We have been very fortunate to have some amazing calligraphy exhibitions in the north east this year.
In March, the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society’s 25th anniversary exhibition, A Way With Words, arrived in Sunderland as part of a national tour.
And in May, Newcastle’s City Library played host to a pop-up exhibition as part of the Writing: Making Your Mark exhibition at the British Library.
Now, Sunderland University’s Priestman Gallery is home to Remembrance of People Past, by Hazel Dolby and Susan Hufton.
Seeking inspiration from Rome
In 2012, the pair travelled to Rome to find, draw and photograph fragments of Roman lettering, concentrating on the remains of memorial stones used to mark the burial of early Christians who lived in the city.
“What captured our imagination was the numerous names of people, tiny glimpses of their stories and how these remain as a testament to their lives,” reads their artists’ statement.
“Who were they? What was their status and why were they remembered? How does their existence impact upon our lives and our own mortality?
“Over the time since our visit we have been talking together about the nature and form of memory and commemoration and our part in the storytelling.
“We have returned again to themes of mortality: life, fragility, decay, death, remembrance; exploring how our ideas and perspectives are being shaped by the process of physical memory making.
“By beginning with the historical evidence of the fragments of gravestones and exploring the same human themes through poetry and prose, we have encountered connections on all sorts of levels of life and death that we had not noticed before.
“It is this interconnectedness that helps us make sense of living.”
Acts of remembrance
Up until the end of the 1st century AD, the Romans did not allow burials. The custom was for cremation, but the Christians wanted to be buried according to their belief in the resurrection.
Initially, bodies were therefore buried in secret, but eventually the authorities allowed burials in the catacombs outside the city.
The most striking pieces in the exhibition are panels that were created separately by each artist, yet seem to complement each other beautifully.
Hazel’s is in the form of collage and painting, featuring paper panels painted and printed with inks, layered tissues and dried flowers, forming an intricate collage of memorial fragments.
Sue’s combines painting and embroidery on a large panel of embroidery silks that belonged to her late mother, featuring a poem called Life, by George Herbert.
Sketchbooks from their trio are also on display, along with trial pieces.
Susan and Hazel are fellows of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators and Elected Members of Letter Exchange. Their work is represented in collections in the V&A, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham and in private collections.
Remembrance of People Past is at the Priestman Gallery, Priestman Building, Green Terrace, Sunderland, until December 20, 2019. The Gallery is open from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.