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Tag Archive: History

The Mystery of the Sleeping Giant

August 24, 2015

I remember being about eight or nine years old and staring intently into this picture for what felt like hours. Of course being eight it was probably more like three or four minutes but either way I remember it pulling my attention for a decent length of time. I think it was the first piece of art that ever connected with me, I was fascinated by it, I wanted to know where it was and what was outside the edges; what was over the hillside, what was going on outside the frame, was there some sort of magical kingdom just out of sight (I was eight, give me a break), was it windy, how cold was it in those hills. Most of all I loved the little group of rocks in the centre of the lower third, to my tiny imagination I could see a big stone giant’s head lying there asleep, the rest of him just out of shot. I’m sure it doesn’t look like that to anyone else but it became so ingrained in my mind that even as an adult I still see it. I desperately wanted to visit this place with it’s hills and moors and sleeping giants although was maybe a little cautious of the giant. Not much has changed, although I’m a little more realistic about giant aspect.

Over the years I forgot about the painting, we moved house a few times, and presumably it got packed up and then never unpacked again. Then a couple of years back I remembered it existed and asked my parents about it, neither had any memory of it and so that was it.

A few months later my father had to clear out his house and showed up on our doorstep with a carload of precious things (random tat) to look after, amongst the family photos, old lamps and schoolbooks from another age was the watercolour painting of the sleeping stone giant. In my memory it had been a beautiful near photo-realistic image of a rolling hillside, the reality is different but I still love it.

I asked my father where it had come from and if he knew where the subject was. Apparently, during the Second World War my grandfather (Cyril Barker) had run/worked in a shop called Widgers on Barnstaple high street in Devon. They had sold hardware (glass, paint, wallpaper, etc) and as side business using the materials they sold had framed pictures for local artists. The artist had bought the painting in to be framed and never returned to collect it. The likelihood is that the subject is somewhere on Dartmoor. The picture was handed down to my father and now to me.

It’s not the best painting in the world but it means a lot to me. I’d love to know who painted it and where it is set. It reminds me of the rural solitude of my childhood (in a good way), something I still strive for. I like to think of the artist sitting alone for hours on some deserted moorland in Devon, blustery clouds playing havoc with the light while he tries to capture the sleeping stone giant before he awakes.

Abandoned Watercolour

Abandoned Watercolour

Abandoned Watercolour

Abandoned Watercolour

The back of the pictureThe scribbles on the back were notes my father made.

Should you happen to recognise the landscape please do let me know where it is, as it’s probably on Dartmoor there’s a chance it hasn’t changed much over the years.

Books of joy #2 – Typaedia

April 9, 2010

Hush now Daily Mail readers, Typaedia has nothing to do with children. I love this book, mostly for nostalgic reasons but also for the little bit of history as well.

The Typaedia is exactly what it looks like, a great big book of index numbered typefaces which you could leaf through to order sheets of letraset-type font sheets to create layouts, negatives and all the other stuff a working print-shop may use typefaces for. There’s an introduction page:

Introducing Conways’ Typaedia*
Conway’s Typaedia is a unique collection of some 4000 display faces.
Each is shown in its entirety, with caps, lower case, variants, punctuation and signs, arranged alphabetically in two separate sections, and all available at Conways’ as headline photosetting.
The first section shows the bulk of the faces – 3300 in alphabetical order with the second section showing 700 faces in the Agency series.
There is an Introduction to each section, a Latest additions section and a comprehensive Index.
The first section of 3300 faces is enclosed along with with the full Index.
The Agency section together with the introductions and the Latest additions, all at present at the printers, will be delivered to you early 1980.
Altogether…a unique work of reference
* Typaedia,-paedia (Latin,fem), a doctrine or learning.

From there we just dive into pages and pages of fonts, no other explanation needed. It’s a lovely catalogue, nicely spaced with no unnecessary crap, no explanations, no sales pitch it assumes the reader knows it’s purpose and doesn’t need to patronise or hard sell at them. Lessons on simplicity could be learned from here (mostly by me).

It’s a great reminder of how stupidly easy it is for us these days even in comparison to 30 years ago. When we need a new typeface we can purchase it and be using it within a couple of minutes, back then you had to go collect them or wait for an order to turn up. Every character you used had a cost, if you knackered up your design there was no undo, it was back to the supplier to get another sheet. And most importantly you had to keep your stash of lettering safe from your 8 year old who found the whole concept fascinating and would happily apply your lettering to any surface given half a chance.

My Dad gave me this book recently, which was really cool. For most of my childhood he ran a print shop (and still does), and I have some really happy memories of laying into his assorted work materials and making crap with them. I have especially fond memories of letraset and some really sharp memories of sitting on the floor rubbing the letters onto whatever materials happened to be around. Not with any real creative intent, I just found the whole process amazing, it held an almost bubble-wrap type fascination. The Typaedia was never that far from hand.

The book itself is well used, covered with splatters of ink, random bookmarks, biro scribbles and the other assorted grunge of a workshop. It’s almost comforting to have on my bookshelf. I’m slightly annoyed that I forgot to photograph the back cover which has one of Dad’s promotional stickers on it as drawn by a local illustrator (Peter Classey), as they also form a strong part of my early memories.

Thanks Dad.

Full set of Typaedia photos on Flickr.


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I am Bob. This is my blog. It is an outlet and a substitute for real life. It contains my art, photography, illustration and thoughts on mental health (I deal with anxiety on a pretty much constant basis).

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