Thursday, September 6, 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 10: An “orphan’s” story

Page from the Victorian Lady's Sketchbook, Aylestone Church

One of the most intriguing items in the Rare Books Collection is a private sketchbook dating from the end of the 19th century. It is considered an ‘orphan work’ because its creator, and/or copyright owner, is unknown and cannot be traced.

Appearing on the early pages are the initials NB, which we might reasonably assume to be the artist’s. But the full name, and gender, of the person who sketched and painted the plants and landscapes are hidden. So what can this book tell us about its mysterious owner and his or her travels?

The early sketches and watercolours, completed between 1888-90, indicate the artist’s botanical interests, but among the wildflower illustrations we find rural scenes in England and Scotland. A sketch titled Netherton Hill, near Healey House Lodge, is probably of a site in Yorkshire. A full page watercolour of a country church with spire, standing near a river, is inscribed, Ayleston, another landscape is at Lubberthorpe. Both are in Leicestershire where the spire of Aylestone’s 13th century St Andrew’s church still rises above the River Soare. In Scotland the artist sketched Hoddam Castle and its Repentance Tower, near Lockerbie, where castle and tower still stand, and painted wildflowers near Broughton’s 17th century Crook Inn – which, four centuries later, is still in business!

None of these places throw any light on the identity or home of the artist. But one sketch, showing trees bordered by a rustic fence, will become significant. Its title, Below Pencraig quarry seems unremarkable – that, is until we find the name Pencraig associated with paintings made four years later on the other side of the world.

What is the link between the two Pencraigs in opposite hemispheres? Will we discover the identity of NB? Don’t miss next week’s exciting instalment!

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