A farewell lunch to our Charity Director, Harriet Frazer MBE and a Thank you to our Donors was held at Blackheath House, Suffolk on 18th April. The lunch was attended by artists, donors and supporters of The Lettering & Commemorative Arts Trust. A heartfelt speech (below) was given by Libby Purves, a supporter and friend.
‘It’s hard to believe its 27 years that we’re celebrating, as we say goodbye to Harriet Frazer’s stewardship of this remarkable enterprise, and this enduring art. But it’s an honour to raise a glass to her, and to the work which she has done, and has enabled and fostered and encouraged; there is a whole generation of letter-carvers who owe their development to her. We do raise that glass, and we applaud.
We’re in the home of a fine architect, Sir Michael Hopkins; so we’re all very much aware today of the importance of what lies around us, what solid shapes affect our inward, psychological architecture, and foster joy, or peace, or excitement, or meditation, depending what we need and ask of it.
Goethe said “architecture is frozen music”. So every single private memorial I suppose is a frozen song; a lament. But not a dirge; because it is also a tribute; and to pay a tribute to those we have lost is a consoling thing. Many of us had our first contact with Harriet Frazer, and Memorials by Artists as it first was called, because of a personal loss. Of course there are other reasons to carve letters on stones, or on wood, and set them up in permanence. But the history of the memorial art has flowered in the saddest moments of human life. And sadness, grief, is serious. And seriousness is the root of all good art.
Out of that seriousness, as anyone will know who has looked around Harriet’s garden – the carvers can create not only solemn beauty, but playfulness, quirkiness, affirmations of the fleeting human joys which we want to remember in permanence. And to share with casual onlookers, passers by, and with the future.
The exhibitions created by the Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust – and what we see at Snape in the Lettering Arts trust exhibitions – have shown off that beauty and inventiveness: as a print journalist I particularly relish the use of fonts to convey tone of voice, intention, understanding. Its been a great service to many at a hard time in their lives – A time which has often been marked by confusion and sorrow and the hurried and sometimes insensitive matter of funerals and legalities. The calm, thoughtful interaction with a memorial artist can heal that time.
And beyond that, it is particularly important today honour the work which the Trust has done over years to promote the skills of letter carving, and help apprentices to get a start in this timeless, and still necessary art.
I say necessary because machines can’t do it, any more than machines can feel and express generosity and empathy. They can’t reproduce or create the elegance and significance which only comes when careful, painstaking effort is applied by the human hand, under the human eye, to chisel and scrape out designs and texts on the hard, unforgiving solidity of enduring natural substances – granite, marble, limestone, hardwoods.
The people who do this are special. Special because they are craftsmen, working with their hands, braving the blisters and callouses, sweating and struggling directly with solid things even though around them flourishes an age enslaved to keyboards and touchscreens, to ephemera and pixels and virtuality, and of course to the kind of art which dispenses with craft in favour of concepts – often fleeting ideas which suit only the moment.
The things these craftsmen and women make are permanent, as permanent as the precious evidence we disinter in Ancient Egypt, or the dead civilizations of South America: often very beautiful things, which speak not only to the present but to the far, far distant future. There is an additional horror we all feel – amid the human horror in those countries – at the destruction of ancient artworks in Syria and Afghanistan . Because it is a war on meaning; and on meaning which has been left to us by those whose bones have been dust for many centuries.
The lettercarvers – flourishing because of what Harriet and the Trust have done – are leaving messages like that, letters to a future which we know nothing about. They are often – as has been said of Michael Renton, currently in the Snape exhibition – often “self-contained, solitary workmen, disregarding politics and fashion, absorbed in the well doing of what needs doing…modest, with magic hands” Special people.
So salute them.