Imogen Stafford, horticulturist and sculptor, still from 'Harvest' © David Begley 2022
The Keepers (12 mins)
David Begley's video documentary informed by his Ancient Connections artist residency in Ferns, County Wexford 2020 - 2023. Further images and details to follow.
In 2020 I began foraging materials on Morrison’s farm, Ferns, County Wexford in order to make inks to write and draw. This was also in preparation for sharing this knowhow with children at St Edan’s National School, Ferns, as part of an art, heritage and gardening project with the school in 2021.
I’ve been a keen gardener for many years but in order to teach children about growing food and learn more about soil and its importance, I began a journey of discovery which still continues. This journey has introduced me to native bees and their keeper, a white witch and herbalist, school teachers, regenerative farmers, a horticulturist and more. In this short film I share some of what I’ve learned.
David Begley 2023
Lorraine O'Dwyer, Seanachaí, folklorist, witch, forager and herbalist, still from 'Harvest' © David Begley 2022
Joe Kelly, beekeeper, still from 'Harvest' © David Begley 2022
Oisín O'Connell farmer, (agroforestry, multi-species swards, solar) still from research for 'Harvest' © David Begley 2022
From Morrison's Farm, The Harrow, Ferns
As part of David's Ancient Connections artist residency in Ferns (2020 - 2022) David walks a field and the yard of Morrison's Farm at The Harrow, Ferns, in search of Silence, and forages materials to make ink to create a colour essence of a farmer - homeopath's heritage.
Morrison's Barn, The Harrow, Ferns
The Ferguson, Morrison's Farm
Autumn, Morrison's Farm, The Harrow
Ed Morrison, The Harrow
I left Blackwater in darkness. At sunrise I turned inland and swung the great slow arc at Boolavogue Grotto to enter into The Harrow. Above me some hundred rooks assembled in a skeletal canopy, a welcome party to this enchanted land. I drove on, past Davitt’s printers and Mount Leinster appeared in the distance, silent, ancient, triangular. A wind turbine drew a white seam up its middle.
At Ballintore I stopped to photograph Ed Morrison’s fields and found the crossroads hedgerow scalped. I had plans for the willow. How the farmer’s hand sweeps the land. When I first saw this field in early September, amber light fingered through the black of a break crop of beans, shoulder-high as far as the eye could bend. A month later I walked the same field and not a trace of a bean stalk. Instead, the field was ploughed and freshly sown. Returning days after and the barley seeds were pressed, hidden beneath a soft tilth, the soil harrowed into soft lines turning ochre in the autumn sun.
Yesterday, two weeks on, green shoots have sprung up. I photographed Morrison’s Crossroads field with its soil churned burnt umber at the gate, sopping and puddled, before rolling down over Milltown bridge and up into Clone.
After a magical few hours spreading a first layer of mulch on The Monk’s Garden at St Edan’s I returned to Ballintore. Ed took me around his farmyard, showed me his 1963 Ferguson which he’s restoring, told me stories from the barn and the old milking parlour and spoke of ‘A lady’s fistful and a pint of boiling water’ being the measure of Barberry bark tea used by his herbalist mother to cure jaundice. I showed him my notebook full of stains from materials gathered in his field. He saw a myriad, compared them to Rorschach tests. I left smiling with the gift of a short copper pipe. The time has arrived to make my first verdigris ink.
Foraging walk, Morrison's Farm
Foraging walk, Morrison's Farm
Foraging walk, Morrison's Farm
Acorns and acorn caps from Morrison's
Acorns and acorn caps simmering for ink
Acorn cap ink made from foraged walk, Morrison's Farm
Patina: ink pan, elderberry and calcium carbonate
Residue, nettle ink
Boiling ingredients to make ink requires patience. Like making a good sauce, it can go lumpy, evaporate, or burn and spoil. All that stirring for nothing. Turn an eye to the child, the phone, the knock at the door, and your liquid and work, may be lost.
Not every ink is beautiful or useful. Some inks are better kept in their bottle to be admired in the light. I have just peeled apart notebook pages trying to decipher notes scribbled while cooking nettle ink. Before I began, I imagined deep Hooker’s Green or Chromium Oxide. A mute khaki perhaps but the ink I produced has the colour, consistency and covering power of sputum. An amazing green in its way but would I want to paint with it?
Hilarious to think of the efforts I made gathering the ingredients: gloved in tight pinks picking nettles, arms out with funnels catching rainwater, airing Chardonnay dregs to vinegar, panning the sea for salt, clawing at a cherry tree for gum, and then, finally, standing over three hours of steam to reduce a gallon of nettle leaves and rainwater to two 60ml bottles of ink. One of which spilled in the bottling.
All was not lost. After a deep sigh, I peered into the empty pot to find a most wonderful abstract bubbling at the bottom. I stole it from the stove, took it outside and let I cool. Held it up to the sun. The sun approved.
For this, it said, I gives you Revelation.
I stared into the pot, angled it to the light. The scum at the bottom shifted. A dozen bubbles popped to form an ochre crust. Images erupted in the tondo: Atlas held an ancient world aloft, a monkey dangled from an arc.
Heat has a profound effect on colour. Ochre turned bright yellow. The last of the liquid rolled and dried into golden rivulets, leaving clusters of amber behind. I tried to scrape and gather the colour. It was too thin. I was too impatient. I let it cool and took it to the studio.
Sun poured through the sky light and illuminated the yellow pot. I photographed it and realised that this stain, this unimaginable image, futility made manifest – all that remained of my nettle brew – was the reason I had spent the afternoon simmering. Not the ink nor my spoon made yellow.
I believe images pre-exist. They wish to be witnessed, that is their purpose. Ours is to find and reveal them. We are conduits. Our hands move so that images can materialise. I try not to judge the pictures that come to me. If I pay attention, I learn from them. Without all the gathering and caring and taking time, there would have been no surprise ending.
Foraged inks from Morrison's Farm, The Harrow, Ferns:
Sloe, elderberry, holly berry and gorse flower, 2021