Finding Blake, Looking Back and Forwards

Six months on from our website’s launch, Finding Blake creator and driving force, filmmaker James Murray-White offers this update on work to date and to come, focusing on those elements which will form part of the full Finding Blake film next year.

 


I wanted to update all our many readers and subscribers with what’s going on with Finding Blake, particularly since the great ceremony in August to unveil the new gravestone at William Blake’s burial site, which had been a big event to focus on. It was such an experience to be there on the day, with so many Finding Blake supporters and other Blake devotees!

The Lark, watercolour over traces of black chalk
Artist: William Blake
Source: The Morgan Library & Museum www.themorgan.org

I’m now wading through the many wonderful hours of footage I have. You can see many of the clips at the Finding Blake films at a glance page in our Bleakean Archive. Some of the highlights for me include: 

Finding Blake, documenting his new memorial

I have great memories — caught on film — of visiting Jordan’s Mine to see where the stone was cut; accompanying master letter-cutter Lida Kindersley as she chose the stone; being with her in her workshop for much of the process, as she bevelled the stone, then drew the letters for the inscription — and then the lovely long, slow process of the letters being cut. Amongst all that, there is an interview with Lida about Blake, talking from the heart as she cuts the letters that would soon mark his final resting place!

Leading wonderful interviews

Finding Blake has brought us opportunities to meet and talk with so many fascinating people with a shared passion for Blake:

  • Poet David Whyte, giving it to us from his heart in the depths of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (a special day that really felt like we had Blake on our shoulders!);
  • Psychotherapist Carol Leader, talking to us from her consulting room in London;
  • Writer and priest Malcolm Guite, in his study at Girton College, Cambridge;
  • Rapper Testament, delivering his powerful reflections on Blake’s influence on him, speaking on the streets outside a London theatre;
  • Blake Society chair Tim Heath, talking about his passion for Blake in Blake’s only surviving rooms in London

Participating in Blakean events

We’ve filmed at a number of talks by leading experts in different fields, including:

  • Carol Leader’s stimulating lecture in Oxford on Satanic Error – the value of William Blake’s mythology for clinical practice and everyday life;
  • William Blake, Biblical Prophecy and Jesus, a pair of talks in a Cambridge church by Reverend Malcolm Guite and Reverend Christopher Rowland, both vicars with an interest in exploring Blake from religious perspectives;
  • the Unveiling Ceremony itself, with all the wonderful speeches, candle-lighting, and personal responses, including an as yet unidentified African song, by the grave!

Creating original performances

William Blake’s creative vision speaks to many people and appeals to the genius of other creative practitioners and performers. We’ve been very fortunate in the generosity of talented actors in offering their interpretations of the man’s poems on film. 

  • Finding Blake invited actor Matt Ray Brown to read several of William Blake’s poems on location in Blake’s rooms at South Molton Street, London, including Jerusalem, The Tyger, and The Little Black Boy;
  • During our interview with David Whyte at the Ashmolean in Oxford, David delivered his reading of The Garden of Love.

Bringing personal projects into harmony with Blake

During the cutting of Blake’s new gravestone, Lida and I agreed a barter: she would make a memorial stone for my lovely mum’s ashes, and I would film it. What a wonderful trade! I’m editing that project now, whittling down many hours of beautiful conversation and cutting, as well as the sounds of the workshop, and silence too. Naturally, the conversations flowed between Blake and many aspects of creativity: including Lida talking about her late husband David, the master of letters and steeped in the craft’s heritage from Eric Gill and beyond. It’s a lineage that is so present within the workshop today, in the work of Lida and her two sons Vince and Hallam, and expert cutter Fiona (who completed mum’s memorial stone), plus a range of apprentices — and former apprentices who come in to help on other jobs as and when.

So I wanted to share with you here two outtakes from that other project (which might possibly be used in the Finding Blake film but, if not, can happily rest here on our project page) which give another flavour of the creative work:

‘Reaching the golden vein’ outtake 1 from James Murray-White on Vimeo.

‘Bank it up’ outtake 2 from James Murray-White on Vimeo.

Next steps for Finding Blake

So I’m working through all this material, and more, making notes and beginning the edit. And I’m now thinking hard about the third option within the film: either dramatic recreations of some of Blake’s art, or an element of animation, or projection. Possibly a combination of all three!

I’ve always felt passionate that we could bring Blake’s images to life on-screen, in addition to the spoken words and other elements. This feeling has been particularly over the past year as I’ve stood in front of a Blake image, be it in the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge or Tate Britain in London, or at the magnificent show at Petworth House in Sussex; many of these images shine out and dazzle with their bright illumination and their sprite vision.

So, I’m in discussion with several folk on these ideas, and we are awaiting some responses to funding applications, and further discussions.

I have been talking with an institution about possible screenings of the finished film late next year, which I will announce hopefully when finalised. We have agreed to a showing of a rough-cut of the film, or pieces of the film, with The Blake Society, at Waterstone’s Piccadilly, in January. We’ll post about that nearer the time …

In the meantime, I’m back on the edit, and the numerous other projects that consume my days.

Linda Richardson has kindly donated her canvas of Tyger, which she painted with children at a primary school in her village (see her post here with the children’s Bleakean art too!) so that Finding Blake can auction this to fundraise for the project: more details to come soon. We thank Linda for that generous gift.

The Unveiling

Sunday 12th August 2018 saw the long-awaited gathering for the ceremony to unveil the new gravestone for William Blake. Finding Blake was there - filming, interviewing speakers and participants and taking part in the moment of communal respect for and reflection of this great artist, poet and visionary and his legacy for us. Here, Linda Richardson looks back on the day, and James Murray-White shares his short film from the day.

It is a cool August day in Bunhill Field’s cemetery, and hundreds of people have gathered to watch the unveiling of William Blake’s new gravestone on the 191st anniversary of his death. The stone, cut by Lida Cardozo of the Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge, lies beneath a white cloth, and we assemble in a deep circle — people who continue to be inspired and changed by the life and work of this astonishing man. Vaulting above us in a green dome, plane trees create a dappled shade upon the human proceedings and we listen to the sparkling speeches of men and women to whom Blake is alive and galloping around in their conscious minds, enlightening and troubling this new generation of Blakeans.

The cameras are rolling and clicking as these modern-day experts capture the unfolding ceremony in all of its diversity. Speeches are made, the cloth is gently and slowly unfolded and there, at our feet lies a large slab of Portland stone

I give you the end of a golden string …

We all feel the privilege of being part of this holy gathering, each of us having internal speeches of our own.

Blake’s new gravestone unveiled
Photograph: Lida Cardozo Kindersley © 2018
www.kindersleyworkshop.co.uk

Later I watch Lida, apart from the crowds, circling her stone; the dust of it is in her blood from the months of intimate contact, and I wonder if she is saying ‘goodbye’, ‘farewell’, or if the intensity of her feelings are too complex to comprehend, and I remember another great Blakean woman, Patti Smith. A week earlier she had led us in a surprising rendition of We Three Kings of Orient Are, at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and called from her heart to us to be at peace with one another, to bring gifts of love to our troubled and turbulent world.

An unveiling and an awakening

On the train home with Malcolm Guite, one of the speakers at the unveiling, we talked about our delight in being at the ceremony, ‘astonishing’, he said. Malcolm is a prolific modern-day poet, priest and musician, and is tireless in his work of promoting kindness and compassion, and of awakening our minds to the power of imagination as the prime agent of human perception.

Here, then, is our short film showing the edited highlights of the speakers invited by the Blake Society to address the crowd at the unveiling ceremony at Bunhill Fields, London, on Sunday 12th August 2018. The speakers featured are: Tim Heath, Chairman of the Blake Society; writer and theologian Reverend Malcolm Guite; scholar & creator of Zoamorphosis, the Blake 2.0 Blog Jason Whittaker, Reverend Lucy Winkett of St James, Piccadilly; poet Stephen Micalef; lettercutter Lida Cardozo; rock musician Bruce Dickinson; and satirist and actor Will Franken. The film also shows the unveiling itself — by Carol and Luis Garrido, who discovered the exact location of Blake’s burial spot — and features part of the performance of the hymn Jerusalem by the vocal group, Blake.

Further material from the special day will appear here on Finding Blake & later in the final film. Watch this space!

Unveiling Ceremony – speakers from James Murray-White on Vimeo.

“... I rest not from my great task! To open the eternal worlds, to open the immortal eyes of man inwards into the worlds of thought, into eternity ever expanding in the bosom of God, the Human Imagination.”

Notes

Linda Richardson is an artist. Based in Cambridge, England, she makes work that engages the imagination and intuition and tries to make a creative space for the viewer to connect their inner nature with their outer nature to form ideas that are not rooted in convention, reason or rationality. However neither are they pure fantasy that provides an escape from humdrum life. Linda wants instead to awaken the senses to the beauty and wonder of the world in which we live, to activate the attention to the mystery of the human experience.

You can share many of the stages by which William Blake’s new gravestone has come to share its resting place with the man it commemorates:

  • Our films show how Lida Cardozo selected the block from the Jordans Mine quarry, the work of the quarry itself, and Lida’s careful and painstaking marking and cutting of the letters into the stone’s surface.
  • Our posts mark some of the encounters the Finding Blake team have had with the stone and the people who have brought it to its final state over that time.
  • Our timeline brings the whole experience into chronological order — up to the unveiling and beyond.

And of course, the life of the stone and of William Blake continue to resonate in the story that so many Blakeans who assembled on the 12th August, or who were there in spirit, will share with us on Finding Blake.

The story of how the site of William Blake’s exact burial spot came to be lost and then rediscovered by Blake admirers Carol and Luis Garrido is told in this excellent new piece by James Tapper in The Observer: “Finding it proved a bigger challenge than they imagined. Bunhill Fields was a cemetery popular with Dissenters, and when Blake died, largely unrecognised, in 1827, his was the fifth of eight coffins to be buried in the plot. The graveyard had been arranged in a grid, and the coordinates were in the Bunhill Fields burial records, given as ’77, east and west, 32, north and south’. But after bomb damage during the second world war, the Corporation of London decided to transform part of the site into gardens, leaving only two remaining gravestones, and moving Blake’s stone next to a memorial to an obelisk commemorating Daniel Defoe.”

Coming Full Circle – ‘a Liquid Ledger Stone’

Finding Blake's creator and film maker James Murray-White has been following the careful and painstaking process of creating the new gravestone for William Blake's final resting place. Here he reports on the moment as the final letter is cut and stone nears completion under the hands of Lida Kindersley.

With a final tap tap of the chisel, and then a salutary finger wipe of the remaining dust that the letter cut had created, the last letter – an ’s’ – and William Blake’s new ledger stone was completed.

Lida has been working on this for six months, and has been involved in the planning for the stone for at least ten years since the Blake Society decided to commission it, after the discovery of Blake’s actual resting place within the Bunhill Fields cemetery. I’ve been filming Lida work on this, visiting every week to see progress and film the next line or word. I have enormous respect for her integrity and craft that glides from the chisel or pencil into every piece of work she designs and creates. It ’s been a tremendous pleasure to record her work, and chat very deeply at times – sometimes jokingly, sometimes philosophically and metaphorically too.

Cutting in progress Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

At one with the stone

On this last session of cutting, she talked of really becoming one with the stone, and the stone coming into her, and we joked of a CGI graphic that could animate this: the letter cutter becomes stone, and the process completes. Making tender memorials is being face-to-face with the human experience of death – of lives that have lived, loved, and left, and our wish to memorialise them and leave something to honour them. Whether it is Blake, here known as ‘Poet — Artist — Prophet’, or my mum (on a smaller square of Portland Stone, to be completed next: ‘Potter’) or the many timeless and ethereal quotes on stone that are around the workshop and out in the world, memorialising and placing within the landscape makes up much of the work of the Kindersley Workshop. I feel we are blessed by this dedication to the letter, the word, and to humanity.

The phrase above that I’ve used, a “liquid” stone is adapted from an exclamation by one visitor to the workshop on seeing the stone: that the letters seemed both strong – ‘set in stone’ – and very fluid and liquid-like. Indeed they do, as the attached photos show. In this current intense light, changing as it does about 6.00pm from the full intense heat of these summer days and, as the stone has been in a corner of the workshop and with light from windows on two sides, the letters do appear to dance and their intensity ebbs and flows and eddies around the stone: particularly the name – big and bold – and the quote too, its shape and form as intense as the intricate meaning of the words themselves, falling back into a ball of string, anchoring you into Blake’s vision of a ‘holy’ Jerusalem and its gate.

Liquid light Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

There have been long bouts of silence too, just the tapping of the chisel, and the sounds of the workshop – often other tapping sounds as other stones are cut – and I’ve got absorbed in the camera: the light, the sound, the recording, and thinking how I might edit the material and show the entire flow of the work. Lida has been absorbed in her work, learned at the stone face over many years and trained by her Master husband David, and with stone dust as well as the intense grip of the chisel turning her hand slowly white; and I’ve been absorbed in mine, recording, witnessing, hearing, watching, being with the presence of this mighty piece of shaped stone, and reflecting internally and with Lida about Blake and his value in this turbulent world. We’ve talked a lot, and I’ve come away many times and discussed with an array of people those three words highlighted above. And two or three times over the course of the cutting process I’ve gone away and stood face to face with a Blake painting – in the Fitzwilliam, in the Tate, and at the Petworth House temporary exhibition – and returned with the glory and detail of his angels and people and beings, and breathed in Blake by this glorious stone.

The end of a process

And now it’s completed – or nearly completed, as there still is the washing process, possible staining, and any gilding or painting within the letters, and the visit of the Blake Society to see the stone with all the letters completed. The organising committee came down for a morning a few months ago, to see the stone in its early stage, with the letters drawn before cutting began, and it will be a treat to see their faces erupt in smiles and delight when they see it now.

I’ve been reflecting deeply on this, the end of a process, a long slow sometimes laborious one: Lida often had to transfer to another project or to work with one of the other cutters or an apprentice; or I’ve not been able to go into the workshop for a few days, and have really missed the attention to detail and the friendship and companionship.

The hands of a master of the craft
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

Soon it will be out in the world, ready to attract visitors to it, who will pause and reflect a minute, and shine light onto the visionary world of poet — artist — prophet: William Blake 1757 – 1827:

“I give you the end of a golden string,
only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”


Notes

Further information about the unveiling event to be held on August 12th in Bunhill Fields will be revealed on the Blake Society website in due course — and Finding Blake will there to film the event and pay our respects.