I have acquired something precious. something that marks a moment in time. Actually, it marks several moments in time....let me explain.
During the UK's first National Lockdown from Covid-19 in the Spring of 2020, my sprightly, 89yr old Mother in Law, Jane, who is usually busy out and about visiting friends and us decided she needed a diversion to combat 'lockdown loneliness'. For a woman who has lived through WWII, she is no stranger to imposed restrictions, however to suddenly not be able to pop up the road and have tea with us for fear of us inadvertently making her sick was a tough call. With true fighting spirit, Jane got busy and by using the thread and canvas available to her without having to purchase anything special, she set to work for an hour each day. I knew nothing of this from our daily conversations and it wasn't until the end of October when I had made a regular phone call and request for emergency blue thread (which I knew she'd have in her vast stash) that I happened upon this incredible piece of work!
Hunting Dog-Jane Cobbett 2020 (affectionately named Lockdown Lurcher)
Like a moth to the flame I was instantly drawn to this 30 x 30cm needlepoint...where on earth had it appeared from I wondered? 'Oh' says Jane, 'I needed a project and this piece has been on my mind ever since I experienced a strange happening many years ago aged 18yrs whilst working as a stable groom'. So in fact, the inspiration for this piece had been ruminating for several decades?!!!
What, I then wondered, was this strange happening?
Seventy plus years ago, Jane had worked her usual day on a Cotswold Estate that specialised in 3 day eventing. She was the last to leave after finishing up with evening stables, it was dusk and she was making her way back to her digs on the Estate when suddenly in a copse she came across 5 large hounds snuffling around in the undergrowth, searching but minding their own business. They had not seen her so she very quietly crept out of their sight to observe them. She noted that they had the most beautiful wide, jewelled collars, they looked medieval and out of place in the world as it was. She was awe struck by their majesty. Within moments they flitted quietly away and were out of sight. The next day at work in the stables she recalled the account to her colleagues wondering if anyone else had seen these very distinguished looking dogs or heard of them, but no one had seen or heard a thing or knew of anyone locally that might own them. She recalled it feeling like she had suddenly stepped into a different world without explanation.
Some years later Jane took a trip to Oxford and the Ashmolean Museum. Whilst wandering the rooms she found this painting;
Hunt in the Forest" (1470) by Paolo Uccello
Upon seeing it, she was back on the estate, with the searching dogs and their identical collars just as she had remembered. These were just like her dogs, it felt familiar.
Now, Jane can turn her hand to almost everything but it wasn't until 1990 that she embarked on a City in Guilds in Creative Embroidery, and since the dogs on the Estate experience and the painting in the Ashmoleon she has held a great interest in medieval painting and tapestry. Whilst researching for a project on her course she came across the Uccello painting again in a book and next to it this tapestry, Lady with Unicorn from around the same time (1500)
There again was a hound surrounded by similar colours, that same feeling of familiarity. It struck a chord.
Lockdown was the perfect 'pause' to recall the events that has formed the fabric of her life. Jane chose to tell her 'moment in time' in stitches, before, she says, it's too late, and she can't remember it! And although she never did find out anything more about the dogs she saw, she does remember it as being a moment of delight and wonderment but of total displacement.
The intention was not to give me the piece of work, however I wasn't going to allow her to squirrel it away with so many other embroideries completed and lost to the depths of the bottom drawer, so imagine my utter delight when she said that I could have it for our wall! She knows of course that we will cherish it and it's now taking centre stage in our living room. She also knows that one day it will belong to her only granddaughter, who is so like her in many ways.
Like I said at the beginning (and well done if you've got this far) it marks several moments in time of Jane's life and loves, how could you not love it; not only for its beauty but also for what it represents to her and her love for us by allowing us to have it. Precious moments indeed, at a time when they matter most.