The rain continued to fall off and on all day. We tried to explore the gardens and the grounds whenever there was a break. There was a vast open garden with sculpted trees, shrubs. There were geometric paths cutting through the grass, converging on a big fountain, which was still spraying water despite the rain. A majestic swan floated peacefully around the fountain. I can still hear our footsteps padding through the soaked gravel in the silence. Mira approached the swan calmly and fearlessly, kneeling down to commune with it. She squatted there for a long time with neither one of them moving. The swan faced her but did not come toward or away from her. As other tourists came out, they took photographs of this enchanted scene. We had to move on though because there was also a sunken garden, a giant grapevine, a long wisteria arbor, and a boxwood maze to get through. Even in the rain, we could not help but stop and smell the lilacs dripping off the bushes all around us.
Towards the end of the day, as we were getting tired and thinking about the train ride back, we decided that we just had time to go look at the Tudor kitchens. These are several large rooms with huge fire pits, large stone tables and racks with dead birds and rabbits hanging by their feet. The kitchens have been kept in tact as an educational exhibit and there is a model with a taped recording describing the way they were run.
On our way out, we walked down an out of the way corridor, and I happen to notice a closed door with a sign that read “Embroiderer’s Guild”. This sign seemed totally out of place to me. There were no other offices or shops near where we were and the only ones we had seen at all were connected to the running of the palace. I felt a bit like Alice when she comes upon the bottle that says, “Drink Me”. I remembered the guild’s booth from the needlecraft show but I had no idea that they could be found at Hampton Court.
I didn’t know if it was open to the public, but I decided that I had to check it out. Inside was a small room with hallways leading to a few back rooms. These back rooms were for members to do work, have tea and lead classes in needlework. The front area had a small counter and two walls lined with books – hundreds of books on all subject having to do with textiles! They were piled up on the floor as well. There were books on textiles from different regions such as Turkish rugs or Thai embroidery. There were whole sections on histories from quilting to fabric production. There were shelves of books on technique. They had fabric printing and dying, embroidery stitches, knitting, weaving, quilting – everything you could think of and more. They even had a section of children’s books having to do with fiber arts.
I kept sighing “oh my God”, over and over. I was overwhelmed and caught completely off guard at the end of the day, in a castle, in England, in a fiber artists dream. I forced myself to focus and grabbed a few things: one on quilting, one on embroidery and watercolor, one on textiles and one on doll making. I thumbed through them quickly and they all looked great. I couldn’t afford to buy a whole stack but I decided to let myself get one.
The Anatomy of a Doll by Suzanne Oroyan caught my eye. I was so excited to see an artistic treatment of the subject, one that was completely in line with my own style of thinking and similar to my work. It contained the original creations of almost one hundred different doll makers. Besides pages of beautiful photos and an introduction designed to inspire creativity, it also had specific instructions on how to achieve certain effects in facial expression, body type etc.
While I had planned to get something on textile production or embroidery, I could not pass this one up, so I bought it. I was so inspired by the designs but also by the mere fact that so many women (mostly) were dedicating their time and creativity to something that a large percentage of the population would consider frivolous but which I loved. These designers were treating dolls as art and the results were wild, gorgeous and inspired. I wondered who these women were and where they lived. I guessed that they must be English and that the book was a British publication since that was the context in which I had found it. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was an American publisher and that the author lived in Eugene, Oregon which is where I had lived when I was selling my own dolls at galleries and craft shows. The whole coincidence and the circumstances under which I had come to the book made me feel like fate, serendipity or something (maybe a ghost) was at work that day.
Before we left, I got a book list from the Guild for future reference. Mira turned in her ghost sighting worksheet to the information desk and got her picture taken with the two gentlemen who seemed as enchanted by her as we were with the palace. As we rode home on the train we saw two unmistakably bright green parrots fly by the window in the rain. We got into a discussion with two American tourists who were over on their annual bird watching holiday. What started out as a miserable stormy day had turned into a dream. We had seen history preserved, had smelt flowers thriving in a storm, spent really good mother/daughter time, and had discovered a great fiber arts resource. I mulled over all of it in my mind and I sleepily thought how much I liked London and all it had to offer.
(I finally found some of the pictures from out day at Hampton Court and scanned them into my iphoto. The resolution isn't so great but at least you can get a feel for the day. Notice, I am wearing a skirt!)