(Personal) Treasures from the Australian War Memorial – Part 1

A friend recently told me about a jumper (pullover) she thought I might be interested in. It belonged to an Australian soldier who made it when he was a prisoner of war in Germany during the First World War. The jumper was made, very skillfully, of many strands of wool gathered from comfort packages. As I often work with re-cycled fabric and find signs of the history on a garment of great interest I decided to see what more I could find out about these items. Which led me to where I was a few days ago – standing with one of the curators from the Military Heraldry and Technology section of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) with two archive boxes in front of me.

It turns out that the AWM has a number of similar items in its collection. I located them through the Memorial’s online collection search facility. I had requested access to two items (the one my friend mentioned is currently on display in the First World War galleries), a hand-knitted jumper made by another WWI prisoner of war; and a Second World War pullover, which had been improvised by an Australian soldier held prisoner of the Japanese in Singapore, Burma and Thailand.

To do each item justice I will look at them in turn, starting with the First World War knitted pullover made by Lance Corporal Percy Augustus Burge, 14 Battalion AIF (Australian Imperial Forces). Lance Corporal Burge, who was 18 when he enlisted, was captured at Bullecourt after being wounded in the legs by a grenade and also sustaining a shrapnel wound to the kidneys. After a period in hospital being treated for his wounds he spent time in two POW camps. This garment was made from the wool from worn out socks and was knitted on needles made from wire.

 

Pullover knitted by Lance Corporal PA Burge, 14 Battalion AIF, in its archive box

Pullover knitted by Lance Corporal PA Burge, 14 Battalion AIF, in its archive box

As the curator pulled it out of its box it became clear that this is one of the most beautiful jumpers I have ever seen. The colours are amazing and even these photographs don’t do justice to how bright the colours appeared. The whole piece is worked in two strands of wool. It was like Lance Corporal Burge had knitted all the colours of a lichen-covered boulder into this one garment. The colours used include varying shades of grey, soft ochres, browns and rusty oranges, khakis and other greens. I counted 15 colour changes on the body of the jumper alone.

Cable and Broken Rib stitch from the front of the jumper.

Cable and Broken Rib stitch from the front of the jumper.

The jumper appears to be a classic gansey style with the body knitted in the round and gussets under the arms. There are several cable patterns on the body and the sleeves and another stitch which has been identified as blackberry stitch, but that a friend has been suggested is in fact a broken rib stitch. Looking at the two types of stitch online I’m inclined to agree that it is the reverse side of broken rib stitch, (an image of which can be seen here).

Ribbing on the lower front of the jumper

Ribbing on the lower front of the jumper

This is a beautifully knitted garment. Although there is no information that says whether Lance Corporal Burge could knit before he became a prisoner I suspect that he could. ****It turns out that I am wrong. Staff at the AWM have since checked the detailed information associated with this item and it said that Lance Corporal Burge didn’t knit prior to his internment.**** Whether he was an artist is any other part of his life I do not know but he certainly had the eyes of a natural colourist.

I took some photos of the jumper along to my hand-spinning group and we had a lively discussion about whether the wool was commercially produced and whether they would have been using synthetic or plant dyes for colouring. I can at least answer the first question as there were certainly woollen mills operating in Australia since the 19th century. Waverly Woollen Mills near Launceston, was founded in 1874 and in Sydney, the Vicars Woollen Mill moved to their Marrickville premises in 1893. Vicars also had the contract for supplying the National Military Training Scheme contract in the First World War. Looking at the grey wool that features throughout the jumper we wondered whether it was spun directly from a grey fleece rather than being a dyed yarn. We also wondered, given this garment was made from worn out socks and suchlike, whether there is a possibility that some of those yarns could have been made from handspun yarn. I don’t know.

I had a quick look at some of the other records held by the AWM and was interested to see that on being repatriated to England in 1918 Lance Corporal Burge’s condition was summarised as “Wounds healed. Feels well.”

Percy Augustus Burge lived until 1970.

 

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Coffee shots

I’ve been busy this week so my regular coffee schedule has been all mixed up. However, I managed to make two drawings on Tuesday. One person sat very still while waiting for his coffee (if only I could get everyone to do so).

Seated man, pen, ink and wash, 23 June 2015

Seated man, pen, ink and wash, 23 June 2015

After he left I drew some cyclists sitting in the outside area.

Cyclists, pen and ink and wash, 23 June 2015

Cyclists, pen and ink and wash, 23 June 2015

After several days of not so good weather we are finally having a bright sunny winter’s day. Not wanting to miss out on such a pleasant day we called some friends and met up for coffee. Per usual finding something interesting to draw when I go to the same place most weeks is a challenge. Today we were the only customers when we arrived at the cafe. So I settled on painting the tree trunk and shadows that we cast on it. I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Tree with cast shadows, watercolour, 25 June 2015

Tree with cast shadows, watercolour, 25 June 2015

BTW I’m the odd figure on the left with ‘horns’. I’m wearing my novelty hat with the cat’s ears that I bought in Beijing last year! (Oh well if you can’t be a good example you just have to be a horrible warning!)

Going medieval – part 2

The National Library’s Medieval Manuscripts day was something I was looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. Our guide for the day was Professor Emerita Michelle Brown and she was both very engaging and extremely knowledgeable.

We were led through 1500 years of manuscripts, looking at materials, construction, images and text. There was so much ground covered that I was grateful to have studied, albeit in my deep past, Roman civilisation, Byzantine and Medieval European history, which gave me something to hang onto as we careened through various historical epochs. The morning was spent looking at the development of tablets, scrolls and book forms, reed and quill pens not to mention the difference between parchment – made from sheep and goat skins and vellum – made from calf skins. Thankfully we were supported mid morning by yummy pastries and copious quantities of tea and coffee.

We were diverted by interesting anecdotes such as the martyrdom of Saint Boniface, who held a book over his head in an unsuccessful attempt to save himself from the swords of the Frisians who killed him in 754. Indeed the very book he was purported to have held to protect himself, the Ragyndrudis Codex (Codex Bonifatianus II) still exists and is located in Fulda in Germany.

One of the earliest images of Saint Boniface using a book as protection. Detail from Fuldaes Sakramentar, ca. 975. Image source

But I’m getting sidetracked. By lunchtime my head was just about exploding with information. So I took myself outside the library for a breath of fresh air and a Modernist detour with the help of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Two Piece Reclining Figure, No. 9, (1969)

Henry Moore, 1969, Two piece reclining figure, no. 9, outside the National Library of Australia, pen and ink, 19 June 2015

Henry Moore, 1969, Two piece reclining figure, no. 9, outside the National Library of Australia, pen and ink, 19 June 2015

The afternoon session held the pleasure of getting very up close and personal to some of the volumes and fragments that form part of the Library’s medieval collection.

There were little faces included in capital letters – the faces below are about 1 cm in height.

Looking out of the past, the spots are the pores in skin that was used to make the parchment. Fragment from the Nan Kivell Collection

Looking out of the past, the spots are the pores in skin that was used to make the parchment. Fragment from the Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia

Who is that?, Fragment from the Nan Jovell Collection, National Library of Australia

Who is that?, Fragment from the Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia

And we were given an insight into the manufacture of these books when looked at manuscripts with unfinished artwork in them. This is an unfinished ornamental capital in an Italian book from the 15th century.

An unfinished ornamental capital, Mantua, 15th cent.

An unfinished ornamental capital, Mantua, 15th cent.

Obviously this didn’t stop the book from being used and someone even thought they should have a go at completing the book themselves.

The man in the moon, addition to a capital letter, Mantua 15th cent.

The man in the moon, addition to a capital letter, Mantua 15th cent.

But this was a minor indignity compared to what some old manuscripts have suffered. As printed books became more readily available and affordable, the parchment and vellum pages lost their value and were used by bookbinders as covers …

Manuscript re-used as a part of a book binding.

Manuscript re-used as a part of a book binding.

and fragments were used to stiffen book spines and some pages were even used as pasting surfaces!

Re-use manuscript to strengthen a book spine

Re-use manuscript to strengthen a book spine

The last part of the afternoon we spent looking at magnificent volumes such as the Luttrell Psalter (only images on the screen) and comparing the use of page layouts with contemporary web designs. Wow what a ride! I’m still trying to consolidate what I heard on the day and follow up all sorts of interesting images.

Thanks to the team at the National Library and Professor Brown for such an amazing day.

PS if you would like to look at the Luttrell Psalter, The British Library has a version that you can turn the pages of, click here. I particularly like the designs that act as ‘line fillers’ on each page.

 

Going medieval on me – part 1

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were living in the wrong century because for the past few weeks things around here have been focused on the medieval. Of course its all in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. (If you didn’t know, Australia owns one of the only four extant 1297 copies of the document).

Two weeks ago we attended the Medieval Fest, held at Old Parliament House, which startled everyone by completely blowing out of the water all expectations of attendance. We tried to see the morning session of the heavy combat re-enactment but it proved to be difficult.

Too popular by half!, what we really saw of the combat reenactment, 8 June 2015, pen and ink

Too popular by half! Or what we really saw of the combat re-enactment, 8 June 2015, pen and ink

Luckily we were a lot smarter, not to mention arrived earlier on the spot, for the next session.

Heavy combat re-enactment in the courtyard at Old Parliament House, 8 June 2015

Heavy combat re-enactment in the courtyard at Old Parliament House, 8 June 2015

It was reported that over 10,000 people attended – so much for the theory that Canberra would be empty on the long weekend!

After we had our fill of medieval food and drink – thumbs up for the blackberry and brown sugar milkshake – we decided to take the opportunity to see the display of the Rothschild Prayer Book in the National Library of Australia. Created in the early 1500’s this is one very up-market Book of Hours. Each two page spread has a image, opposite a page of text, both encircled by exquisite margin surrounds.

St Stephen from the Rothschild Prayer Book

St Stephen from the Rothschild Prayer Book

I love this illustration of St Stephen, who, literally as a sign of his martyrdom, has rocks in his head! (in case you forgot, he was ‘stoned’ to death).

As only one page of the Prayer Book is displayed at a time, the Library is projecting onto a large screen a digital copy of the whole book. The modular nature of the layout was obvious as we sat entranced watching the pages of the book turn. Yes, not everything was invented recently! There appeared to be several artists who specialised in different forms of margin painting. One was focused on painting Gothic architectural detail, one of flowers, as above, and another on decorative lattices. Separate artists and craftspeople, yep there were quite a few women known to have worked in the medieval book trades, were responsible for the writing and decoration of the various sections of each page. Many of the paintings were made by leading Flemish artists of the time, such as Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening.  When I saw that the Library was holding a Medieval Manuscripts Day I just had to put my name down to attend (that’s a story for Part 2).

It was a happily tiring day and it was good to know that Magna Carta is still having an impact on our society today.

'Ello, 'ello 'ello ...

Coffee all around!

It seems inevitable, if you are going to draw in coffee shops then one day there will be an accident. Courtesy of me knocking over a full mug of coffee earlier this week I now have a coffee-infused sketchbook. Several pages got a complete drenching and the remaining pages now all have a latte-coloured edge. What really annoyed me was that I was just getting into what looked like would be a good person sketch when it happened!

Portrait with a mug of coffee thrown on, 9 June 2015

Portrait with a mug of coffee thrown on, 9 June 2015

It’s somewhat off-putting that I get a strong smell of milky coffee whenever I pick up my book. I’m hoping that will dissipate with time!

I’ve only just started this book so throwing it away isn’t going to happen. Here’s my Cafe Wednesday sketch.

Cafe Wednesday with extra shot!, pen and ink and watercolour, 10 June 2015

Cafe Wednesday with extra shot!, pen and ink and watercolour, 10 June 2015

On the weekend I painted a pallet across the road from our other regular coffee spot.

Chemist sign and pallet, watercolour, pen and ink, 13 June 2015

Chemist sign and pallet, watercolour, pen and ink, 13 June 2015

These were the most damaged pages so after this it should just be the odd blotch and a coffee rim around the edge!

Canberra Sketchers Group – June outing

What with the fog and the 4 degree C temperature at 10.00 am we weren’t sure just how many sketchers would make it to our monthly outing today. It turns out that  Canberra’s sketchers are made of stern stuff, in all 9 people met to draw in the Canberra Beijing Garden on the shores of Lake Burley-Griffin.

A gift of the city of Beijing to Canberra to mark our Centenary in 2013, the garden was completed late in 2014 and is starting to look quite settled. The garden displays some of the key aspects of Chinese garden culture, including an entrance gate, pavilion, sculptures and an ornamental stone. Several of us drew the bronze replica of the famous Eastern Han Dynasty sculpture, Galloping Horse on a Flying Swallow. The heavenly steed is at full pace with just one hoof touching down on the back of the flying bird. I liked the view from the front of the horse rather than the often seen side-on position. But from any angle this sculpture is a dynamic masterpiece of design.

Galloping Horse on a Flying Swallow, watercolour, 7 June 2015

Galloping Horse on a Flying Swallow, watercolour, 7 June 2015

Further up the hill others were struggling with the tricky shapes of the Crane-Viewing Pavilion. I opted to make a second sketch of the Entrance Gate, from below, looking past the Stone of Appreciation from Lake Tai.

Stone of Appreciation from Lake Tai and the Entrance Gate from inside the garden, watercolour, pen and ink, 7 June 2015

Stone of Appreciation from Lake Tai and the Entrance Gate from inside the garden, watercolour, pen and ink, 7 June 2015

As always we gathered at the end to have a look at what had been drawn, discussing our various approaches and sharing tips. Sadly our scout had told us that our plan to have coffee in the nearby Hyatt Hotel wasn’t possible as it was jam-packed with Sunday brunchers. Thankfully one well prepared sketcher had brought along a fantastic carrot cake which they kindly shared with the rest of us – now that’s what I call an incentive!

Some of the hardy band that came along for the June Canberra Sketchers Group outing, 7 June 2015

Some of the hardy band that came along for the June Canberra Sketchers Group outing, 7 June 2015

 

 

 

Westside Acton Park Containers

The most recent attempt to put some life into a neglected part of the city of Canberra is to establish an area of cafes and pop-up activities on the unlamented Futsal ground. Known now as Westside Acton Park, the venue is a precursor to plans to better integrate the city centre with Lake Burley Griffin.  More permanent structures will follow at some time in the future.

The temporary structure is made up of a collection of containers, some of which are raised up on scaffolding (well quite substantial metal beam supports actually) and others that surround the futsal slab. We dropped by to see what the fuss was about after a non-local politician was bemoaning the negative impact of the structures on the picturesqueness of the lake shore. Poor possum, far be it that the people who live in the national capital should have something to enjoy.

We stopped by early in the week which meant that only the Damn Fine drive through coffee van was open. The good thing is that they do live up to their name. Suitably fortified we had our pick of locations to draw from. We decided to have a crack at the stack of containers. While the sun was shining we had had a -7 degree C overnight temperature, so prolonged sitting in the one spot wasn’t possible. I managed to get this far before numbness overtook me!

The big container stack at Westside at Acton, watercolour, 2 June 2015

The big container stack at Westside at Acton, watercolour, 2 June 2015

There is going to be a big market at the site this coming Saturday and a big BMX jam on the Sunday so the place will be jumping.