Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The Light of an Eye

P1070330My photos this week are of a carved head. But it’s painting that’s on my mind as I write. For when I’ve  posted this, I’ll be going to look at a painting.  A message about it arrived this week from the owner of an art gallery in Fishguard, the town where I spent the first fourteen years of my life. He is in the process of selling a number of works by Elizabeth Cramp, a very fine Fishguard artist who achieved a good deal of success while she lived. As he told me in his email this week,  the works of hers that he is now selling include a painting of my Aunty Mali.

Aunty Mali was a considerable influence in my life. A friend of my parents rather than an actual relation, she was a personality, a music teacher, a choral conductor,  a traveller and, wherever she travelled, an informal ambassadress of Wales and Welsh culture. She was also a redoubtable storyteller with innumerable stories to tell. After her death, Aunty Mali became the subject of my storytelling piece, Travels With My Welsh Aunt. It was my tribute to her. When I performed it in Fishguard, the same art-gallery owner, Myles Pepper, who’s now selling Elizabeth Cramp’s  paintings was the organiser of the occasion.

So when I get to Myles’s gallery,  I’ll see ‘a very fine watercolour painting’  which I didn’t even know existed. What will its impact be? Aunty Mali has been dead nearly twenty years. I have many, many photographs of her as well as boxes full of her papers. But a painting? Will it feel too powerful, as if she’s come back to life? Or might it be a disappointment by not being the Aunty Mali I knew?

The prospect is daunting. What will I see?

Back to life?

Inevitably, the whole idea of a portrait coming to life also brings stories back to my mind. Last week’s blog told of a singing head and also a head that constantly talks. A comment from Jean contributed other examples of the theme. Now, with the imminent prospect of seeing that watercolour of Aunty Mali, it’s paintings of heads that I’m thinking about. One I’m remembering is in an old Indian folktale about a young prince who, on a great journey, comes to a well where, painted on the side of the well, he sees a portrait of a most beautiful woman. At once, he is in love. At once, he must start seeking her out. He is convinced he will find her. Not once does it seem to cross his mind that the painting may be centuries old and the beautiful woman may be long dead. You can imagine for yourself the complications that arise.

What will happen?

P1070332Also now urgently whistling through my mind for attention are those stories associated with the Chinese idea that if a painter who is painting a figure, animal or  human,  finds exactly the right position to add to its eye the dot of white light that represents life, then the figure itself will come alive. In one story, it’s a dragon that begins to stir and then, suddenly rustling its scales, flies out of the canvas on which the artist is working. 

Along similar lines, there’s the eminent Chinese artist in the wonderful story of Tikipu, the young boy who learns that the person who’d painted the marvellous mural of a garden in the studio where he works had gone into the painting at the end of his life. Much to Tikipu’s astonishment and eventual advantage, Tikipu looks up one night when he is struggling to copy the painting only to see the artist reaching out of it.  The artist is now a very old man and, as Tikipu learns, he still lives in the garden. Tikipu is taken inside and, by the time he returns, he has grown up and himself become a very fine painter.

So now I’m off. I go with some trepidation. Next week, I’ll let you know what happens.

This week’s photos:

Talking of heads reminded me of a very fine statue of a head we saw on a recent trip to Berlin. Hence my photos. The head dates from 1918. The sculptor was Wilhelm Lehmbruck and the work is entitled Kopf eines Denkers (mit Hand) which, being translated, means The Head of a Thinker (with hand).


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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ The Light of an Eye”

  1. Meg Says:

    Thank you. Mary. This post helped me join some dots in my storytelling knowledge. I didn’t know about this Chinese idea about the white light in the eye. Marvellous.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Meg, interesting idea that storytelling knowledge can be like joining the dots. I used to love those joining-the-dots books when I was small. Finding links between stories and ideas about stories does feel a bit like that to me too. All the best, Mary

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