Friday, July 31, 2015

A closer look at our temporary exhibition Part Two

We continue our online tour of the Museum's first ever temporary exhibition - Witches and Witchlore: the illustrations of Jos A Smith.

The next image is of a one eyed heretic and then a wonderful raven from a series of paintings of witch's familiars (more on these in a future blog).  This image is available as a card and a limited edition art print from our online shop.

The next image is of Baba Yaga.  Here is an excerpt from the text panel that accompanies this image:

The terrifying witch Baba Yaga (from Eastern European folklore) makes several appearances in the book.
Erica Jong: “She is a Slavic ogress who voyages across the skies with Death, her companion.  Sometimes she travels in a flying cauldron, sometimes in a mortar, with a pestle as a rudder, steering through the clouds.  In her wake boil tempests, hurricanes, tornadoes.  She steals children, and if they are particularly unlucky, she eats them...
Parents warn their unruly progeny that she will come to take them if they don't behave.  She is thus a kind of Slavic bogey-person...”

Jos Smith: “In the large watercolour of Baba Yaga flying in her cauldron, I painted faint veins in the translucent skin of the pregnant belly that is the cauldron itself. This painting may be my favourite illustration in the book {Erica Jong's Witches)."

On the other wall, there is this striking image (below).  The section of the book in which this image originally appeared deals with the persecution of witches and this image is accompanied by a poem by Erica Jong "For all those who died."

This image has a caption next to it by a Friend of the Museum who shared her appreciation of the book and its illustrations with us.  

"I even copied out the poem at the back, “For All Those Who Died” into my English Literature schoolbook, alongside my work on (exclusively male) war poetry.  This was war too wasn't it?  I thought a great deal about the last line...the sin for which they died, the sin of being born a woman, who is more than the sum of her parts.” Deborah Westmancoat

This area of the exhibition also contains a signed copy of the book and other original illustrations.  These are displayed in a perspex topped table seen photographed below.

One of the images is a male poppet with a needle and thread next to it.  We chose this excerpt from Erica Jong's book to accompany this work:

“From ancient times to the present, the history of witchcraft has been inextricably bound up with male fear of women - the tendency of the masculine unconscious to equate women with evil (or at least with the unknown, which is presumed to be evil).”

Another interesting picture in this section of the exhibition is the black and white print (seen above top centre).  This is a copy of a woodcut from the time of the witch persecutions.  It shows a woman being raised into the flames.  The face has been altered from the original to show Erica Jong herself as the persecuted witch.  She reflects on her affinity with witches a great deal in her work saying: “…the female poet…must become an incarnation of the triple goddess herself, incorporating all her aspects, creative and destructive.  This is why it is so dangerous to be a female poet.  It is a little like being a witch.”  

There are lots of other interesting captions and details which are too numerous to dwell on here - you really should visit (if you can!)

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