Remarkable and Curious Conversations

Curated by Cally Trench

Joan Skelton Smith and Alison Carter Tai

R&CC: The ArtistsR&CC: The Interactions

Joan Skelton Smith has made two paper cut-outs based on a photograph taken by Alison Carter Tai.

Joan Skelton Smith: Dear Alison - I have made a paper cut based on the lovely photo that you sent me of a branch of a ginkgo tree. I have produced two A4 size cut outs and photographed them mounted above an off white card so that they throw a shadow on to the background.

Ginkgo near Aldermaston by Joan Skelton Smith

Joan Skelton Smith
Ginkgo near Aldermaston
(2011) Paper, 29.5 x 21 cm

Glorious Ginkgo by AliCaT

Glorious Ginkgo (Autumn 2009)
Photograph, Englefield, Berkshire

Ginkgo for Alison by Joan Skelton Smith

Joan Skelton Smith
Ginkgo for Alison (2011)
Paper, 29.5 x 21 cm

Alison Carter Tai: Dear Joan, When I took the photograph of the ginkgo tree leaves, in early November 2009, I was simply entranced by their beauty and autumnal colour. I had first come across the glorious form of the ginkgo leaf in 1983 when I wrote about a silver brooch of c.1900, for a catalogue of the Hull Grundy collection at Cheltenham Museums. The French silversmith had crafted two symmetrical leaves above two smaller, budding leaves, and given them pendent pearls, in a fabulous Art Nouveau design. I noted that the ginkgo is sometimes described as 'maidenhair', as its full and flowing form is reminiscent of a young girl's curly tresses. As Curator at the Red House Museum, Christchurch I had then organised and taken part in a monoprint workshop in around 1989 where I used ginkgo leaves from the museum garden to good effect, in autumnal shades.

In 2000 we planted two ginkgo trees in our garden in Winchester. They grew tall and straight, like pillars, and lost their leaves each year. I would gather the leaves up and admire the shapes anew. When I saw the ancient ginkgo in the garden centre adjacent to the Englefield Estate I was entranced by the sheer size of the tree, its width and fullness, the 'greenery yellowy' golden hue, that colour combination so popular with the aesthetic movement at the end of the 19th century, and I revelled in taking photographs of the tree and its leaf forms, with our new digital camera, in the warm chill of the autumnal sun.

I read about your cut-out tracery project and thought how the ginkgo form might intrigue you, so I sent you the most silhouette-like of the images of the leaves. At the time I had been reading your webpage on the Remarkable and Curious Conversations site, absorbing your anti-nuclear viewpoint, and I felt bound to tell you that that this tree of such beauty sat in a garden of Eden just three miles from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in one direction, two from Tidmarsh where I was born and three from Pangbourne where I grew up. I thought what a bizarre juxtaposition of enchanted God-given 'glory in the garden', and potential man-made mass destruction - for whatever sound reasoning - co-existed within a few miles.

I had grown up in blissful ignorance of what was going on at Aldermaston, apart from the fact that it had supplied local villagers with their income, and I had the happiest childhood imaginable in our Dora Carrington's Tidmarsh Mill, Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows, Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat backwater.

My photograph of the leaves, quite dark against the light sky, seem in retrospect to point up the potential threat in the air that day, and thoughts around the fragility of life have often come back to me since, as I have replayed that day, when dad and I walked and talked and looked across the Englefield Estate and he told me how he played there as a child, on the lakes, and later organised Young Conservatives dances at the house. My father's health deteriorated markedly from that point, and he passed away on March 13th this year.

It is therefore poignant now for me to look back on that happy afternoon, and I am absolutely thrilled with what you have produced, which encapsulates in its form the sheer beauty in nature, in its delicate tracery the fragility of life, and in its darkness the potential threat in the air, that day that I took the photo. Thank you so much for seeing this project through.

Joan Skelton Smith: Dear Alison, I am very sorry for your loss and hope that you find some solace in the ginkgo image. I find your text very moving, reminding me of the last days I spent with my mother.

It is interesting that you bring up again your comments regarding the Aldermaston nuclear facility as I recently completed my cut out based on the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Japan.

While I am not opposed to nuclear power generation per se, I am appalled by the kind of corporate irresponsibility and government collusion which seems to have led to the on-going catastrophe in Japan (as in the Gulf oil crisis which you cite in your recent email).

I am currently working on another cut out to be called IBGYBG (try Googling it).

Joan Skelton Smith
Alison Carter Tai

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