Tucked away somewhere in a village hall in Llanybri are twelve iconic embroidered panels, which depict life in Carmarthenshire. One of the artists who led the project to make the panels is Aurelia Reynolds.
Artist Aurelai Reynolds (pictured) uses found pieces of wood and acrylics to produce her icons and angels. Colourful, textured and thought provoking pieces, which have been produced throughout Aurelia’s battle with cancer.
Aurelia explains: “Throughout my life I have always had a close attachment to the land, the great outdoors, plants and the creatures that live in it. My work as a textile artist allows me not only explore these themes, but also to incorporate the use of natural materials – fibres, dyes and recycled organic forms.
“From the balcony in my bedroom there is a panoramic view of the fields and hills and the endless sky. Every day I watch the infinite variety of dawn and its impact on the landscape changing with different seasons. It is a constant source of inspiration to explore colour and light in various textile and watercolour techniques.
“I watch the patterns of growth and decay, the changing seasons revealing the effects of light, water, heat and ice and I sense the timelessness of nature, which perseveres despite the interference of man and machine. Man may live his earthly life and die, but the natural elements are timeless and endless. During the period from 2008-onwards, I have increasingly felt the need to explore a ‘richness’ of surface with mainly painted acrylic/ watercolour medium and also stained glass techniques. This has developed into a series of paintings and “semi sculptures” on recycled and textured ancient wood blocks, based on “Angels”. Insets of glass beads are occasionally inserted. I feel transported into the life of the works I’m trying to create and strive to achieve the finest colour and texture combinations on an increasingly small scale. The Angel series has given me opportunity to consolidate my religious and spiritual beliefs and given me the chance to read and research Medieval art and history. It has been an enormous source of support particularly during the last few years when I suffered serious illness.”
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches. Icons are also used, particularly in modern culture, in the general sense of symbol — i.e. a name, face, picture, edifice or even a person readily recognised as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities.
It may be a complete coincidence that Aurelia also worked on the Llanybri Millennium Embroidery Project 2000 with the Llanybrii Ladies Circle. The panels are stunningly beautiful and iconic in their representation. Some of the pieces really have a religious feel to them. On first seeing them I would not have argued if someone had said that they had been produced by angels.
The original idea to create a “tapestry” depicting events in Llanybri district over the last two millennia, came originally from discussions held by “The Ladies Circle”, a group of local ladies who meet on a regular basis. It was decided to ask local Textile and Watercolour Artist Aurelia Reynolds to design the project, using reference to local history. Aurelia designed 12 panels to cover aspects of life in Llanybri, and decided that it would be more interesting and aesthetically pleasing to work on dyed grounds of linen with embroidery threads and techniques. It would enable the ladies who undertook to embroider the panels a greater chance for individual freedom of interpretation, and to explore and learn more about embroidered work. The panels were first designed in watercolours, and then transferred to linen grounds using dyes and fabric paints. The selection of ideas to be interpreted necessitated looking at elements of local history and events concerning the way of life in Rural Wales. The theme of “Work and Worship” allowed a broad interpretation of a philosophy of life as well as events and places.
“WORK AND WORSHIP”
Embroidered by: Judy Wright and Dinah Thomas
Red ribbon represents Life. “Work is in red, as an active colour, worship in blue to symbolise ‘Devotion’. The book represents “The Bible”, embellished with gold for richness of spirit. The sea design in the centre around “And” represents the closeness of the community to the Sea. The crosses are for religious purposes. Cream base for vellum/manuscripts, a mediaeval connection. The lettering, in organic curled forms to represent growth on the land. The “Suns” are for light and warmth in the community. The panel is Bilingual, a marriage of the two languages of Welsh and English. “Can Mol Dy Fro A Thrig Yno” proverb “Continue to praise God”.
The Celtic cross represents the ancient symbol of religious culture found throughout Wales, and prevalent in the older churches and graveyards. The old pilgrims route via the estuaries Towy and Taf to St Davids. Along the way Hen Gapel in Llanybri represents one of the oldest religious sites in the district dating back to Bronze Age when it was a sacrificial place. Llandeilo Abercowin would have been a stopping place for pilgrims along the Taf estuary. The river flows like a lifeblood through the design, important for sustaining life. The fish symbolise Christianity and food. Purple is used for a royal connection to the throne through Llewelyn Prince of Wales. The arrows represent the spread of Christianity North, South, East and West.
Holy Trinity Church a central traditional part to both ceremonies, signifying the union between man and woman, and the partnership of life. The Bride in virginal white carrying red roses of love. The couple are innocent, free of prejudice, naïve and carefree on a spring day. The Blackthorn Blossom surrounding them like confetti. Mother and baby on the left of the baptismal font, dressed in blue to symbolise devotion that exists between mother and child. The young green leaves on the tree heralding the start of life, as do the spring flowers. In the background the gravestones, a reminder of generations before. The Church door is open to welcome all.
Capel Newydd in Llanybri is the setting for the panel representing Death and Immortality, dark purples and mauves are used for mourning. The simplicity of the Chapel shape represents different forms of worship, and the growth of chapels in Wales during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Lilies are peace and purity; the tombstones reflect the Victorian trend of erecting monuments according to the importance of the deceased. The Angel is the receiver of souls, the chapel door is open for the spirit to be received, and the spots of colour in the sky are the passage of spirits to heaven. Organic forms of flowers and leaves to remind us of our natural roots. The inscription in Welsh “Er Cof” “In Memory” and “Peace, Perfect Peace” “Hedd Perfaith Hedd.”
Embroidered by: Marilyn Riggs and Brenda Rooke
The old Church School built in 1874 by Elizabeth Lloyd of Lacques educated the children of the district for a hundred years before it closed in 1978. Set on a cold winters day after a blizzard, the panel shows modern ’70s’ children going to school, together with their Victorian counterparts. The headmaster ringing the school bell to call everyone in to school. During Victorian times, and the early part of the 20th century the children of the district would walk to school from outlying farms. Many generations of the same family attended the school.
The setting is the Great Hall at Llansteffan Castle (now in ruins), when the De Camville family were “Lords of the areas”, between the 13th and 14th centuries. The De Camvilles had French connections, hence the Fleur De Lys on the coat of arms right, the Dragon on the left for Welsh. The villagers of Llanybri were “Bondsmen” to the Lord and would have provided all the food for feasts also some of the servants and stewards possibly the two young men preparing wine and water in the centre ground could have been ancestors of the Davies family. The Castle was owned by John O’Gaunt in the 14th century. Various dignitaries would have visited the family – including high ranking church officials. The table is laid with gold plate and the great “Salt” of the Lord. The food would have included Boars’ Heads, Fish from the river, Poultry and Venison. The steward feeding the Lord’s hounds had an important role; the dogs probably fared better than he did! The Poet and Harpist are entertaining the guests and Lord and Lady with tales from the Mabinogion. The walls of the Hall would have had vast silk tapestries, note the French chevron design on the edges of the canopy above the fireplace – probably imported from France. Embroidered by: Aurelia Reynolds, Lynda Ward and Marilyn Morris
The domestic animals kept by the farming community represent the main employment of the village area. From early days when each family kept a pig and some chickens, to the generations of families with milking cows and sheep. The two horses represent the riding type, the chestnut ‘Arrow’ on the left – still living in the village, and Cherokee, a working horse, now unfortunately dead. The hills in the distance, near the sea, show a remote farmhouse. The turkey and ducks, and guinea fowl and geese are still a vibrant part of Llanybri.
Embroidered by: Alison Coombs and Dorothy Morgan
A harvest scene of approximately 1920, when each holding would have helped their neighbour – the two men loading the cart, while the wives glean the field. The women would have carried the basket of bread and cheese and tea to the field. In the distance a few cows grazing on hill pasture, and the hay field to the left, which had been carted a month earlier.
Imagine a farm kitchen in the 1940’s. The farmer at home tending the land, his wife glad that he’s not away in France on the battleground. The “home guard” helmet on the window sill ready for use. The young family is eating cawl, while the dog waits for his master to help with the cows or sheep. The old rayburn with its constantly boiling kettle. The wife is pregnant again, and about to tell her husband this fact. The last of the winter hams hanging from the ceiling, and the washing is airing above the stove. A simple unadorned kitchen, with ration books on the mantlepiece.
Set in the woods below the village near Pendeggy Mill (one of the oldest mills in the country – now sadly not functioning). Badgers and foxes, otters, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, voles and mice, frogs, owls, Wood pigeons and Blue Tits etc. all abound. In the distance, the Farmers Hunt goes on, it is October, and the traditional local foot hunt is out on the hills. Up on the skyline the village buildings can be seen. A currently controversial subject, this rich panel shows some of the most exquisite embroidery.
With apologies to ordnance survey cartographers, the roads are not always the length and position they should be! But they do exist. The whole design concentrates on the richness of the terrain, from lush pastures to forest, to beach and rocks, estuary and sea and rivers and streams and marshes. The design is taken from an old map of 1840, which included an interesting directional sign, right, bottom. The roads have been worked in chain stitch – a linking stitch that was appropriate, and the sea and rivers in running and threaded running stitch. There are red dots, which indicate where members of the team of embroiders live – one at the top right indicates someone who has moved from the area – Pat Barrett.
“FERRYTOLAUGHARNE” Embroidered by: Dinah Thomas and Judy Wright
IT is Victorian Times, 19th century. Families (and fathers) are strict in Llanybri, a daughter has made an error and is eloping with her lover in the early hours, to Laugharne, and thence to Ireland. The Ferryman has been summoned by ringing the bell from the Bell House on the marsh near Mwche. He is rowing across the Taf from the Boathouse (long before Dylan lived there). The moonlight gives everything an eerie glow and the water glistens like a thousand glass beads.