Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Random thoughts while traveling to Alaska - #2 Musk Oxen are surprisingly small!

I had heard of Musk Oxen but hadn't given then much thought before encountering them at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre, which we visited on our way from the port of Whittier to Anchorage on our Alaskan adventure.


I was shocked to see that Musk Oxen are surprisingly small!


I imagined they were cow-size, but they are short, in fact they are closely related to goats.


This is a bedraggled Musk Ox . . . it was raining (in fact it rained rather a lot!) when a Musk Ox is dry it is fluffy, like this stuffed one I met in Anchorage Museum. You need to be prepared to meet a lot of stuffed animals if you go to Alaska.


Baby Musk Oxen are incredibly fluffy and very cute! 


Musk Oxen look as if they have walked out of a Neolithic cave drawing – square bodies, short legs and comedy horns! In fact the horns are very useful . . . if the herd is threatened the adult Musk Oxen stand in a circle facing outwards with the calves in the centre, creating an armoured wall with their horns. 


I'd heard a rumour that yarn made from Musk Oxen fibre is very special  . . . in fact it is the warmest fibre in the world!


In summer Musk Oxen shed the fluffy under hair, it hangs in dreadlocks and must feel very itchy and uncomfortable.



The Musk Oxen at the Wildlife Centre have convenient car-wash brushes to scratch themselves on . . . and leave the precious fibre so that it can be processed into yarn.


Earlier in our holiday we'd visited Skagway where I'd found a shop selling Qiviut, the name for Musk Ox fibre. I was invited to hold out my hands and some un-spun Qiviut fibre was placed on the back of my hands - not on my palms, as my hand oils would contaminate it. It was like having a little heated cloud over my skin, my body heat was being reflected back by the fine dense hairs.

The Qiviut yarn was available in some beautiful subtle colours, the brown fibre isn't bleached before dying so the shades all have an earthy quality. And Qiviut isn't cheap, at nearly $100 an ounce it is a luxury yarn . . . I was tempted but decided not to buy. 


At the end of our holiday in Alaska we were briefly back in Anchorage and I had time to visit this little shop . . .


Oomingmak is the HQ of the Musk Ox Producers Cooperative and it sells hand knits made by cooperative members scattered in isolated communities mainly in the far west of Alaska.


Like other traditional knitting such as Aran and Guernsey, each community has its own designs. Traditional Qiviut scarves are knitted in natural undyed yarn, the lace is blocked on these printed cardboard grids.



I wish I'd had more time (and also that I wasn't coughing so much from the cold I'd gone down with!) I would have loved to chat with the Oomingmak knitting ladies who were sorting through piles of beautiful lace scarves around the table in the little wooden cabin.

However, I did buy some souvenirs . . .
some unspun Qiviut fibre, a 1 gram skein of yarn and a little purse which I'll use for keeping my stitch markers.


So, like me, you probably now know far more about Musk Oxen than you didn't know you didn't know before!

If you would like to know even more, here's a cute film from the Oomingmak web site.



Celia
xx



Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Random thoughts while traveling to Alaska - #1 who was Vancouver?

Cliff and I have recently returned from a 3 week holiday which started by flying to Vancouver and continued by cruise boat along the 'Inside Passage' between Vancover Island and the mainland and meandering through narrow channels along the South-East Alaskan coast and across the Gulf of Alaska to Prince William sound and the port of Whitier; before we explored a small part of 'the great land' by car.


It was while gazing out at the ever-changing coastal scenery, that my mind wandered to thinking "who was Vancouver?". I had a vague memory that he was from King's Lynn in Norfolk . . . and Vancouver city and Vancouver Island are named after him.




George Vancouver was born on 22 June 1757, the 6th and youngest child of the deputy collector of customs at the port of King's Lynn in Norfolk.

In 1771 aged 13 he joined the Royal Navy as a trainee midshipman. Within a year he was serving aboard HMS Resolution on Captain Cook's 2nd great voyage around the world. This was the start of George Vancouver's adventures, in 1776 he joined the crew on Captain Cook's 3rd voyage arriving home safely in 1780 after Cook's tragic death in Hawaii. 

George Vancouver then served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, spending the next 5 years on warships keeping the peace in disputes with the Spanish fleet around the West Indies and then along the American North Pacific coast.


So in 1791 he was well qualified to take command of a voyage of exploration, The Vancouver Expedition consisted of two ships and the mission was to survey the coastlines of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and China. Then on to the West coast of North America - what is now Oregon - and north following the inside passage East of Vancouver Island, all along the coast to Alaska.

The coast of British Columbia and Alaska is scattered with places named after East Anglian villages that George Vancouver would have known as a child, and the names of his close friends and relatives.

The maps and charts that he made were so accurate that they are still in use today.



In September 1795 George Vancouver returned to England, he was 38 years old and had probably travelled further than any any other living person. He chose Petersham in South London for his retirement because he liked the view from Richmond Hill, but unfortunately there were people determined to make his life back home a misery . . . commanding an expedition lasting years, thousands of miles from home must have required determination and strong management skills, it seems George Vancouver upset one or two people with friends and relatives in high places. One was Thomas Pitt, a relative of the Prime Minister, who Vancouver had disciplined and sent back home in disgrace; Thomas Pitt hounded his former Commander, stalking him in the street and once actually attacking him in public. 

'The Caneing in Conduit Street' (1796) by James Gillray
A caricature of Thomas Pitt's streetcorner assault on George Vancouver.



Tired and ill from a life sailing the oceans and now from verbal and physical attacks by his well connected enemies, George Vancouver died on 10 May 1798 aged 40. He is buried in St Peter's churchyard, Petersham, nr Richmond on Thames, London.

What an amazing life George Vancouver led, sailing uncharted oceans and stepping onto unknown shores, not knowing what would be around the next headland. And having the skill and knowledge to survey and record every island and bay along thousands of miles of coastline. 

The modern ship we were on, steered its course using all sorts of navigating aids, satellites and GPS . . .  way beyond the dreams of George Vancouver; but I suspect the misty bays and islands, the pods of orcas, the sea otters and sea lions swimming alongside and the eagles in the trees along the beaches look much the same today as they did when he sailed to Alaska.

Celia
xx

Monday, 7 July 2014

Le Tour de France en Essex

It's hard to believe but today Le tour de France came to a lane not far from where we live; when the greatest cycle race in the world is on your own doorstep, surely it's worth wandering along to see?!


There were lots of road closures, so getting to a good vantage point needed planning and a walk long shady lanes . . .


Through cool woods . . .


Alongside fields of ripening wheat, into the open sunny landscape of North Essex . . .


.  .  . to the edge of a tiny village called Little Chesterford.


A good number of people where waiting at the roundabout. The atmosphere was jolly and expectant.


Everyone cheered any vehicle that passed by – sponsors' vans, the French gendarmes and the press. Local police got loud applause especially if they waved!


I think the sun made us all a little sleepy, enthusiasm had definitely peaked a little early. 

Then, at just before 1pm and heralded by 6 helicopters and an escort of bright yellow police motorbikes, the peloton was upon us!


A steady stream of colourful lycra . . .


Then it was gone.


C'st tout!

Au revoir Le Tour! 


Did Le Tour come to a road near you? Did you go to watch?

Celia
xx

Friday, 13 June 2014

Visible mending

Two years ago I went for a walk wearing an almost new pair of trousers, I skidded on some gravel while crossing a dry ford and landed with a bump. Then I picked myself up and examined the damage - grazed palms, a grazed and bleeding knee AND a gaping hole in my trousers!
I've been meaning to mend them but kept putting them aside, until today when I sat down in a shady place in the garden and mended the hole.


Inspired by Japanese Sashiko 


Circular patterns in little running stitches


Stitches that firmly hold the tears to a patch underneath


Visible Mending.

And while I stitched I listened to a concert of birdsong . . . I've put a little film with sound over on Instagram

Celia
xx