Work by Helen Hill :: Poem by Gerda Stevenson

textile art

Nine Haiku for Esther Inglis

Born France 1571; moved to Scotland in early childhood, daughter of Huguenot refugees; lived most of her life in Leith, Edinburgh, where she died in poverty, 1624; considered by James VI of Scotland (I of England) to be the finest calligrapher in the land; also an embroiderer and miniaturist portrait painter.

From Quines by Gerda Stevenson

Artist’s statement

Title of work: Giving Flight to Words

I was intrigued by Esther Inglis’ story of ‘rags to riches’ and back to rags. She was King Jamie’s ‘most exquisite writer in the realm’, used to the ways of Court, but died in debt. An accomplished calligrapher, she worked tirelessly for her family and kept faith with her Huguenot religion.

Haiku poetry is a perfect vehicle for telling Esther’s tale. Whilst it has a seeming simplicity, it often contains contrasts, opposites, the unusual and the unexpected. There is a great deal of detail in the poem, and I felt that I needed to keep a simple clarity to the work. I concentrated on calligraphy – not Esther’s own, but making patterns of my own calligraphic interpretation. I wrote single words and phrases from Gerda’s poem over and over again in different directions and overlaying text to make it almost indecipherable. But the words were there.

I was inspired by a phrase from the first haiku – ‘giving flight to words’ – and used crow feathers as brushes with ink and paints to express flight. The work is in the form of a concertina book with end pieces, bound together with richly coloured cords with frayed edges – an allusion to Esther’s mixed fortunes.