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  • Susan Elaine Jones

The colour of landscape

Sometimes, the various threads of life weave together into a colourful tapestry.

Christmas has been spent catching up with friends who all have eclectic minds and seem to bring all aspects of life together across many disciplines. First was a wonderful day with a acoustician who bought me a lovely print of a painting of Jasper Park by Lawren Harris, linking back to his PhD on acoustics in glaciers in Canada, and my love of polar explorers and landscape.

Maligne Lake, Jasper Park, by Lawren Harris

Maligne Lake, Jasper Park by Lawren Harris

A day later, visiting a psychotherapist friend (whilst trapped in the snowy highlands between Royston and Saffron Walden) who asked why snow softened sound - I referred to my friend's knowledge of acoustics, and happened to mention the picture he had given me.

"But, that's by Lawren Harris!"

And she reached over to pick up her copy of the Group of Seven, a group of eleven or twelve artists (depending on whether Tom Thomson is counted even though he died three years before it was formed) who depicted Canadian landscapes - and have a very distinctive style and choice of colour palate.

Lawren Harris paintings

Lawren Harris paintings

Mallory biography

She had come across them by wandering into a gallery whilst in Canada on a death conference, finding a quiet space for peace and contemplation (and, being an introvert attending a conference, was coping with the extra trauma of a bunch of friendly people kindly inviting her out to dinner - which as just too much socialising in one go!). The Group of Seven tried to make a break from other art traditions, to claim the Canadian Landscape as worthy of being depicted for its own, unique beauty. Which drew in her own interest this week of The Mountain, a book by Robert MacFarlane, made into a film that was showing at the local Arts Picturehouse (but unfortunately I missed seeing).

The book looks at how mountains changed from the distant mythical land of the gods to sublime nature to something we must conquer (and diverts to a strong interest in George Mallory, which had us talking at crossed purposes about the nude photo of him - the one I thought of was the basis of a drawing by my best friend for me many years ago, but MacFarlane makes sarcastic comments about on the feminine shape of his bum and belly - which indicated that there must be another photo - another random coincidence.)

George Mallory naked on Everest

(And a whole aside conversation about heroic sacrifice verses live another day, contrasting Robert Falcon Scott with Shackleton, and Romantic death verses Tough living... and I think she said that after two failed attempts on Everest, MacFarlane raises whether the third attempt must be "success or death" - almost as if George Mallory's death on Everest was an artistic statement!)

But I was struck by my own coincidence. I visited Ipswich museum a month or so ago, and have already blogged about some of the Natural History Gallery (here and here). I had also been to that museum having been peopled out the night before, and needing some introvert space. But the museum was crammed full of interesting things, and lovely chatty helpful and knowledgeable staff, which I didn't want to miss out on.

So, unbeknownst to any of my friends or my blog yet, despite being somewhat overpeopled, I did have a chat with some members of staff. One lovely lady (whose name I have forgotten #becauseME #becauseintrovert) in the bird gallery asked me how I was enjoying the museum. And we got chatting.

A top tip I learnt at the Horniman Museum is to always ask gallery staff to tell you what their favourite thing is - as it is often a gem that you would otherwise miss.

Fortunately I remembered this, and asked this lovely lady what she really liked about the museum. Amongst the many things we discussed, she offhand mentioned the gallery of mankind section of the museum (which gathers costume and artifacts from areas of the world in a way that is somewhat unfashionable in museums now) had such attention to detail that the backdrops were painted of scenes of the place, in the colour palatte of the art of that area!

And it was this colour palatte that had immediately drawn my interest in the Lawren Harris painting. Because it is authentic to the native art of the area. A detail I would not have noticed for the Arctic, but for that comment by that one museum staff member.

Gallery of Mankind - Arctic (Eastern Canada/US), Ipswich Museum

Terra Nova Sledge

So, in just two days, threads of artist colour palettes, depiction of native artefacts in anthropology museums, polar explorers, romantic sublime, the changing perception of wild places, nude photography of climbers and what makes an artistic statement. And a snowy romantic Christmas landscape.

(And just as an aside, in a random section of corridor, Ipswich Museum has a sledge designed for the Terra Nova expedition... no fanfare, no highlighted object of the month... just something that is only notable if you poke around the corners of museums looking for interesting things.)

That's just one of the many reasons I love museums like this. I have the type of brain that looks for threads between everything in life. I like museums that do this too. Rather than clear out space to parade the star object, in the manner of "tell me what is important so I don't have to think" with bells and whistles and lights and noise, we still need places that are quietly crammed with things to discover that link between all sorts of areas of life and knowledge.

Sledge in Ipswich Museum corridor

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