I had the pleasure of seeing this amazing community work of art in 2009 when it was first unveiled by the villagers of Ilam.
The artists who created this are Ilam Art Club, guided by Sue Prince, a local resident, artist and amazing business woman fronting Beechenhill Farm and various rural enterprises and business forums for agricultural life and food in the Peak District.
Ilam is in the Staffordshire Moorlands and on the edge of Derbyshire, UK. If you have ever been lucky enough to visit Ilam, you’ll know what I mean when I say that it is like entering a fairytale. The view as you turn into the winding lane and drive down to the village is pure perfection. Ilam Hall dominates the village landscape, but in the most wonderful way. The hall is a tourist attraction in the summer months, plus leisurely country walks along the river, the gentle pace of life and admiring the sleepy sheep sitting by the road side.
This massive work of art was first shown in the pretty little church that sits at the front of the hall, in May 2009 and in Ashbourne Town Hall later that same year. It’s a large piece of work that has collectively involved hundreds of hours of work by the Ilam Art Club.
It has always something that I could imagine looking lovely at the Nicholson Institute in Leek, where many more people could gain access to see the work and I’m so happy that an exhibition has now been staged there.
On first seeing this work you may think that the villagers seeing the Bayeux Tapestry, or rather the famous Staffordshire Moorlands replica that was sewn in the 1800’s by the ladies of the Leek Embroidery Society -which now sits at Reading Museum in a special room dedicated to the amazing handcrafted tapestry.
In actual fact, these painted panels of village evolution and community life, have taking their most direct inspiration from traditional Swedish folk paintings called “Bonad’. Sue discovered this charming style of folk art on one of her many agricultural business trips to Sweden and instantly fell in love with the idea behind the works, and she then studied the precise technique. These type of paintings would be found in people’s homes and would tell stories of the people and place. Sue brought this idea home to Ilam and talked to the members of her local art club about creating a Bonad work telling the tale of their village. From then on, a huge commitment was undertaken by all involved and the result is just as important as the the Bayeux Tapestry replica in demonstrating the art of collaboration, attention to detail and capturing the social history through handcrafted work. It really is so beautiful and detailed, it is educational and humorous in places too. It really is an important body of work that should be treasured. I wonder if the story will ever end, I hope that a new panel will be added every few years to capture recent developments and events in the village.
Although this may be seen as a traditional folk style , it is also is quite a contemporary work when put alongside Grayson Perry’s tapestries which also depict stories in a similar way.
This painting connects to various areas, geology, cartography, frescos, iconography, storybook illustrations, local history – it really is worth a visit to Leek to see it on full display in the Nicholson Museum and Art Gallery until 24th February 2013. Entry is free.
In the summer months make sure you take a trip to Ilam to see the village wonderland behind the story, take a stroll along the river and enjoy a cup of tea and slice of cake at the cafe.