Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley of Wales was a French Benedictine Monastry for 100s of years in the middle ages.
It grew, thrived and expanded with tremendous labour from the monks and attached staff and workers.
The fish laden waters of the Wye and lush pastures of the valley made it self sufficient and wealthy.
In the C14 The Black Death decimated the population of Europe and Tintern was a heavy casualty. 60% of the population died and there weren’t enough labourers to maintain the farming.
This weakened state and decline made it even easier for Henry VIII to attack and steal all they had, to destroy the Papal and French control of the area.
Many still mourn the loss of the windows and sculptures and interior of the church and surrounding buildings. But for 500 years it has been a romantic and beautiful symbol in its own right of the transiency of man’s worldly efforts the valley itself is the special place.
Whatever we add to it is extra and one day shall pass.
“No stone shall be left on another.”
In what seems like a lifetime ago, or more appropriately, in a previous incarnation, my chosen role of class teacher to a very mixed group of young people with learning needs put me in my element. An element I had spent years training for and thinking about, trying all sorts of media; trying very hard, and failing, to understand the spiritual task of curative education.
The Waldorf School Curriculum calls for the grade 11 students to study the history of art, my class responded well to hands on experience rather than theory. Therefore it only seemed natural to begin at the beginning and to do some prehistoric cave painting, a theme that could be expanded to take in Native American art, very appropriate to rural Pennsylvania where the school was situated.
We walked the woods and gathered plants and berries to make our own paints also finding coloured clays and stones that would grind and mix into further paint and media. We even made our own brushes.
There was no cave on the campus, but as it was a 200 year old farmstead, it had an old abandoned ice house.
As well as copying the classic animal images from the famous French paintings, we made our own pictures of horses and people who lived in the community.
With fear of sounding at all boastful, this experience was the best artistic experience of my life (and I’ve had many).
All the elements I see as worthwhile in creative activity came together to make it an all round discovery for the class the helpers and everyone in Beaver Run School who came to see the work.
The only disappointment was that the ice house wasn’t as big as the French caves, it would have been good to paint for many days, but we ran out of space!
I really hope it is still there.
It was 24 years ago now.
Maybe it’ll last for millenia?