I debated whether to use these two tea towels for two separate Blogs because they both deserve specific recognition but eventually decided against it because of the title, the Botanical Gardens. Don’t just read the first paragraph, make sure you look at the photograph at the bottom of the Blog. This isn’t a dilemma that I often have to deal with.
I have been to Bristol on a number of occasions but have never been to the Botanical Gardens, until last weekend. However, it isn’t surprising that I haven’t been because, as you are driving through Bristol, even with a map of directions, there are very few signposts for the Botanical Gardens. I expected to see loads of big brown signs but they just weren’t there. I had heard about BS9 Arts Trail, where over two days, in 18 different venues, 75 different local artists were displaying their work. It sounded really intriguing, especially when I discovered one of the artists exhibiting work was Penny Seume, one of my favourite tea towel designers. Some artists were exhibiting from their own studios and some from interesting shared venues like Community Centres or a Scout Hut. Penny was at the Botantical Gardens.
There were 5 artists based in the Botanical Garens. As soon as I walked into the building where they were exhibiting, I saw Penny’s tea towels. Her work is unmistakeable. She had designed 8 tea towels for this exhibition, inspired by the Botanical Gardens. Penny used her digital camera to photograph plants from the Botanical Gardens which are then printed onto a linen/cotton mix and then hemmed. There are no borders, the image goes to the edge of the material. Now my friend Fee would be inspired by this. Penny hung four tea towels from a cane, pinned on with clothes pegs; a second line hung below. The impact was tremendous. Seeing them hanging there makes me realise why I love her work so much. I was stunned; I knew I had to have at least one. But which one?
If you look at the top photograph of the cacti, it almost invites you in, to draw closer, to touch the spines. The detail of the photography means that you can sense the different sorts of pots – plastic, pottery. You can see the steamy, misty window panes with the bright light streaming through. The fact there are no borders to the tea towel means that no barriers are created, you are there, in amongst it all. If this tea towel was based on the cacti at the Botanical Gardens, I was determined to find them in the glasshouses. And I did. I was with Liz who took loads and loads of photographs, including one from virtually the same position as Penny must have been in. The good thing about cacti is that they grow very slowly so they time difference between Penny’s photo and Liz’s made little difference to the composition.
The tea towel at the bottom of the Blog, taken in another glasshouse, is brilliant. Just look at the way the strong light reflects through the plastic pot at the front of the composition, you can see the way the stems of the plant disappear into the soil. The different shades of green of the different plant leaves gives the tea towel ‘texture’; there is a translucence to this picture. The white flowers trailing down the plant are tantalising, you want to touch them and sense they must have a strong scent. As I look at this tea towel, I can feel the atmosphere of the greenhouse, the steam, the warmth. The photograph clearly defines all the plants on the bench, the layers and my frustration is that I cannot see the label on the plant pot at the front so I don’t know what they are and I want to know. When I walked around the greenhouses the plants were not in exactly the same place so I didn’t spot the labels. This is what a good tea towel does for you; it sets your mind working.
Last year, when I went to Bovey Tracey, I described the possibility of a tea towel as a ‘Blank Canvas’ and as I look at these two tea towels that phrase comes to mind again. I am not one for hanging a tea towel on a wall; for me they are functional objects. For the first time, I did think about it because they are both so beautiful. I won’t but it was tempting. I am not sure how I resisted buying all 8 tea towels that were on display. I hold on to the fact that I will see Penny’s work displayed elsewhere and I will buy others that have a different inspiration. I do love the fact that Penny signs her tea towels, it adds a touch of quality and ownership, something she is proud of. As I use the tea towels, I can admire them for their beauty but I will also remember what a great day out the BS9 Art Trail was and how many other great artists I met, although no others were producing tea towels.
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum