Full review of My Tyneham Sketchbook by Billa Edwards from edition 7.
ISBN 078 0 9928334 0 2 rrp £22.50
A hand-drawn map, reproduced at both ends of the sketchbook adds a useful, also charming cartographic dimension to this beautifully presented folio of watercolours.
It might well have been drafted by a smuggler and place names such as Brandy Bay enhance that perception. The application of a little orienteering skill reveals the cover image is a view looking westward over Worbarrow Bay from the vantage point of the old coast guard cottages in the shelter of the tout to the south. Waves surge gently into the painting, a blue sky is mottled by clouds and the cliffs of Flowers Barrow and Cow Corner stretch in a patchwork of colours along to Arish Mel, and here, in a corner in the foreground, almost imperceptible, sit the ruins of Tyneham.
My Tyneham Sketchbook is many things: a personal record, an artistic achievement, an historical document and beautiful object. It is also what it says on the lable, a sketchbook, and not only in that it is presented as such, in landscape format and textured paper – lovely to touch and a delicious creamy colour, but that it began life as a humble painter’s pad, never intended for other than private view. We are indebted to the considerations of an art-knowledgeable rambler and a chance meeting on The Southwest Coast Path, which ultimately led to its publication. We can imagine Billa’s faithful canine companion, Mr Punch, noisily greeting the anonymous critic’s arrival (a lovely photo of the owner with his human appears in the notes, taken by Jack Daniels – the other one).
‘Danger! Deep Water’, ‘Danger! Unexploded Shells, Keep Out’. Like the ruined and deserted buildings, even these images of the mundane have stories to tell; the signs are also reminders of an immediate military history that continues to wrap itself around the lost village of Tynham. The land was famously, or otherwise, requisitioned 1948 by the MOD for training purposes and will doubtless be returned when the military is disbanded. As this is a collection, a series of paintings from a single general locality, we observe time passing in a number of ways. There is Billa’s own, corporeal time spent in reflection and the act of painting, discernible in those ephemeral elements such as the weather and vegetation, clues as to the season and time of day. There is a redolence of years gone slowly by, of gradual growth and decay, in images of rusting tank hulks. The modern machines contrast with the ancient stone walls, themselves ruined only recently, yet everywhere the past and present are connected.
As well as giving us absolutely beautiful scenery viewed from locations rarely visited by Joe Public, the pages are lightly sprinkled with Billa’s own thoughts, jotted down at the time of painting. ‘The ghosts of horses plodded through the yards’ in the corner of Tyneham Farm, is simply a disused plough, yet those evocative words somehow bring to that deserted yard all the vigour and bustle of a community that will never be again.
My Tyneham Sketchbook makes a perfect companion to the numerous literary works on the village and a refreshing edition to the body of academic work on the county – every good Dorsetshire home should have one.
To order a copy or for more on where to find My Tyneham Sketchbook, please email Emma at Violet Press – firstname.lastname@example.org