts-and-crafts style house.

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Who could not warm to these round rabbits? Or imagine baskets in this innovative stand?

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We wandered round for ages, coming across different kinds of works in flower beds, under trees, in woodland or simply occupying the structured space of neatly trimmed yew and topiary.

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I liked the various windflowers by Willa Ashworth. You could feel them vibrate when they sounded.

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Some of the animals were cute, some pottery and statues striking.

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It is a good mix of garden and sculpting, including blacksmithing. This cordon apple tree, and surrounding woods, add to the setting.

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I found these pots for forcing in a corner, and liked the ironwork on the gates.

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After tea on the terrace, it was home the car-choked but easy way past Chepstow racetrack.

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Checking a diversion on footpath 56 Peterston-Super-Montem

Open Spaces Society are consulted on diversions of rights of way, and this application was an opportunity to find another hidden gem of a valley above Llanharan.  It was in an out-of-the-way spot, accessible by car through Mynydd Coedbychan road.

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I came up here in May 2014 about Dan-y-Graig, a lane in poor repair. The hawthorn which was in bloom in May now has plenty of haws.

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I wrongly thought the diversion of footpath 56 was by this farm, and was lucky to meet the farmer Jason who directed us through the farmyard and onto a track.

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This led, with curious cattle and trees, to Argoed-Edwin.

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At the farm, a bridleway 57 PSM turns downhill.

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The footpath 56 goes round the back of the farm, to the left, but is shown on the Definitive Map going through the right-hand side of the farm. There are lovely views over the valley and out over to the sea.

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The path has been recently cleared through an orchard and across a field, and stiles put in.

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My impression was that the path was little known or used, and better definition will attract more people to enjoy it.  The diversion looks acceptable as long as adequate width is kept.  It is not suitable for people unable to negotiate the stiles.

Walking back, I noticed that the route of footpath 56 is not along the length of the track, and should dip down into the forestry.  It’s a guess where it goes.

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There is some work to do to sort out the routes in this area.  One road seems to have been removed from the list of streets, which shows roads under the Highways department, and needs to be added to the Definitive Map of rights of way.  It’s irritating and sly, a way for Highways to save a bit of money.

Never mind, the hillsides are gorgeous.

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These pigs and sheep were happy, and I hope to see access for all users improved.

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Wales Coastal Path: Ogmore to Porthcawl

This was more of a beach walk than Wales Coastal Path: the challenge was to cross the estuary of the River Ogmore at low tide.  A while ago, we crossed the stepping stones, upriver by Ogmore Castle, from the Merthyr Mawr side and saw how fast the river can rise as the tide comes in.

This time, we parked on the Ogmore side and walked out towards the sea as the tide began to turn (tide times are easily found online).  The undercurrents and cross-currents can be deceptive.

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The river runs swiftly in the deeper channels: it is stony underfoot and the water power is unexpected, despite the river being spread out over the sands.  As we walked west, the wilderness dunes of Merthyr Mawr were to the north.  The car park is wisely on the far side of the dunes which keeps this beach for the more adventurous, horse riders and the birds.

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I do like to get the sand between my toes and it was all barefoot.  Once through the water, we looked back to Ogmore village.


Then we carried on beside the dunes towards Porthcawl in the distance as the tide started to come in.


There were lots of birds including avocets, I think – very cute and delicately picking over the wet sand.

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There was a patch of rocks, overed with coral-like barnacles.  Rock pools slowly revealed their life of shrimps and winkles.


On the way to Porthcawl, we went through the well known resort of Trecco Bay and had a wander through.  We walked over to the slipway up to the lifeboat at Porthcawl – not recommended because of the slimy mud beyond the firm sand.


Our bus back to Ogmore via Bridgend wasn’t due for a while, and we walked towards Rest Bay, past handsomely renovated and old seaside houses, white and glass in the sun.  In the distance are the faint outlines of the Tata steel works at Port Talbot, where Open Spaces Society helped, a little, the local campaigners Save Morfa Beach to keep the path on Langlands Lane in 2013.



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Seaside trip to Barry Island

A perfect day: sunshine, trains running smoothly, sea, sand, fish ‘n’ chips and a fair. The three of us, from Swindon, Bath and Pontypridd enjoyed Barry Island.  Our train unloaded lots of daytrippers at the station and we trooped off down to the promenade at Whitmore Bay.

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First stop was at the Bay5 cafe overlooking the sand, with views beyond latest beach fashions over to England where the coastal towns were easy to pick out on a clear, sparkly day.  Another customer told us that the boat was probably carrying wood – maybe to Bristol, I imagined.

Barry Island is actually a peninsular, the island having been joined to Barry in the late 19th century.  When I visited in the 1990s, the Butlins holiday camp had closed and looked desolate. The site is now housing on one of the headlands which shield Whitmore Bay and  there are plenty of open spaces in which to amble or climb onto rocks after a stroll barefoot in the sand.

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We went west over to Friar’s Point where there is a fabulous house which intrigued us.  Some bits looked a bit unkempt though the roof was good and when an upstairs window opened, we knew it was occupied.  We thought we might get yelled at.


This is a CADW Grade II listed building on the British Listed Buildings website, where there is a description and history to 1991. It was built by one of the Crawshays, who owned Barry (as they did other parts of South Wales like Cyfarthfa in Merthyr, and the tin works in Trefforest).  It has had several remodellings since the 19th century, and then got a more racy history recently, of which we found out more after walking round.  The house and grounds are now fenced firmly against the public.

Carrying on round the island, we came to the old harbour, with a long pier and Porthkerry Park ahead of us on the mainland.  The old harbour is silted up.

We walked over through a wooded path and came to the main gate to Friars Point House, where a chat gave us more information about why the gatehouse looked a bit tatty, and the current owner who has claimed a lord of the manor status (outlined in the  local newspaper) and rights over parts of the coast.


Apparently, he acquired over 60 Lordships of the Manor.  This is very different from the owners in the early 20th century who gifted the land on the seafront to the urban district council – the council’s response in curving seawall and generous public shelters gives Barry island a distinctive feel.  Another article outlines this.

We lunched on Boofy’s fish and chips, which lived up to their reputation.

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That set us up for an exploration of the other headland, where we found plenty of samphire (very tasty too) and gazed out to sea.

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It was time to turn away from the sea and into the funfair.  Which ride should we go on?

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None of us fancied anything stomach-churning, so after a photo-opp we settled for the ghost train, which made me laugh.

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We just caught the train – thanks station folk –  which linked up perfectly with the Swindon and Bath ones at Cardiff, and took me home.

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Wind energy: a marmite experience at Pen y Cymoedd

I am a fan of renewable energy, especially of the community co-operative kind like Awel Aman Tawe and its solar sister Egni Co-op.   Wind turbines have a Marmite effect – people tend to extreme love or hate – and I was curious to see if both reactions were represented on a site visit to a big wind energy project under construction in the Valleys, Pen y Cymoedd.

We booked to go on 3rd August, which turned out wild, windy and wet.  The clouds were low on the Rhigos mountain when we got to the compound to park.

The Rhigos A4061 road between Hirwaun and Glyn Neath is famous for its spectacular views, hairpin bends and access, as well as the Tower Colliery.  Most of my photos look grey and bleak because of the rainclouds over us and lack of visibility.

Pen y Cymoedd is one of four wind energy projects run by Vattenfall, which is Swedish and state-owned.  (I first came across them through the Local Access Forum, when they gave a presentation about the community fund associated with their project.)  While our visit was designed as a positive PR experience, their investment and employment (mostly local) are impressive.  I asked about access at the briefing which we had – there were about 25 in our visit, kitted out in safety gear.

I was really pleased that they said that the turbines, which are on forestry land – open access land – have no exclusion zone around them.  People can walk right up.

Nearly half of the 76 turbines were installed by the beginning of August.  They are 140 metres high, and the heaviest components weigh 90 tonnes.  The design of the site using the contours was fascinating, as well as the details of construction and linking to the grid.  For example, peat which is removed for the foundations is conserved as part of a sustainable approach.  Noise of turbines is reduced by serrating the edges of the blades.

These wind projects are technologically awesome and one of the visitors remarked that the construction must feel like the building of the railways.

We went on our tour in a coach, with periodic soakings outside. On the way to our first stop, we passed serious machinery and a huge main compound.

Our first stop was to look at components: these are brought up from Swansea Docks. This is a partially built turbine.

The blades, serrated edge and all, were there. I was pleased with the long shot.

We were back in the coach, with machines and turbines looming out of the rain. We chatted to the manager and engineer and they answered queries as we travelled.

It was a bit too wild at times, though the turbines kept a wow factor.

And then, the clouds lifted.  With the trees and hillside hiding the turbines, it is hard to believe that there are already over 30 there.

It was well worth going, and the sun even came out for us as we drove back towards Hirwaun.

Pen y Cymoedd should provide energy for 140 thousand homes without air pollution and and will not leave the scars of coal.  I expect some will be sad that the forestry land has these big white moving inventions and avoid them. I remain optimistic about the outcomes of this and co-operative renewable energy for the Valleys communities, and am always pleased to read about the Welsh Government’s backing of renewables which is continuing this summer.

Of course, as with Marmite, people will disagree.

You can see much sunnier photos of Pen y Cymoedd on their Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/120047838@N03/

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