This October Valentines Mansion will be showing a display of sailors’ valentines made by local artist and art teacher Terry Taylor (1932-2012).
Sailors’ valentines – geometric or pictorial arrangements of sea shells, often in octagonal frames – were at their most popular during the middle period of the nineteenth century. It is often assumed that they were made by sailors during long voyages, using shells collected during their voyages, to be given to their sweethearts on their return from the sea, the reality is that mostly they were made and sold to sailors to take home. Many have been traced to a shop called The New Curiosity Shop, in Bridgetown, Barbados, where they were made up using shells imported from Indonesia. This would make these items truly international, with their own stories to tell, of research, design, travel, creation, marketing, desire and delight. They were often glazed, and hinged in two parts, like a book.
Terry Taylor lived in South Woodford and taught art at Beal Grammar School for Girls/Seven Kings High School (1966 to 1979) and Woodford County High School for Girls (1979 to 1992). He was a much-loved local character with a passion for the decorative arts. The family home in Derby Road, South Woodford was filled with a collection of antique furniture and artwork, and Terry was at the forefront of the 60s interest in Victorian design and decorative arts. His passion for interior design and Victoriana led him to an interest in antique shellwork, both as portable artworks and as architectural design, such as the grottoes at Valentines and at Wanstead House, and the cosmic shell grotto at Margate. This show thus links the interior of the house with the park, and the present with the past.
Terry collected sailors’ valentines long before they became fashionable, and took his delight in them forwards, creating his own versions with care and ingenuity. The number of pieces on show indicate that he tried out different patterns, referred to originals, and took the format beyond the decorative into the field of exploratory design. They are deceptively simple, until we look at them closely in terms of balance and harmony, and the theatre of objects.
Mr Taylor’s Valentines – A Special Exhibition at Valentines Mansion starts Sunday 4 October 2015 and ends Wednesday 28 October. Available to view during the Mansion’s normal opening hours, please visit www.valentinesmansion.com for details. Free entry.