Friday, 22 June 2012

Eric Ravilious & The White Horses of Wiltshire

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939 (DACS/Artist's estate)
Although figures can be found carved into chalk hillsides all across the downland of southern England, a disproportionate number of the nation's white horses are in Wiltshire. I think there are eight altogether, with the Westbury Horse the most easily seen. Take a train from London to Devon or Cornwall via Castle Cary and you'll be treated to a view rather like the one Eric Ravilious portrayed (with a little help from his wife Tirzah) in 'Train Landscape'. The interior of a train may have changed but the white horse remains the same, which is no doubt one reason why people love them.

Quite how devoted people are to these equine carvings will be demonstrated over the coming week, as a whole series of related events gets under way. Tomorrow sees the launch of the Salisbury International Festival's celebration of Wiltshire's White Horses, which culminates next Saturday (30th June) with the illumination of the Devizes and Alton Barnes White Horses. The organisers promise a magical evening of fire, light and music at each venue, free of charge and with no ticket needed.


Between now and then, artist Ali Pretty will be leading a 100 mile walk around the county's chalk horses, with walks of varying lengths and difficulty on each day. As well as exploring the fascinating landscape of the chalk downs, walkers will have the chance to meet historians, environmentalists, writers (including Michael Morpurgo), artists and seasoned long distance walkers. There's no charge to join in, but you do need a ticket as numbers are limited.

Meanwhile, as reported in the New York Times yesterday, the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes is putting on show a new and rather extraordinary acquisition: the dummy of a Puffin Picture Book on white horses that was proposed by Eric Ravilious in 1940/41 and accepted by publisher Noel Carrington, but never produced. There's more on this story here, but the upshot is that the museum bid successfully for the dummy in January and is now revealing it to the public for the first time.

I'm planning to go and see this marvellous artefact in situ before I give a talk on the subject next Thursday at Devizes Town Hall, under the auspices of the Devizes Festival. The talk sold out a while ago but there are mutterings about a second one...

Meanwhile, exciting news from Museum chief David Dawson, who has been telling the BBC that he wants to produce a version of the Ravilious book:

"We would like to try and create the sort of book he intended," he told an interviewer. "It can't be a re-creation as there's not enough information - so it's going to take a lot of work."

I wonder whether the interval between proposal and publication would be some kind of world record!


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