Thursday, August 27, 2015

A closer look at our temporary exhibition part five

This is the final blog about our current exhibition - Witches and Witchlore: the illustrations of Jos A Smith.

One of the themes of the exhibition is the importance of this book - its influence.  Throughout the exhibition, quotes have been included from different Friends of the Museum commenting on their experiences of reading the book and seeing the illustrations.  We are really grateful to the people who so openly and eloquently expressed their connection with this work for us.  It added further resonance to the exhibition and linked it in beautifully with the rest of the Museum.

Here are some their stories...

“I was a bookish teenager, increasingly aware of how my interests had diverged from those of my classmates, hunting through the local library for anything on British folklore, witchcraft, the occult, the mystical...I told the assistant something about being interested in the history of Halloween for a project, and she directed me to  Witches by Erica Jong. It was the first book I had ever seen on witchcraft, and in many ways the most profound and important...I cannot understate the impact those images had on after page of clues, of hints at what I might be, what I might become.  They were a gateway into The Craft for me.  As an artist myself I should not be surprised at the power of Jos's imagery, art is capable of such rich and complex language without words, yet looking through the book once again, over thirty years since I first held it, I find I am still moved to tears by his work.”  Deborah Westmancoat, Friend of the Museum

“The evocative images of Jos Smith will always stay with me. 'Witches' was a volume I purchased soon after it's first publication. Erica Jong's text probably did more to awaken my desire to explore the mystery of witchcraft than any number of the more straight down the line Wiccan books I had encountered. Here was a witchcraft that was redolent of rebellion, transgression, the brooding power of the sacred feminine and much more. Smith's illustrations described a world of half-light, of blasted heaths and torture, but also one in which ancient full-breasted goddesses and the bright light of summer swirled together to lift the witch out of the dark and high into a translucent sky.”  Julian Vayne, Friend of the Museum

“I would spend hours immersed within the book; exploring the paths from image to image throughout which the dark and the light of witchcraft are expressed in equal measure. Tantalising glimpses are given of haunting landscapes within and beyond many images, and shifting, transitory forms and part-revealed presences pervade; for these are images of that which cannot be fully grasped or defined.” Gemma Gary, Friend of the Museum

Theories and ideas of witchcraft may have moved on since then, but as an inspiration and evocative piece of art without doubt it still stands the test of time.  Back in the late 1980s when I was keenly reading the works of the occultist Dion Fortune, I recall her saying that “Fantasy is the ass that carries the ark” …that is to say that, far from being just a romantic frivolity, images and myths are actually essential tools to carry us through our inner worlds.  I recall that at the time of reading this Jos Smith’s illustrations to Witches instantly sprang to mind!”  Steve Patterson, Friend of the Museum

Hopefully this exhibition (which runs until November 2015) will continue to inspire new audiences.  We are certainly getting wonderful feedback from Museum visitors.

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