Other friends of my parents came and went. My father described how ‘Clifford Webb and his friendly dog drive up in a commodius car of an old vintage, the tonneau of which is stuffed with all the paraphernalia of an artist on safari. Tall, ruddy, grizzled and hail-fellow-well-met, Webb has the air of the old campaigner and back-woodsman which he is.
‘Within a few minutes we are embarked on a conversation which roams delightfully through the byways of art and nature. The talk prolongs itself, meals come and go, night falls, the moon rises and the stars come out. The dog yawns. I press Webb to stay the night, but the wild calls to him. At sunrise he must be at work. He drives away to pitch his tent on a wooded hill above the River Lugg.
‘He sets up his easel before the triangular entrance to his tent, round which he has spread old bacon sacks. They keep the ground from getting muddy, and the maggots in them attract the woodland birds which he proceeds to draw and paint. In solitude, which means so much to the true artist, and without haste, that curse of modern times, with patient, minute observation, Webb records the natural life of fauna and flora in his chosen glade.’
There was something else, I could only just sense it, going on at this time. My mother was more in touch with the world of corn dollies, stone circles, ancient ritual than I was. She was introduced to these by another frequent visitor, Miss Philla Davis, a council craftworker who, travelling by motorcycle, passed a night at Eye once a week to give classes in the school or village hall. The motorcycle of this remarkable woman was hung round with whatever was needed for that week of craft work, vital bits of hessian, old legs for restored stools, rope and straw, bolts of cloth, boots, goggles, rush for chair seats, dummy figures, half upholstered chairs.
Working with Philla, my mother was to play a huge part in the regeneration of the ancient craft of corn dolly making. She travelled far and wide on tours of discovery to learn the secrets of traditional makers, and regional variations. The closest maker of corndollies she visited was in the Herefordshire hamlet of Stockton Hennor, the furthest lived in Exmouth.
She wrote, and co-wrote with Philla, pamphlets and books, and for more than a decade hosted a series of three-day corn dolly making courses at Eye.
Among the most unusual of all her creations were two gigantic seven foot ‘corn maidens’ for the harvest celebrations in the opera Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden.
About his work with the Golden Cockerel Press, which he directed from Eye, my father said this; ‘To do, to the best of his human ability, all that he is drawn to do, is the artist’s sole endeavour. At the Golden Cockerel Press we make books as well as our human bondage will allow. We choose literature worthy of typographic devotion and care. We meditate upon the form that the book should be made to assume. During the months, and sometimes years, of our labour before its ultimate delivery, we have always the image which we conceived for it before our eyes. Be that image to our thinking ever so beautiful, we believe that it can approach only distantly to perfect beauty, which would not be human but divine.
‘So the days come and go with their sum of attempt and achievement. After long waiting come the books in their slow train and interesting sequence. We ourselves have found it enlightening to read again through the list of books, studying the courses steered, the reefing process against treacherous squalls, the cramming of sail and more sail before a favouring wind.
‘And now, whither away, Golden Cockerel, with your gay colours and your brave crow? You must still be making books, risking your small means in great undertakings, trusting your patrons still to support you, still to buy your books, so that more and more may be achieved before armageddon.’
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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