The Cotton Tempera Diary 2

28th July 2015

According to the weather forecast it was going to rain, even a storm would visit Venice today. However, it turned out to be sunny. I left the hotel before 10 am and took a boat to Burano and visited the lace museum. I was the first and the only visitor to the museum facing the main square in the island of Burano. The museum was a small two-story building. There were intricately woven laces in large and sizable glass and wood cabinets. When I reached at the end of the exhibition I saw someone seated on one of the chairs in the last room. It was strange to find another visitor who had come even before me though I entered the museum as the door opened at 10 am and saw no one before me. Her leather handbag was hung on the chair. She was sitting, a case for her eyeglasses was on another chair next to her and even a white plastic bag was resting on the floor near her. She was in fact making lace. I walked past her and descended the staircase at the end of the room and almost left the museum, but decided to go back up the staircase and returned to her. She began explaining in Italian about the lace making school, Escuola Merletto. I asked her if she did not mind me drawing her. She was happy with the idea. I began drawing her. She wore glasses, her hair standing here and there, her arms were tanned, but still strong despite her advanced age. She wore a green half-sleeved T-shirt and her skirt was dark navy blue. She wore a pair of half-closed leather sandals. Her glasses had a pink tint. The drawing took me approximately several minutes to complete. Before finishing, her friend came to visit her who sat on a seat opposite her. My sitter explained to the friend that I was drawing her. As soon as I finished it I showed it to her. She held my arm and repeated “Bravo” twice. I was not sure if she even looked at the drawing, but my suspicion was perhaps more about my artist’s ego seeking others’ approvals. I was tempted to ask her name, but when she said “ciao”, I felt that it was time to leave. I took rhythmical steps down the staircase and went out of the building and walked into the sunny square where tourists were busily inspecting laces to buy. I needed to know her name. She could not stay in my memory as “someone I met in Museo del Merletto”. The thought of sending her the drawing crossed my mind but I felt that it was not good enough as a gift. The drawing was a way to spend several minutes with her, but also to learn something from her: the quality she possessed, her generosity, like Theseus who offered safety and security as well as a right to be, to Oedipus. This is what I was seeing in her while drawing her making lace. I returned to the museum and asked the young man at the reception desk who she was. “Her name is Elisabetta.”

4th April 2015
I read more about Elizabeth Cotton. She was born in 1834, the same year as Mary Elizabeth Hardstaff who built the almshouse in Nottingham. It appears that Elizabeth Cotton worked as a milliner in the Lace Market for some time. Elizabeth had a son with William Cotton, the owner of a lace manufacturing company.

2nd March, London
Found out a little about Elizabeth Cotton

7th March 2015
While I was waiting for the tour of the almshouse to start I have noticed the text on the wall and realized that I was sitting in the chapel of the almshouse. The text said the following: “The resident chaplain conducted Sunday services at 11 am and 3pm, and attendance was compulsory. In 1882 the chaplain’s son thirteen-year old Ernest Baker, described how the elderly congregation may have sounded, noting irreverendly in his diary that “…the old ladies were vainly trying to sing [a symn:] at first I thought it was a conglomeration of soft husky coughing”. I made a note above at the chapel in the Geffrye Museum. I found this part Ernest Baker says “a conglomeration of soft husky coughing” interesting. My paintings should convey this sense of “soft husky coughing”.

At two o’clock in the afternoon there were about a dozen of us waiting for the almshouse tour in the former chapel in the Geffrye Museum. A guide with glasses in a black velveteen coat took us out of the museum into the courtyard. She stopped us in front of an engraved relief carving of Sir Geffrye and described us who he was. Geffrye was a successful merchant and later had a political career as a Mayor of London. He had no children so he left his wealth to the ironmonger company which build the almshouse in 1714. The entire Geffrye Museum was in fact an almshouse. She explained to us that the location was chosen as at the time the air here was clear and pure. It was just outside London, though now it had become one of the most fashionable and busiest parts of London.

Then we were led to a house, a part of the large museum building. In one house there were four rooms which were occupied by four separate individuals or families. One of the four rooms was restored to the imagined condition in which an eighteenth century pensioner would have lived. It was a basic room with a small kitchen adjacent to the back of the room and there was a window in the kitchen, but the window was added in the nineteenth century to increase an amount of light. There was a bed covered by a red burgundy blanket, and it had a white and long pillow. A wooden chair with wicker seat was placed in the middle of the room. A simple dark wooden chest was near one of the walls. There was a table with another chair, and there was a fireplace. The floorboards were perhaps oak. I walked out of the room and walked up the staircases, each step was shallow. There were rooms to both sides. I turned to the right and entered into an interior, which could have been occupied by an educated and pensioner in the nineteenth century. A black cap with a pair of long ribbon strings caught my attention as it was hanging on a wall and it had an unfamiliar appearance though I could tell what it was. The pensioner would have worn it when she went out. Six framed photographs were on the wall, a chest of drawers below it. On the chest of drawers there were six wine glasses, certainly fancier than the eighteenth century room below. A glass and a decanter and two thick books were piled like two gigantic toasts on a small bedside table next to the bed. Near the window there was a wooden shelf. On the top row, a photograph of a boy is placed against a ceramic cup. A small and thin flower vase was placed next to it. Below on the second shelf, there were books such as dictionaries. She also had a pair of gas lighting near the shelf. The fireplace was small as she would have had enough money to eat out every evening and she would not have cooked ever in her entire life. I walked out of the room and walked down two flights of stairs to reach the basement. There was a washroom in which a whit large ceramic sink was placed near a window facing south. In the middle of the room near one of the walls there was another sink to which firewood could have been added to heat water. I walked up the staircase and talked to one of the guides who explained to me that the pensioners in the eighteenth century were poor and illiterate so they did not leave any records about how they lived. Only reliable records came from Ernest Baker, the fourteen-year-old son of the chaplain. I also asked how dark the room could have been. As candles were taxed and expensive, the guide told me, the pensioners went to bed early. They were given only six sacks of coal a year and cheap meat they ate needed a long cooking time and the fire in the fireplace did not give much light. I imagined that light had conditioned their sense of time and their lives more than the spatial configurations of the rooms in the almshouse.

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