In October, my friend Liz Waddell and myself were invited to submit something for an art trail that Ashby Arts were putting together to mark the centenary of the Royal British Legion and their Poppy Appeal.
We were both given an A3 canvas to cover with any kind of artwork we liked, as long as it included poppies of some kind. The completed artworks would – along with 98 others – be given out to shops, restaurants, pubs and other businesses around the town of Ashby de la Zouch for townsfolk to look at and place bids on if they wished to buy them.
Liz is a professional artist, as is reflected in her beautiful painting of British wildlife. I’m more of a hobbyist painter and it took me a while both to choose something to paint and to work out how to display it.
In the end I chose to do a collage themed on Wilfred Owen and his poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’. We looked at a photo of his handwritten version of this at Uni, once, to reinforce the idea that all writers – even internationally-known, iconic war poets – don’t get their creations ‘right’ first time.* I decided to use this ‘corrected’ version in the painting to humanise the poet, and to include a fictional depiction of the telegram Owen’s parents received on the morning of the Armistice itself, informing them of his death. I still like the elements I chose but would add them differently if I were to do the painting again – not least because handwriting on textured canvas with permanent art pens was a nightmare! But nevertheless I was quite pleased with the finished piece, and found sitting and working on it to be a wonderful, mindful exercise. Very different to the deeply focused buzz I get from writing, but very enjoyable all the same.
In my opinion, the idea of an art trail of this kind is genius, for so many reasons. We’re not local to Ashby but Liz and I made two visits there because of the trail, one to drop off the paintings and another to ‘do the trail’ itself, and on both trips bought things in Ashby shops and had elevenses and then lunch in a number of eateries. Despite it being a quiet Monday morning on the second visit, we saw quite a few people wandering from shop to shop also looking at the paintings, the trail literally bringing art to the public, some of them unlikely to take the time to go and find art for themselves.
As mentioned above, people could bid for any paintings they liked via ballot boxes in the venues. My painting didn’t sell, sadly, though as organiser Margaret Jones kindly said, ‘Those [artworks] with direct war references play an important part in creating the remembrance atmosphere,’ and the act of remembrance is a major purpose of the annual armistice day commemorations.
Liz’s painting did very well, however, selling for £100, and as of the 9th December the trail had raised over £1500 for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal with the potential for this still to increase+. An excellent result, I’m sure you’ll agree.
*In actual fact, the poet Siegfried Sassoon was instrumental in helping Owen knock this particular poem into shape during the time they spent together being treated for war injuries at a hospital near Edinburgh.
+There’s a chance to bid for unsold paintings until 31st December 2021 – see the Art Trail Facebook page for details of the paintings and how to bid.