This is the season for flower shows in England and here in Somerset there are lots to visit, so last Saturday I went to a neighbouring village, Tickenham, just to see how it compares to the Portishead show – which is the best in the district and had inspired a set of embroideries which I made some time ago…. more of which later.
When I arrived the first view was of the small marquee set in a field with lots of other tents and awnings with stalls selling things, a brass band played, there were queues for ice creams, cream teas and home-made cakes – so far so good.
I really like the shows in marquees the best – the air smells of flowers and crushed grass and the light inside is perfect for enhancing the exhibits. Sometimes at the posh flower – arranging shows such as Harrogate in Yorkshire, they hire wedding marquees which have draped walls of ruched fabrics…but plain canvas gives the best light.
Although the main point of these shows are the vegetable and flower competitions, I prefer the other stuff; children’s gardens on a plate or seed tray;
surreal faces and animals made from vegetables. But My Grandad at the head of the blog only received a third prize – what do the judges think they are doing? The display that won – and it was excellent – was praised for being “simple and effective” – but who wants ‘simple and effective’ on a wet Saturday afternoon at a flower show – we want exuberance, competition, prizes for fun, colour, imagination and originality. In all the many shows I visited I have never before seen a child’s vegetable portrait.
So when I went to the shows for inspiration I wasn’t looking for “refined” I was looking for ideas and arguments about how we manipulate the natural world for our own benefits and as I saw the baskets of vegetables and those marrows on Saturday, I remembered my own versions of these exhibits.
I went to the giant vegetable show in Lincolnshire where I had expected to just see larger versions of the above…but there was something else going on.
The marquees where hot and humid but the smell was of rotting vegetation, huge marrows and mis-shapen pumpkins often carved with names, it made us think we had wandered into a vegetable porn show. My original idea of a sort of giant Green Man was replaced by a lecherous freak of nature – and it was so obvious that everyone else saw what we saw and were comparing these vegetables to body “parts”.
I think you can see where I was heading………
The drawing for the vegetable man above was constructed from various vegetables exhibited at the show, all chosen for their grossness and sexual connotations. In the embroidery, below, I have put the man in a booth with a curtain that can be drawn aside, a convention of the popular freak shows in 18th and 19th century Britain. He holds a packet of birth control pills; apparently one grower had stolen his wife’s pills because they had made her retain water and put on weight – so he mashed them up as a liquid feed for his Heaviest Marrow exhibit – honestly this is true, I invented nothing for any of the embroideries in this collection, I merely re – arranged the visual facts. Below, the onlookers are being enveloped by a marauding cabbage.
But to get back to the Tickenham show and the wrongful distribution of prizes. Can you believe that this hand puppet only made third prize in Class 184 – for 8-11 years inclusive – “Anything you like – you made it, let’s see it”? I think he has such presence and holds the true spirit of Mr Punch that he is in a class of his own.
In future blogs there will be more stories from the flower shows which gave rise to The Flora Embroideries.