Thursday, 9 January 2014

Threads of Time - project Alchemy, Astrology and Medicine

Last October I saw a leaflet at the 'Needlecraft' shop in Hemel Hempstead, inviting textile and mixed media artists to take part in an exciting project organised by the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies library. I really needed a new creative challenge, so I signed up for the first meeting at the Local Studies Library in Hertford. The project involves documents from the Wittewronge family collection as inspiration for pieces of textile art to be exhibited at HALS in June 2014. 

Needlelace from the Wittewronge collection DE/Lw/F32

I was surprised to see that over 30 women had turned up for the meeting and another date was planned for the people who couldn't make the initial meeting. We viewed some of the old documents, which included some old maps and beautiful handwritten scripts.
Being a Dutch expatriate myself I was particularly interested to learn that the Wittewronge family originated from Flanders, part of The Low Countries which was occupied by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th Century. Sir John Wittewronge (1618 – 1693), the grandson of Jacques Wittewronghele who fled Ghent with his family in 1564, even altered Rothamstead Manor, which he bought in 1640 to include Dutch gables.
I love a bit of history, especially if I can bridge time and discover connections to myself. So I was quite keen to have a look at some of the other documents in the Wittewronge collection. After looking on the website of the National Archives I discovered to my surprise a series of documents entitled 'Alchemy, astrology and medicine' (see here for a link).

This made me very curious and excited as I have a life long interest in these subjects which inspires my artwork on many occasions. So I arranged to come and view the documents whilst my friend Jackie was attending the second initial meeting. I have never been to the archives before, let alone handling old documents. I couldn't help to be excited when I imagined that someone almost 400 years ago wrote these documents and studied the subjects I am interested in.

Documents on alchemy, astrology and medicine.
 Ref. HALS DE/Lw/Z6

Apart from 3 printed almanacs from the 1640's the other documents were all handwritten treatises in French, Dutch, English and Latin. Difficult to read and understand but with some interesting marks, doodles and pictures.
Doodles in a treatise on alchemy Ref. HALS DE/Lw/Z6

There was one page with an alchemical formulae drawn on it. It contains 2 female names, one spelled exactly as mine. How intriguing, but what does it mean? Perhaps the owner tried to work out which of the 2 women were most compatible to marry him. A recipe for a love potion!
Alchemical formula for marriage? Ref. HALS DE/Lw/Z6

I love the mysterious looking alchemical symbols and definitely like to incorporate these somehow in my project.
I also like the look of old manuscripts and books, antique and yellowing pages, disintegrating book-covers and so on. I haven't really started to design or work on anything yet, but I am collecting lots of ideas on my Pinterest boards, which you can follow by clicking on 'here'.

I have been fascinated for some time in mixed media as used in 'altered books' and assemblage art, but I have never made anything myself in that manner. I have signed up for a workshop with Paula Watkins at the Embroiderers' Guild on altered books in February and hope to use this towards my project.
So watch this space.


dottycookie said...

It sounds like a very rewarding meeting. Those symbols are just crying out to be hidden within a larger piece of work. Fascinating!

Gina said...

I look forward to see what you do with this project Catherina.

stickyfingerstuff said...

just popped by to say how much i enjoyed your pinterest boards - you've found some lovely inspiring images and details for this project - i hope th altered book workshop was helpful and that you will tell us about it here or on hertstitch