Buckfast Abbey to unveil giant mural


Sr Joanna with mural panels

Sr Joanna with mural panels

Buckfast Abbey will unveil a huge mural depicting the reconstruction of the Abbey Church on Wednesday. The mural - which has been acclaimed as a 'stupendous work' by the editor of the British Art Journal,  measures 26 by 18feet and shows the monks rebuilding the Abbey Church on its original foundation between 1907 and 1939. The painting was commissioned in preparation for the Abbey’s millennium year of 2018 and is situated in the 360-seat Grange Restaurant at the abbey.

The work is the creation of Mother Joanna Jamieson, 79, who spent three years designing, drawing and painting each of its 20 panels. Mother Joanna, who comes from Glasgow, trained as a mural painter at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1950s before she entered Stanbrook Abbey, where she would later serve two twelve-year terms as Abbess. She undertook the commission for Buckfast Abbey following a one-year refresher course at the Prince’s Drawing School in Hoxton, London. Mother Joanna was assisted in her work by Sister Mary Stephen CRSS. The mural will be unveiled on behalf of Buckfast Abbey by Catherine Goodman, the artistic director of the Prince’s Drawing School.

Mother Joanna Jamieson said: “I am very grateful to Buckfast for asking me to do it because it has been a tremendous responsibility. It has pushed me to the limit both physically and mentally but there has been a lot of enjoyment in it as well ... it really has got to be the project of my life.”

The Rt Rev. Dom David Charlesworth, the Abbot of Buckfast, said: “It is a monumental effort by Mother Joanna depicting the extraordinary work of a handful of monks who built the present church on the 12th century
foundations in only 32 years.

“It is an interesting mixture of styles that is designed to appear as if a window looking towards the rebuilding in progress. It has been the subject of much positive interest by those who come to use the Grange Restaurant.” Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, writing in the Daily Mail, said: “This is a stupendous work: accomplished, confident, beautifully planned and executed. “It fits with distinction into the great tradition of mural painting that has been a feature of British art over the last 100 years, in the hands of Stanley Spencer and Charles Mahoney. There are great precedents, such as Fra Angelico, the Renaissance master who painted devotional images on the walls of the cells of fellow monks.

“Working within a great tradition, the artist cleverly adopts from the modern movement just what is required. And so this remarkable mural is just what such a work ought to be: truly timeless.”

The mural will be unveiled at a reception held from 12 noon on Wednesday April 2 in the company of Mother Joanna Jamieson and Sister Mary Stephen; the Rt Rev Dom David Charlesworth OSB, the Abbot of Buckfast, Dom Richard Yeo OSB, the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, and Dame Andrea Savage OSB, the Abbess of Stanbrook. Guests will also include Prince’s Drawing School tutors Thomas Newbolt and Ewan Clayton; Patricia Routledge, the distinguished actress, and Siobhan Coppinger, the artist and sculptor.

The first monastery at Buckfast was founded in 1018 and an abbey was built at the site, on the banks of the River Dart, in 1134. In 1539 it was reduced to ruins during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.

A small group of monks exiled from France bought the site in 1882 and began rebuilding the church in 1907. They did the work themselves: fortunately, one of them had learnt the art of masonry. Photographs taken at the time show them toiling in their robes without a safety hard hat in sight. Mother Joanna used the photos from the abbey’s archives of the original builders on site to sketch cartoons for each of the panels, which show the monks hammering, chiselling and hauling loads of masonry. She also consulted stone masons at York Minster about the authenticity of her depictions.

In May 2011 she took possession of the panels, which she laid out on the floor of the village hall in Wass, the only space available, to check they fitted together properly. After further preparatory work, Mother Joanna began painting in acrylic, often using a palette knife, her favourite tool. Mother Joanna was inspired partly by techniques pioneered by Lyonel Feininger, a 20th century Expressionist who used overlapping triangular planes of light to convey depth, space and movement. Mother Joanna and Sister Mary Stephen completed the mural in autumn 2013. In December the 20 panels were driven 400 miles to Buckfast were they were assembled earlier this year.

For more information on Bucjfast Abbey see: www.buckfast.org.uk/

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