Sunday, 30 November 2014

Purple carrots - who would believe it?

I visited the city of Gdansk in Poland at the end of October. I had not realised what a medieval treasure it is, one of Europe’s largest historical centres apparently. A most welcome revelation in fact.  But what impressed me greatly amongst some of the largest surviving  medieval brick buildings in the world  was….wait for it….a market stall full of colourful carrots!

Gothic Town Hall photo by Gdansk City Guide
But first, some architecture -  lovingly and painstakingly restored. Because in 1945, at the end of World War II, Gdansk was reduced to rubble. The city authority took a decision to rebuild from the bombed ruins, faithfully reproducing  original external architecture and internal decoration.
Gate in City wall, Mariacki Street. Photo: Gdansk City Guide

St Mary's cathedral photo Gdansk City Guide
This was achieved first, by using historic and contemporary sources and second, by using as much reclaimed medieval brick and other building material as could be sorted and salvaged from the devastated townscape. The project is still ongoing, witness medieval warehouse walls on the city’s Granary Isle still to be restored. However, one restored granary now serves as the home of the Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra and another is an enticing four star hotel.  

Today in Gdansk’s Stare Miasto (Old Town) you are carried back to the Middle Ages. In amongst the reconstructions are many authentic old buildings. According to the Gdansk City Guide  most streets are located where they were in medieval times, and many retain their original 500 year old names.

Above all Gdansk was a medieval harbour town, a Hanseatic trading port whose storerooms and warehouses on the wharves lay side by side with entry gates through the medieval walls, allowing daytime access to people and produce. Nestled amongst these impressive utilitarian buildings, all made of brick, are the town houses built by rich merchant guildsmen as well as palatial houses built for barons and kings. My home town of King’s Lynn in Norfolk was also a Hanseatic trading port, there is absolutely no doubt that  sailing vessels laden with timber, wool, grain, herrings and more plied between the two.

As a student of geology I did wonder where the nearest stone quarry was - obviously many miles distant to make it cost effective for medieval man to fire clay bricks instead. A labour intensive process demanding forests of wood, or charcoal produced from the trees, to fire those brick ovens. This area of Europe was in fact heavily glaciated as recently as 20,000 years ago. The present landscape is swathed in hundreds of metres of loose glacial deposits, including glacial clays laid down directly by continent-wide the ice sheets. So solid bedrock was inaccessible. Itinerant medieval stone masons would find no work in Gdansk!

Now to those Gdansk carrots, an ancient variety whose natural colour is purple. And in Medieval times this was the case, but genetic variation commonly resulted in yellow and white carrots too. It is from such carrots that the today’s now common orange variety was bred, probably by Dutch horticulturalists.
MedievalMorsels authentic carrots for a historic dolls house!

The real thing - display of multi-coloured carrots in Gdansk market!

Here too are MedievalMorsels one inch scale carrots, modelled at one inch scale for your medieval, gothic or Tudor dollhouse! Or to collect as a desirable miniature!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Boars' Heads

I spent last weekend at a miniaturist workshop working with modelling clays. We learned several new clay techniques. And, importantly, corrected faults in our improvised processes under the tutelege of Angie Scarr. Angie is a renowned polymer clay miniaturist who has taken the miniaturist polymer clay art-form leap years forward. She has over 30 years experimented with and fully understands the properties of the clay. But she also closely observes colour, texture, repeating patterns in nature so that her models are truly lifelike.
Now I don’t want to bore you (I’m sorry but a pun is intended here) with an account of the magnificently realistic peeled apples, oranges and bananas that we made. Or the strawberry plants that were left in various stages of assembly at the end of our second day. Yes, some of us were rather slow workers even though we had a small strawberry planter to fill!  Nor shall I “show and tell” the wonderful cuts of salmon and whole fish we made, with shrimps on the sid. These will no doubt feature in a later blog. and they will certainly feature in my MedievalMorsels online shop.  Except the bananas which, without checking, I am reasonably sure did not feature in a Middle Ages or early Renaissance diet. But every other food type we modelled over three days  could be found on the Medieval high table.

I do want to mention that I was intrigued that we drove daily to and from the course in Kent through a village called Boar’s Head. Here I should thank my brother-in-law Jon for driving my sister Lucy and I rather early each morning - yes we were keen.

Now I have always felt exposed to criticism, ever since I first opened my MedievalMorsels online shop in February of this year, because I did not model a boar’s head. Afterall it is what most people think of when first considering Medieval and Tudor food. Well admittedly we might think of the more usually served pig’s heads as well…

So I had to bite the bullet and model one. Well last night I modelled three and here they are.

One is decorated with strawberry flowers, leaves and berries. Oops I’ll never finish that strawberry plant now! 

They make an outing to a new UK Miniatura event in Solihull tomorrow Sunday 16 November - lets see if any dolls house enthusiasts out there like them enough to buy them! To do that they would have to drop by the “Abasketof…” stall where my sister and her friend Gillian’s beautiful contemporary food and table settings will be on display. We both hope for a successful day at this new event in the internationally renowned Miniatura calendar.