Frustration, Inspiration and Friends (bW)

Back to the Derrybawn Project.

I was convinced to spend Tuesdays down in DC a few weeks back. I needed to get out of the house, I was frustrated in the lack of progress on a number of projects, and my house is a depressing wreck as my roommates and I struggle with home renovations.

One day a week, finding new coffee shops, wandering through museums and walking through new neighborhoods, is a good thing.

I start my Tuesdays early, heading out with my roommate when she leaves at 5 in the morning. I found a new coffee place to sit and sketch recently, near the DC Metro stop at Eastern Market. A waiter named Josh has the whole thing down perfectly. Check to see if my coffee (or tea) is low, and otherwise let me sit in the early morning sun and watch the world go by. I think he sneaks looks at my sketches when I’m not paying attention.

Then I pick a museum. Recently it has been the Sackler Gallery, near the Smithsonian. A display on early Chinese bronzes and jade has finally sparked a bit of inspiration in my quest to finish my work on Bloddeuwedd.

For those not familiar with the early Shang Dynasty in China, it is the first dynasty to be documented archaeologically in Chinese history. An earlier dynasty, the Xia, is not documented through archaeological finds, and is often considered a mythical construct. The chronology of these dynasties is provided in the writings of Xiu Lin, and in the Bamboo Annals. The Shang Dynasty is believed to have lasted from about 1600BC to about 1046BC, and was followed by the Zhou Dynasty.

The display of Shang artwork is really amazing. Early bronze vessels and jade pieces are wonderfully complex and dramatic. Animal forms are stylized and shaped in elegant curves. One of the primary motifs in decorating ritual vessels is the Taotie mask. You can search for information on this in Wikipedia. It is a style of mask-like face, created in bold relief, of stylized pieces which are filled in with fine, decorative line designs. Eyes, nose, mouth, wings and claws, all are reduced to bold shapes and contained in clearly defined spaces. The parallels to Northwest Coast Native American art were inescapable.

The Shang masks were primarily of unknown creatures, perhaps demons or spirits. But a few were definitely meant to be natural animals. My favorite is a pear-shaped ritual wine vessel, with a mask of an owl on it.

One of the other things I really find fascinating about the Shang artistic style is the line filler between elements of the Taotie masks, which are tiny spirals. It is extremely difficult to get detailed pictures of the fine designs, due to the emphasis of photos on the larger mask motifs. But I am hooked on the idea of the owl mask and spirals for my Bloddeuwedd piece.

I’m definitely working it out.

It is a good thing someone was kind enough to push me to leave my cave and limp down to DC for the day, forced to walk through museums until weary and worn…

Friends make it all worthwhile.


Bloddeuwedd of Wales (bW)

The fourth branch of the Mabinogi tells the tale of Bloddeuwedd, (pronounced Blod-Eye-With) the flower maiden.

Llew Llaw Gyffes was the son of Arianhrod and Math. Arianhrod was unhappy with the presence of the child in court, and placed three curses upon him. Some say that she was unhappy because the child represented the shame of her husband calling her virginity into question, and requiring it to be tested magically. Others state that there is evidence in the story of the child being the son of her brother, Gwydion, and thus a reminder of the shame of incest. As the stories are collected from older sources, compiled in the medieval period, it is possible that the incest aspect, found in other Celtic tales, was written out and a more medieval conceit of a challenge to virginity was overlaid.

When the child was born, Gwydion took him away from court and had him fostered. Without a name, he was brought to the court. His mother cursed him to remain unnamed unless she named him. Gwydion tricked her into naming him. She cursed him to remain without a weapon until she armed him. Gwydion tricked her into providing him with a weapon.

She cursed him to have no wife of the races of the earth. Math, and the ever-resourceful warlock, Gwydion, created Bloddeuwedd from the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet, and nine elements. She was beautiful, and her name translates as ‘flower face’.

Bloddeuwedd did not wish to be the wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, and she conspired with her secret lover, the huntsman Gronw Pebr to slay her husband.

For all his curses, Llew Law Gyffes was hard to kill. He could not be slain by day or night, not indoors or outdoors, not on dry land or water, not while riding or walking, not clothed and not naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made.

Bloddeuwedd was able to convince her husband to show her how this could possibly be accomplished. He told her he could be killed at twilight, wrapped in a net, with a foot on a cauldron and a foot on a goat, and stabbed with a spear forged over the course of a year during the time everyone was at mass. Some translators prefer to state that he could only be slain with his own spear.

Gronw Pebr waited with the spear, and stabbed him. He was not slain, but shifted shape into an eagle and fled the scene. Gwydion returned him to human shape and healed him.

For his part, Gronw Pebr was slain in the manner he would have slain Llew Llaw Gyffes. Bloddeuwedd was turned into an owl by Gwydion, so that she would never be greeted by those of the daylight again.

No one seems to know if Llew Llaw Gyffes ever married again…

While an illustration of the assassination attempt would definitely stretch the skills of any artist, and I may try it at a later date, I am concentrating on the flower face and owl aspects of Bloddeuwedd’s beauty.

Oak flowers, meadowsweet and broom. Let’s see how we can manage that. I plan to lay it out on a scratchboard surface, using a high contrast/stylized floral design. This one will probably be professionally reproduced and I will hand color it myself.



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