The Painting on the Wall

There was rather a long gap between the first designs and the actual painting, as I was sent home to England for a few months. Bishop Phelps had an idea of getting Italian workmen from Italy to put up mosaics in the Apse – a glorious idea – but rather impracticable. When I returned from England, nothing more had been heard of the mosaics or the workmen and Mother Florence told me to get up on the platform and make a beginning before the Bishop, who was away, returned.

I tried to follow very carefully the teaching I had been given about the actual execution of the painting, feeling that it was the only safe way, and the small design, which had been approved, was enlarged to scale on large sheets of cartoon paper. These, or their tracings, were pricked and pounced on to the wall. Then, a careful outline was painted over the dotted lines with a thin brush. I had to get the help of a Sister to manage the unwieldy sheets! My instructor had said “Once you have a trustworthy outline, keep to it, and paint inside. Do not try to change it high up on the wall.” So comparatively quickly the main outlines of the central figures were up. As far as I can remember, Our Lady was about 8 feet and the height of the curved surface in the centre about 13 feet. By keeping her exactly in the centre the difficulty of the curve was more or less overcome.

Then came an unforgettable day when I decided to put in the main colours, to give myself a better idea of proportion. The colours were powder colours, which I had bought in England, mixed rather wet with spirit-fresco medium on a huge palette, with a special broad, strong palette knife. They were used semi-fluid, more like water-colours and were delightful to work with and very bright and clear. I tried to follow instructions there too, and each little “dollop” of paint was scraped off the palette after work, wrapped up separately in a piece of tracing paper, and kept under water until next morning. So on St. Luke’s Day (the Patron Saint of Artists) in the year 1924, I think, I put in the main blues and pinks on Our Lady’s robes and a suggestion of pale gold back-ground. The painting had really begun.

Perhaps it would be of interest to describe the medium, for which Mr. Frampton gave me his own recipe. It was an uncanny mixture of bees-wax and oil of spike (lavender), gum Arabic and turpentine, and all the different constituents had to be heated to a certain degree and kept so in flasks and bottles in a basin of very hot water, until they could be mixed together. I know it took me about two hours to make! I remember Father Raynes saying that the Africans would really take me for a witch now! The oil of spike delighted me as it reminded me of the spikenard of St. Mary Magdalene.

The next rather important event was the Bishop’s return. I heard voices below the platform and made myself as small as possible. Afterwards Mother Florence told me that the Bishop was quite content that we should go forward with the work; he had heard no more of the Italian workmen. She added kindly, ‘I think the Community would be glad that one of themselves should do the painting”. After that I felt more especially that I had the Community prayers behind me.

Now we were able to go forward in real earnest and the next question that arose was as to the other figures to be included in the design and that involves a very important part in the meaning and scope of the whole picture.

Last Modified: Fri, 15 Jul 2011 15:01:10 SAST