tretower and what was made there

An e-mail correspondence over the past couple of days with the painter Graham Ward has raised issues of Green Men and their like. Which brings me back to Tretower and how I kept myself occupied while spending long days in that tiny custodian’s hut.

Before I met Peter, after which time with his encouragement I began to draw and paint in my ticket-seller’s shed at Tretower, I made masks. I first modelled them in clay. Then my friend Derek, the retired custodian of Treower who lived with his wife Pat in a pretty little bungalow next to the monument, made fibreglass moulds of the clay originals in his workshop. When a mould was ready, I’d oil the inside and layer into it brown paper gum-strip torn into tiny pieces and moistened on a wet sponge. As the gum-strip dried it formed a thin, hard laminate that took every last detail of the mould. After being eased free from the fibreglass the mask would be gessoed and gilded, or brushed with pastes of metal powders and pigment to mimic bronze or corroded iron. For some I made crowns of paper laminate leaves… again from moulds provided by Derek… and these were bound and glued to wires that in turn were wrapped with damp gum-strip and attached to the masks. I made ‘green man’ masks and funeral masks from ‘invented’ cultures. There were polychrome masks adorned with beads and silk tassels and masks that looked as though they’d been snipped from sheet lead and beaten into shape.

It was work I could do in a tiny space and it kept me busy when the monument was empty and all my other duties were done.

I made the green man mask illustrated above in the likeness of my father, Trevor. (I had to wait for him to fall asleep in his armchair before drawing him, as he was a man far too busy to hang about being sketched!)

After his death I was asked to provide a mask for the ‘Jack’ to wear at the Hastings Green Man Festival, and thereafter for a couple of years Trevor’s likeness was at the centre of that magnificent spectacle, an honour he would have delighted in.

Peter and I travelled to Hastings in the hope of witnessing the Jack wearing my mask as he emerged for the festival from a shed down by the sea. But we arrived late and there was no sign of anything going on. The place felt abandoned. Then from a distance came intermittent blasts of drumming, rising and fading. We hurried down narrow cobbled streets toward it. The drumming grew louder and there were other percussive instruments, bells and gongs and the sound of a great crowd. Other pedestrians were appearing from side streets, drawn by the music. I started running. I remember hearing Peter calling me, but the beat was like a powerful heart and it was easier to give myself up to it. Suddenly I was at the tail end of a procession. Troupes of Morris dancers of all persuasions were performing in serried ranks. Smoke and firecrackers and the taste of cordite, sharp at the back of the throat. Mummers in costumes astonishing and varied milled about or romped and leered at the crowd. All the onlookers had green smears across their foreheads and I wondered whether there might be vendors selling these marks of Cain so that one could acquire a green flash and blend in with everyone. But I couldn’t see anyone peddling green daubs. Then far ahead where the crowd was densest, I spotted the Jack, as tall as two men, bucking and rearing and covered in ribbons and laurel leaves, a crown of gold and red flowers on his head. I forced my way through the throng, an urgent need to be closer to the action making my chest swell.  Fine tall men with wild green faces and flying snaky green locks strode as outriders to the Jack, their bodies and limbs covered in leaves. Fierce as Beserkers they snarled and roared to clear the way. Suddenly one caught my eye. Towering above lesser mortals, he’d stopped in his tracks and was watching me through the crowd. To my alarm he broke ranks and headed straight at me. I backed into a shop doorway but there was no escaping those blazing eyes, alarmingly red in all that green bearing down on me. Before I could duck he’d raised his arm and struck my forehead a glancing blow with the palm of his hand, turned and raced back to take his place as a guard of honour. I’d stumbled under the force of the green man’s hit-and-run, seeing stars as I landed on my backside in the doorway. As I recovered and stood up I caught sight of a reflection in the glass of the shop window. I grinned back at myself, marked with a green blow across the brow.

Bearing the marks of the Green Man at Hastings. Peter escaped being ‘greened’!

Finally I caught up with the Jack. And there, inscrutable among the leaves, my father’s likeness staring above the heads of the crowd, a wine red rose dangling from his lips. Later at the castle the Jack would be torn apart in a ritual slaying, leaves from his person claimed as trophies. The organiser of the festival made sure he got the mask, though the following year he was not so alert, and it went to someone faster and stealthier. I sometimes wonder where it is now.

17 thoughts on “tretower and what was made there

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    • Well, I had a lot of time on my hands in that hut during the long winter months, and so I guess the circumstances helped to fuel my obsession! Thank you Nick. Your enthusiasm for what I produced is much appreciated.

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  7. Clive, you were ‘bogied’! Excellent description of how it happened. If you like drama then the bonfire experience is worthwhile too. It’s quite macabre – torches, very heavy drumming and some good costumes especially the sweeps – oh well we’re a strange lot down here and we like processions!

    • Ah, so there’s a name for it!

      I loved the sweeps’ costumes when I was in Hastings. Those top-hats and pheasant feathers are a wonderful design combination. I got so excited by some of the revellers that I followed them to watch them more closely. It’s a sad fact but true that, yes, I do have it in me to be a stalker!

      • “Bogied!” I like that. Now that we are thinking about adding “Green Wednesday,” I came back to look at the old account. Am thinking that we could even add the poem in the section about your art. After “Jack,” the Hastings Green Man mask by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, or some such.

  8. wow, what a story! i felt i was there, in the midst of the drumming and excitement…and those masks are astonishing, i am amazed at your talent. both of them are so different from each other, and such exceptional pieces. the first one is quite frightening…!

    “Green George began on the streets of Hastings, when a Green Warrior struck a blow to my head and set a seed in my imagination.”

  9. What a delightful read, Clive. I snickered at the idea of waiting for your father to fall asleep so you could sketch him. And then to have the mask become central to the festival. Wow! How marvelous.

    And I adore that photo of you two! What looks of delight and warmth. You make such a handsome couple.

    • Glad you enjoyed this one Jason. It’s a happy memory for me. That day in Hastings was extraordinary in so many ways, and it was good to recall what happened and to get it down in words. (We’ve never returned to the Green Man Festival. The Jack wears another mask now, and I think that it would be a quite different experience for me. Less involved. Sometimes once is enough, especially with something so powerfully exciting.)

      Thinking about it, perhaps that day impacted me in more ways than I’ve given credit for. I’ve never quite known why in Green George (see HERE) I painted the saint such a vivid colour. I’ve always said that it just seemed right, and indeed so it did. But recalling the day of the Jack-in-my-father’s-likeness has made me realise how captivated I was by the energy and dynamism of those fearsome outriders striding through the narrow streets of Hastings ‘old quarter’, and there’s something of them, and the other green celebrants that day, in my Saint George. I’ve use the word ‘my’ here in the sense that he’s certainly not the Saint George of nationalism and jingoism. I poured all my own iconography and story-telling into that painting, reinventing everything from my own perspective. It’s a fact that while I concede the pretty girl on the bank has been saved by the young warrior saint, she’ll never wed and bed him. I’m quite sure he’s not rescued her as a prize for himself. The ‘favour’ tied about his arm isn’t hers, but belonged to another. Moreover it’s worn by George ‘in memory’, and so the ‘beloved’ is either unavailable, or more likely dead. Hence it flutters skywards, pulled in a slip stream toward that place where all unfulfilled desires can be deposited in a notional Paradise. (So there’s loss here, and probably sublimation too.) As for that green, while it clearly symbolises ‘otherness’ and burgeoning energy… George’s implacable killing intent is there in his eyes… I feel that no-one tangles with dragons (and ‘killing’) without great cost to themselves. This is probably his first and last encounter with such a beast. I don’t think that the green saint has much attachment to this world, and his other-worldly red horse looks ready to carry him off to whatever Valhalla may be set aside for dragon-slaying heroes.

      So there. You read it here first. Green George began on the streets of Hastings, when a Green Warrior struck a blow to my head and set a seed in my imagination.

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