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Angels to the rescue

06 December 2013

Katy Hounsell-Robert sees a church's fund raising exhibition

Archangel: St Michael Saving Kingsland Church by Susie Cawley

Archangel: St Michael Saving Kingsland Church by Susie Cawley

THE large Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels, Kingsland, in Herefordshire, near the site of the Battle of Mortimer's Cross (1461) during the Wars of the Roses, was built by the powerful Mortimer family in the late 13th century. It is famous for its beautiful medieval chantry, the Volka chapel, a Victorian painted ceiling, and a medieval stained-glass window in the chancel depicting Jesus, Mary, and four archangels.

Suddenly, this has been joined by a great company of angels painted in oils and watercolours, sculpted in wood, bronze, and stone, made into ceramic decorations, tapestry, and stained glass, covering the stone walls, and hanging from pillars and the protective scaffolding round the chancel. It brings together the work of 58 artists from Paris, Dublin, London, Bath, and Herefordshire itself to fund-raise for the restoration of the church.

One of the few depictions of St Michael is by David England, carved into stone. It shows the archangel, sword in hand, about to swoop down mercilessly on the dragon. Another is Susie Cawley's painting St Michael Saving Kingsland Church, a romantic view of the old church nestling in the green countryside, and a young, glamorous St Michael aiming his spear.

Many of the angels have been inspired by the conventional medieval formula. Andy Pearson, a follower of Tilman Riemenschneider, the great medieval German sculptor, believes that contemporary sculptors don't need to show that they are better by being different. He has carved his angel from limewood, and gilded and polychromed it, giving it an uncanny resemblance to genuine medieval carvings.

Véronique Avon takes her inspiration from various medieval sources, including the Book of Kells, and, in this case, the angel bosses of Tewkesbury Cathedral. Her graceful angels, presented in black ink and coloured pencil on watercolour paper, are dressed modestly in long, flowing pastel-coloured robes, and play medieval instruments.

The smiling angel of Charles MacCarthy has an interesting history, inasmuch as his painting is both of his mother and an adaptation of the famous sculpture The Smiling Angel, of Reims Cathedral, which was badly damaged in the First World War. With the help of a previously made plaster replica, the statue was restored, reinstalled on the west front of the cathedral, and became a symbol of France's rebirth and recovery. MacCarthy's mother, who was French, was said to have an amazing resemblance to the Angel, and so this painting has particular meaning for him.

It is sometimes thought that angels visit as gentle birds or harmless friendly insects. Julienne Braham's painting is filled with white and golden doves flying together, and Lois Hopwood's angel is a suggestion of a half-man, half-bird shape, flying in the mist. Bright-coloured feathered wings in a plume are Seraphim, the tapestry of Peter Privett. Winged Saviours, Jane Tudge's diptych, is made of beeswax and graphite, and the huge translucent wings attached to two tiny beings are the magnification of actual bees' wings. She feels that working in beeswax, which could melt in severe heat, is symbolic of the vulnerability of bees and other wildlife.

Caroline Hands has updated "heavenly travel technology" and dispensed with wings, and her angel is a subtle presence to be perceived in the beauty and fragrance of colourful flowers and trees.

In contrast, the angels of Ruth Cameron-Swan are naked, hairless, macho figures, one with a smooth elegant shape crouching to administer healing, and emanating a fiery peacock tail of brilliant blue turquoise and brown, and another (not unlike King Kong) apparently drawing energy out of himself. David Howorth's full-size standing angel sculpture is also naked, but angular, white, and calm.

Mary Ann Gelly, an American artist living in Ireland, has taken the theme of Lucifer and Icarus, and has brought over a group of table-top bronze fallen and falling angels, some landing on their heads with crushed wings, and some still falling. "Sometimes," she said, "the falling angels also seem to be flying because people with great gifts of leadership, beauty, and creativity seem to fly, but when too often they forget and think they are the source of it all, they fall with a bang."

"The Company of Heaven" runs until 18 December. A percentage of each sale will go towards the church's restoration. Prices range from £95 to more than £12,000. Phone 07585 943290; or emailinfo@SMAAAK.co.uk.


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