Saturday, April 9, 2016

chasing stories

This post is about the making of Fluvius Visum, a hand-chased brass panel, and the process of dreaming up its narrative content.

I like house-names, they have character. After a quick flirt with Google translate, our family house-name - River View - became the more house-age-appropriate Fluvius Visum. I enjoy the heft and assumed dignity of the (probably wrong) latin translation—it immediately felt more in keeping with the contemporary-medieval design style that I was about to invent as I drew the picture for this chasing study… Somehow the latin provided an anchor for a brass panel that would be laden with narrative and heraldic symbolism.

The form of personal coats of arms follows a strict code (1), and there is overlap with the common historical usage of symbols used to create town arms etc. My research to date suggests there is no undisputed go-to directory for the meanings of heraldic symbols (2), and symbols like “holly” or “horse” have likely acquired unofficial, colloquial meanings in art. So I utilized a mix of known and made-up devices to layer meaning within the picture, representing our life next to a tidal river prone to flooding, and honouring the people in my family.

The sense of identity and place are established using design elements from the town seal of 1732 (3). This places Fluvius Visum firmly in the ancient Cornish town of Lostwithiel (chartered in 1189), overlooked by Restormel Castle, with thistles for the heath, and salmon in the River Fowey.

The 13th/14th century church of St Bartholomew’s (4) has presided over our family births, marriages, and deaths, and two of the stone font reliefs appear in the picture: a ‘lucky’ fool (upper left corner), and disgorging green man (lower left corner).

From the common usage of heraldic symbols, holly is used to symbolise truth (5) and the horse is a defender or protector, ready to serve. Horses are an enduring love for many in my family.

There are additional features and made-up symbolism to represent life, place, and people: Lostwithiel bridge and the River Fowey topping its banks at spring tide (as it did this morning); a rope border as a footnote to Lostwithiel’s ancient role as a Stannary town and a port for Cornish tin; vigilant eyes watch the weather and the river (and nod to the nearby restored Black Prince’s summer palace, also known as The Guildhall or Stannary Palace, and until recently a meeting place for Freemasons); Duchy woods spread out to the north and east - with a dead tree for those who have gone before; lily of the valley and bluebells, a spanner, the main-line rail tracks connecting Lostwithiel to London… And the A390 weaving down through the hills, into the town, over the river, and far, far away.

Fluvius Visum - detail: St Bartholomew's church Lostwithiel, the 12th century bridge,
"thistles for the heath", holly, a horse, and the road, river, and railway tracks.
Christine Pedersen. 2014.

I am no longer surprised that when I listen to other people’s memories I start to imagine pictures—it’s probably something primal—a way of enjoying the richness of emotions and concrete experiences that we all share. Sometimes a horse is just a horse. But for those who know us, the connections are all in there: home, life, and place inextricably linked together. I hope family and friends will find joy reading this picture.

Fluvius Visum - detail: rope border, the dis-gorging green man, and an eye on the weather...
Two fish in the river. lily of the valley, bluebells, and a spanner.
Christine Pedersen. 2014.

Wherever I am, you are always with me - with love to my family xxx

Technical info on the chased panel: 
8 inch square annealed 16 gauge brass sheet, chased with hand-made tools and chasing hammer, finished with a liver of sulphur patina and beeswax. Mounted in custom hand-made half-lap alder frame, finished with milk paint and beeswax.

Links for further reading...

1. This Wikipedia page is an excellent place to start : ; provides a clear description of the formation of coats of arms, and the rules on who has the right to bear them.

2. This very thorough open text (written in 1909) provides the science of heraldic development and symbols used, but would never stoop to offer colloquial meanings… This is serious business.

3. The 1732 seal of Lostwithiel is also the current seal, as used on the town’s Wikipedia page

4. Web page with details of St Bartholomew’s church's_Church,_Lostwithiel    Search also for “St Bartholomew’s font” images.

5. Horses and holly… Colloquial meanings for heraldic symbols can be found here: