I is for Instinct - commission work in progress 2021

A pre-Darwin author of scientific books for young people, nature stories reminiscent of David Attenborough films are set within Jane Austin style conversations. A Quaker philanthropist she started schools for girls and so much more, Priscilla Wakefield (1751- 1832).

Exploring Wakefield's stories of relationships with plants and animals are designed to entertain and to interest children, often written from the point of view of girls who would have had no access to education at this time.

The oak galls, as she explains, develop in response to insects, this young tree has the most oak galls I've seen together, there would have been more in her day. They are like the doll's heads old fashioned peg dolls, so I dressed one in the dark bonnet and cloak that she wore. Bruce Castle Museum still have her bonnet.

Wakefield's books sometimes take the form of a series of letters, between people separated pre railways and cars, when travel was slow, we too have been separated during the lockdown. The moss islands speak to me of her observation and description of the plants and the connections made by sharing observations of nature from a distance.

The other images explore: the picking of samphire and the use of shells as money, the habits and homes of beavers and of termites, habitats of swallows, goats adaptation to the eating of moss and hemlock, the structures of plants, including some fabulous abstract cross sections of buds.

Eclipse was the fastest horse in the world in the 1700s. I made his silhouette for a project for Calke Abbey Stables, National Trust a few years back. Wakefield's young women consider which is faster, the unbeaten race horse (from whom most Arab thoroughbreds are now descended) or a bird.

Wakefield was concerned to avoid all cruelty to animals, these are Quaker values, upheld throughout her work that I have read.

Wakefield was interested in art andwas well connectd enough to introduce the painter John Costable to the Royal Academy of Art when he came to London from Suffolk, where her daughter lived. The silhouette trees remind me of depictions of trees in C18th landscape paintings.



Commission from Bruce Castle Museum supported by The Art Fund.