Land & People: Painting the Lower Hearth Room
First the story: When we bought the castle, Liz told long time friend and artist Veda Crewe about her dream of colorful medieval painting. Veda said, "When I retire, I will come paint murals in your tower". And she did, and we did!
Design: During the pandemic, Veda and Liz got together and discussed thoughts. There was a plan for Veda to come over later in 2021. We reviewed many images and Liz really wanted strong colored imagery that evoked a medieval feel, although the patterns come from extant 16th century sources. Originally Liz planned to have two different patterns on the walls, one blue and one red. Due to the arches, nooks and crannies in the room the two patterns would have been very broken up, so we settled on the red one: the 16th century pattern from a house in Oxford, England. Little did she/we know that to reproduce the pattern it had so much work in it that two years later we are still trying to finish it! The next set of images comes from the DeBurgo (Burke) Manuscript, written in Irish in the late 16th century (Trinity College, Dublin). It shows men or soldiers with heraldry, and we adapted them to be in armor, but a bit earlier dress. We also put the Siggins (assumed) heraldry of the double eagle on their shields. The next set of women come from Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Like the DeBurgo men, these ladies were in later Elizabeth dress, which Veda drew in an earlier Tudor style. The castle was likely built around 1520-1550 so Liz wanted an earlier fashion and feel to the room. We took some of the Muses for three patronesses - people who died in Liz's family and left money that was used for the project. We also recreated seven Virtues on the East wall. The north wall features an Agricultural Calendar that dates from 15th century Germany. We left the people in lower-class dress as they are doing field work and chores. It is delightful to see the months and how they align to work still happening in the fields around Sigginstown. On the South wall the main element is the hearth hood. The original design with symmetrical heraldry changed due to the shape of the hood, so it became a more organic collection of heraldic items tied together with leafy vines. Calligraphy created by Sondra Venable and was sent to Liz in email including Shakespeare quotes about age, and verses in Yola, an ancient local language. These complete the room along with lots of little creatures! Liz ordered a sample of the Beeck mineral paints and we tested these on samples of lime-plaster brought from Ireland. They covered well but it was hard for Veda to paint fine details due to the rougher plaster surfaces.
Installation: For the wall pattern, Veda traced the original from Oxford and deemed it to be hand-drawn from the irregular tracery. Liz took the tracing, projected it on a wall to enlarge an cut a 24" wide stencil of the quatrefoil pattern, and then a second one with flower "blobs" to go on top. She didn't realize at the time, and not until well into the painting of the flowers, that by projecting the images onto a fixed 24" width we were inadvertently shrinking the scale and this would cause a lot more work (more flowers and tracery!) Veda create sketches of each image going above the main wall pattern, and then colored the paper versions to give an example that was taped on the wall to be filled in. Liz created a digital presentation that had the dimensions of each wall, and made a mockup using the sample source images. In August 2021, Liz prepared the lime-plastered walls by putting on first the red oxide Beeck mineral paint, and white above it where the other images would go. The red paint was so red and almost velvety in texture going on. Then she laid on the stencil in yellow ochre for the tracery and flower blobs. In September 2021 Veda and husband Robert arrived, along with friend Tom Justin to project the images, draw them in with grease pencil, and start painting. The walls in this room are tall, almost 10 feet, and reaching the top was difficult, requiring tall ladders. (Liz had painted the ceiling with stars earlier in the summer and this took its toll physically, like Michelangelo!) Daughter Morgan also helped with painting the calligraphy on the beams, and local artist Rosemarie Morris helped paint detail on many items. Later we had help from the local Society for Creative Anachronism group to draw lines on the wall pattern. In September the room, with good progress but not complete, was filmed for The Great House Revival (Season 3, Episode 6) and we celebrated by cooking a medieval dinner in the hearth! Six months later, in April 2022, Veda and Robert returned with helpers Elain Allen and Jazmine Carroll to finish off the detail. Jazmine worked mainly in the Lower Hearth room, and Rosemarie Morriss returned to help. All of the images were completely detailed. WIth the amazing walls finisged, the room still did not have a floor, and in October 2022 the hand-made clay tiles were installed which complement the red walls. However, in 2024 the flowers on the wall pattern still remain to be completed. A few at a time are done by Liz, with friends Francis Scattergood and Dahlia Gannon helping. It will eventually be finished!