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Snap of the exhibition at Dulverton

Dulverton preview

This weekend I made an arduous but worthwhile trip back to Exmoor for a local preview of my work from the Triparks residency. I had 5 portraits of local people wearing my Exmoor National Dress and also my 20 minute film of the project, which met with much amusement from the locals who recognised their friends dressing up and looking daft.

At Yarner Farm, Porlock
Thanks to John & Justine Richards

'One scene shot inside a freezer'

Last week was a hectic but very satisfying one, bringing my Exmoor National Dress project to fruition. I was taking a series of portraits of local people and making a short film about the process. There was a lot of zooming across moors down into valleys, in glorious sunshine. Just the ticket after a wet summer.
Here's myself (uncharacteristically holding the boom) with my crew, Alex Richardson (on camera) and Sacha Atkinson (Sound). The picture was taken by Steph Thomas, our great production assistant for the shoot, who used the time between locations to work on a very thorough risk assessment which ranged from 'attack by animals' to 'one scene shot inside a freezer'.

Little Prince of Exmoor

Herbie Abraham (5 years old) has to be sweetly bribed by his mum Rachael, to put on the Exmoor National Dress for my photo. The cost, a trip to the local shop for a comic. Me and Herbie part company happy.

A fellow at Cutcombe Market...
...tries the crown

Who wears the crown?!

In Tom’s living room on the eve of the Exmoor National Dress shoot, I sit down opposite him and try and discuss a price for the unique and beautiful headdress he has made for me from antlers. Though initially very reluctant to get involved with the project, it becomes clear that Tom is quietly thrilled with the ‘crown’ and sad to part with it. He describes how hard it was to find just the right antlers and how he lay in bed at night awake, turning over its construction in his head. He is in his eighties and will not make such a novel and complex thing again.
Neither of us is very comfortable with the negotiation, but after my persistent assurances that the piece will be treasured we agree a price. I give him as much cash as I have on me, and we shake hands on the outstanding sum owed. I drive off into the night with it cushioned on the passenger’s seat beside me.


Michaela welcomes us into her Aga-warmed kitchen. It’s a little chaotic and we move on quickly as her husband wants to get on with his jam making. The crew and I have all removed our muddy boots at some length, but we’re very rapidly putting them back on again as it becomes clear Michaela isn’t prepared to don the Exmoor National Dress herself. She would prefer her Exmoor pony (pedigree name Galaxy something something) to do so. Unquestioningly we find ourselves in the paddock filming Michaela’s game attempts at getting the capricious beast to keep the costume on long enough for us to get a decent shot.

House of Webber

Eileen Webber’s house at Wheddon Cross used to be the workplace and home of one of the village’s tailors, the family she married in to. Now mainly a farming family, Webbers of all generations spread across Wheddon Cross and beyond. During my research I have met many of them and they have inspired the Exmoor National Dress.
My unannounced visit (I do a lot of those on Exmoor) interrupts Eileen’s morning baking, but nevertheless I can hardly stop her from getting the Dress on for a try-out in the kitchen. Soon her son Roger joins us, an engaging farmer who’s much involved in local planning and has just visited my home turf, the Lake District, in that capacity. Like many of the Webber family, he has startling eyes set in his ruddy complexion, and in a gentlemanly way swaps his hay-covered sweater for a smarter pullover. Gamely, he chooses to wear the cape with the ‘hunting scene’ print, and gladly poses with his mother in front of the Aga. He then gives me a delightful tour of the house, which retains many signs of its past as a workshop. They still have the ‘log book’ in which his tailor grandfather noted down his sales and also his outgoings – not only fabrics but the occasional musical instrument sent down from London.
I make a proposal to Eileen and Roger: when the photographs I’m taking return to Exmoor for the exhibition, could we put the Exmoor National Dress itself in their front window, the one that used to be the tailor’s shop window? Would they mind a little bit of extra traffic, and people gazing through the window for a few weeks? Eileen is concerned about getting the windows washed beforehand but they both like the idea.
Before I leave Eileen presses two freshly baked rock buns into my hands for the train journey home. They’re delicious.

Exmoor Uniform

On the train is a group of incredibly young-looking soldiers, probably on their way home for the first well-earned leave, still in smart but oversized uniforms. They still have teenage acne and I’m surprised they have managed to legally buy lager in the train buffet. They’re high spirited, but one of them – a girl – eventually quietens and breaks away from the laddishness and rummages in her kit bag at some length. Eventually she draws out a little bag of brand new Chanel cosmetics and spends the rest of the journey silently engaged in her make-up.

Sneak preview

Without wanting to give the game away on what the actual costume looks like, here is a wee detail of the finished Exmoor National Dress, just about to get its final pressing before being wrestled into a garment bag for its trip down West tomorrow.
I am looking forward to photographing and filming on Exmoor later this week with it - and have been busy planning who and where. Confirmed locations include Cutcombe Cattle market where we hope to upstage the Charolet crosses...
Thanks to Phil Shepherd at Somerset Film who has helped organise the film crew of Alex Richardson and Sacha Atkinson

Tom Lock
with the crown-in-progress

King of Exmoor

I was delighted to drop in to Tom Lock's workshop in Hawkridge, after talking to a nice gang of Somerset artists at the 'Reveal' event recently.
I had asked Tom to consider making a 'head-dress' for the Exmoor National Dress a while back, but as his lifetime retrospective (at Hawkridge Show, see pic) was absorbing all his time he declined....But I know real no from a '' and I had a feeling he was going to come up with something.
Here Tom is modelling the prototype - it will eventually have little antlers in declining size all the way round. The head-dress 'ring' is made of 4 or 5 curved antler pieces carefully glued and sanded, it's quite a feat to find suitably curved pieces let alone to fix them together. What I especially like is the front-most horn, which Tom describes as "freaky" - its a tiny straight horn emerging from a misshapen, bony nugget. He'd had it for years, finding it useless for most of his work, but now has a good use for the freaky!
I tried it on and can confirm that it's actually comfy too....

Tom's recent retrospective of antler-work
Thanks to Carol Carey for photo

Vestiarium Exmoorium?

Enjoying reading about the 'invention' of tartan as Scotland's national dress....
I knew of Sir Walter Scott's involvement in its 're-invention' for the King's first Scottish visit post the Jacobite rebellion (after which tartan wearing was banned for all but the military). Scott - who was a megacelebrity at the time - was given the job of organising the monarch's visit to Edinburgh. (This might be like David Beckham getting the job of organising the Queen's last Jubilee - imagine.)
Anyhow, Scott decided that mass tartan would look fabulous lining the streets and thus a trend was born, with the king apparently decked out in salmon pink trews (thats skintight trousers to you) in a bid to bond with this Scottish subjects.Hmm.
It turns out though, that Scott was more of a purist than I thought. Two brothers - the Sobieski Stuarts- predated Scott's trendsetting by publishing a copy of a spurious 'found' manuscript - the Vestiarium Scoticum. This fake supposedly verified the lineage of clan tartans, and also their own claims to the Stuart royal bloodline. The Frasers of Lovat even built them a villa on their island, Eilean Aigas, where they lived it up for quite a while in Highland style (the house and island was recently for sale BTW).
Scott publicly rebuked these claims and the veracity of the book, and though the brothers' reputations suffered, the book (and the brothers' lifelong mania for all things Scottish) remains influential on Scottish identity and culture to this day.