Blog by artist/printmaker Dawn Cole
Last year, during my exhibition in Margate, I invited visitors to play a game of heads and tails. The purpose was to do initial research for a new wreath I wanted to make. Having already made two wreath’s – one entirely of ‘heads’ paper shillings, and the other of ‘tails’, I wanted the next one to reference notions of chance and risk that are inherent in the act of flipping a coin and seeing which side it lands.
For this new wreath I wanted to make the coins from lead, (see my last blog entry) and as is the usual case the piece I ended up making was very different to my initial thoughts.
Using lead offered new possibilities, and following research, I decided this time to make a wreath based on a French beaded Immortelle Wreath. (a good article about Immortelles can be found here). Using lead coins and split lead shot to replace the traditional glass beads I taught myself the craft of creating french beaded flowers.
The wreath references two entries from Clarice’s diary
“We had not to wait long. By return of post the answer came. Would we send on our certificates, as Mrs Vaughan Johnson would have to see them before sending to headquarters saying we were fit for “nursing wounded!” This we did! As quickly as possible. A few days later we heard we had been accepted would we send the sum of 1/- to the Commandant for our badges and any little expenses during our correspondence”
November 1st 1915
“Have turned over a new leaf.
Was off duty till 10am so was able to get a lay in which was really delightful. Had breakfast in bed. In the afternoon was sent to procession. It was All Saints Day and French make rather a tado on that day. This years I thought was very nice but pouring with rain. They first held a service in the French R.C Church. Then paraded to the cemetery where all the British soldiers who die here are buried.
The priest came first, then 3 choir boys and then about 12 boys in twos. Following were 12 girls each carrying a bunch of flowers. Then the French soldiers and then our British – or rather the British were first.
When they reached the cemetery each child put their bunch on our soldiers graves and our soldiers gave the last post.”
Immortelle wreaths were frequently placed on the graves of soldiers during WW1 as this image shows, although I can’t find any information about how families could order the wreaths from the UK, maybe this was managed by the War Graves Commission and is something I will be further researching
Stitching the lead coins to my wreath was much more of a delicate job than the paper ones of previous works. The lead bent and buckled so much easier than paper and the black thread at times tore through the lead when I was tying the surgeons knots to secure them.
This delicacy is at such odds with the idea of metal and adds yet another layer of conflict and contradiction.
The bending of the coins brought to mind another object in Clarice’s archive, this bent sixpence.
The sixpence is dated 1817 and belonged to my 3 times Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Clutton, and is contained within this old silk purse, known as a Misers Purse.
The accompanying letter reads
To Dear Claris with Grandmas last love.
Take care of the lucky sixpence and old fashioned purse as they once belonged to your Great Grandmother Elizabeth Clutton
The sixpence may have been given as token of good luck but my research suggests it is more likely to have been a token of love, either way, the bending of the lead shillings seems appropriate and I have left them with bends intact.
I am curious about the bent sixpence, and somewhat in awe of it. The physical connection to all the women who have kept and passed this small coin on over a period of almost 200 years makes it a very powerful token. Research into events that occurred during 1817 – looking for clues as to why the token may have been given, long shots, maybe a conflict then too and a loved one going off to fight, maybe just a simple token from a young man, I know I will never find out.
However, one very surprising connection did come to light….
according to several online sources Feb 1817 saw the last major Luddite attack on lace making machines. There seems to be a bit of conflicting info though as some sources say the attacks were in Nottingham, others suggest Loughborough, and some suggest the attack was 1816. The fact that the research has led me to lace, once again, is undeniable. It seems that all roads lead me to lace.