Ruth Guild­ing dis­cov­ers much to stim­u­late and de­light in two ex­hi­bi­tions of works in­spired by an­cient land­scapes and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - ‘Bri­tish Art: An­cient Land­scapes’ is at The Sal­is­bury Mu­seum, The King’s House, 65, The Close, Sal­is­bury, Wilt­shire, un­til Septem­ber 3 (www.sal­is­bury­mu­seum.org.uk; 01722 332151) ‘New­found­land; Romilly Sau­marez Smith and Verdi Ya­hooda’ is at Ruthin Craft C

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal relic, cru­cible of cos­mic en­ergy or bot­tle­neck on the a303? Strad­dling the flat­lands of Sal­is­bury Plain, Stone­henge means some­thing dif­fer­ent for ev­ery pass­ing trav­eller and for the scores of artists who have brought their par­tic­u­lar agen­das to bear on its mas­sive forms.

‘Bri­tish art, an­cient land­scapes’ sets out to ex­plore artists’ re­sponses to Bri­tain’s pre­his­toric sites. There are works by the an­ti­quar­ian Wil­liam Stuke­ley (who revered the Druids), the zealot Wil­liam Blake (who de­monised them) and Jeremy Deller, whose Stone­henge bouncy cas­tle brought an un­looked-for com­edy to Bri­tain’s 2012 olympiad. Stone­henge is the un­chal­lenged star of this very pleas­ing show, for its un­mis­take­able sil­hou­ette ex­er­cises a mag­netic pull and it has been drawn and painted and pho­tographed over and over again.

ge­or­gian topo­graph­i­cal artists made an­cient stand­ing stones and cairns into punc­tu­a­tion marks, com­pos­ing scenic wa­ter­colours and prints around them for the lu­cra­tive new tourist mar­ket. Turner and con­sta­ble sum­moned up their own sig­na­ture dra­mas and noc­turnes on Sal­is­bury Plain, but even th­ese pale to in­signif­i­cance next to John Wil­liam inch­bold’s epic view of Stone­henge at sun­set made in 1866–9, mak­ing a rare out­ing from its home above the grand stair­case of the So­ci­ety of an­ti­quar­ies’ meet­ing rooms at Burling­ton house and as mon­u­men­tal as its sub­ject.

Then, in the 20th cen­tury, prag­matic Modernists found that pre­his­tory’s for­mal sim­plic­ity lent it­self to their ex­per­i­ments with ab­strac­tion. Paul Nash’s oil paint­ing Land­scape of the Me­galiths (1934) shows a sin­gle stand­ing stone at ave­bury, its jagged sur­faces redacted to a patch­work of colours and tones. John Piper’s mixed-me­dia work, Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Wilt­shire (1936–7), has the raw fields lit­tered with me­galiths eco­nom­i­cally ren­dered in torn and col­laged scraps of pa­per.

in the 1970s, henry Moore went in close to pro­duce power- ful stud­ies of Stone­henge that are ex­er­cises in ab­stract mark mak­ing, black­ened stone sur­faces whorled and tex­tured as an ele­phant’s skin.

eric rav­il­ious turned his orig­i­nal eye on the White horse at Uff­in­g­ton and the Wilm­ing­ton gi­ant, fram­ing them slant­ing and oblique or be­hind a cat’s cra­dle of down­land fence posts and rab­bit wire. The Sur­re­al­ist and oc­cultist ithell colquhoun mapped out the land­scape of her home in the lam­orna Val­ley with its par­tic­u­lar men­hirs, stone cir­cles and celtic crosses in the 1950s. like Stone­henge’s lat­ter-day hip­pies, she in­vested them with an­cient pow­ers, ‘stones that whis­per, stones that dance… stones that march as an army’.

how­ever, within a few decades of this, Stone­henge had be­come a bit­terly con­tested site. Pho­to­graphs from The Sal­is­bury Jour­nal show white-robed druids min­gling with hip­pies strad­dling the trilithons, ket­tled by po­lice in riot gear. By the late

1980s, those who ar­rived to per­form their rit­u­als or tune in and turn on met a cor­don of ra­zor wire.

Posters and lit­er­a­ture cre­ated dur­ing this short flow­er­ing of the counter-cul­ture are this show’s fi­nal ex­hibits, for, in­evitably, the forces of law and or­der pre­vailed. To­day’s visitor will find it harder to draw in­spi­ra­tion from the stones dur­ing a fenced and mar­shalled route march around the site’s perime­ter or at the sum­mer sol­stice when ‘Man­aged Open Ac­cess’ is pro­vided by English Her­itage.

Stone­henge may be out of bounds to us, but, thanks to the en­thu­si­asms of le­gions of mud­larks and metal de­tec­torists, por­ta­ble an­tiq­ui­ties from more re­cent his­tory are con­tin­u­ally be­ing re­turned to the light. The jew­eller Romilly Sau­marez Smith has been gath­er­ing a gob­lin hoard of Ro­man cloak pins and bri­dle buck­les, bat­tered and bro­ken me­dieval trin­kets, An­glo Saxon brooches, charms and fin­ger rings for sev­eral years now and ‘re­mak­ing’ them into some­thing mag­i­cal and wholly new.

Sil­ver Tu­dor thim­bles sprout lit­tle skirts of co­ral twigs or an ex­trav­a­gant star­burst of gold and sil­ver wires seeded with gritty un­cut di­a­monds; pins and fin­ger rings are em­bel­lished with­out dis­turb­ing the cor­roded and black­ened sur­face pati­nas that long eras un­der­ground spread over their sur­faces. This new work en­riches, en­hances and some­times stitches up dam­aged and lost ar­eas. Old and new are planted or mar­ried to­gether by pro­cesses that re­sem­ble some ex­quis­ite sym­bio­sis in the nat­u­ral world: the nacre­ous shell of a her­mit crab over-ar­moured with bar­na­cles and sea­weed.

Romilly has lost the use in her hands to a neu­ro­log­i­cal ill­ness, so, al­though their unique and in­tri­cate de­signs are all her own, th­ese pieces are made at a jew­eller’s work­bench in her old Lon­don house by the ‘bor­rowed hands’ of her as­sis­tants. In May, she was nom­i­nated as a fi­nal­ist in the in­au­gu­ral

Woman’s Hour Craft Prize. At the Ruthin Craft Cen­tre, her pieces tell their sto­ries be­side elo­quent black-and-white pho­to­graphic prints of the orig- inal metal finds, made by her friend and artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tor Verdi Ya­hooda.

In Stone­henge dur­ing a Thun­der­storm (1794), Girtin uses vivid con­trasts of light and shade to an­i­mate and drama­tise the stones

Above: Cerne Ab­bas Gi­ant III

by David In­shaw. Right: Romilly Sau­marez Smith turns trea­sure into jew­ellery

Next week: En­light­ened Princesses at Kens­ing­ton Palace

John Piper’s mixed-me­dia col­lage Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Wilt­shire (1936–7)

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