Background

Survival – A Lesson from the Veld

I have recently been sorting through my aloe paintings, and one in particular stands out, for its universal message has a personal story attached…

When I was a young girl, we lived on a cattle ranch in Inyanga, which is situated in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, in a magnificent mountain range that borders with Mozambique.

There were seven children in our family and we roamed pretty wild and free, spending our days either helping with the farm or exploring the rivers, kopje’s and bush.

On top of the mountain, looking over our 14,000 acre Nyangui Ranch, 1975.

The hillsides of the farm were littered with mysterious ancient ruins and stone terraces that we loved to scramble over and explore, as we disappeared down tunnels, into unexpected enclosures, picking up shards of pottery, imagining who might have once lived there.

Exploring ancient ruins on our farm. 1975

It was a blissful existence for kids growing up without television and all the mod cons of today. We learned to appreciate Nature on both macro and micro scale and this laid a firm foundation for the creativity that was to follow.

Sisters catching tadpoles in one of the many rivers on the ranch

 

Playing in the stream, siblings Sally, Anthony and Penny, 1967

But then war came to that beautiful area and we were forced to move, leaving our playground behind. We all set off on our respective paths and life taught us some serious lessons.

On a nostalgic return trip to the old farm, many years later, I took my two young sons to visit a ruin that lay embedded in a commanding position at the top of a hill. The countryside was hot and dry, and in the grip of a ten-year drought. The rock hard ground was stripped bare of grass and the termites were eating the trees. A veld fire had recently removed whatever dry grass remained.

Nyangui Ranch in the drought. 1991

As we clambered up over the multiple layers of terraces, sweating and panting in the heat, we finally reached the ruin. Memories of my childhood came flooding back as I surveyed the landscape around and as I sat on a warm granite rock, I felt the earth’s energy seep through my body like a much needed blood transfusion. Oh, it was so good to be home!

In my desire to share my youthful memories, I attempted to ignite some enthusiasm into my sons, who both looked somewhat confused as to what all the excitement was about. I was beginning to wonder myself what the purpose of this visit had been. I mean this was my childhood and these were my memories, so how I was hoping that my boys would get it I really don’t know, when their reality was based in the city and the lush green hills of Natal.

My two young sons visit the ancient ruins for the first time. 1991

Then, as I wandered around with my camera, I came upon two small aloes, side by side, both scorched from the fire, parched from the drought, but doggedly standing their ground. I was riveted by this image of survival, and in that instant, I knew why I had needed to be there.

I took that photo with me into the turmoil of my life and kept it as a clear reminder that no matter how great the heat, the thirst and the flames, when one is well rooted and grounded, one can survive pretty much anything. With a belief in one’s ability to survive, one can emerge stronger from the experience, with spirit and light intact.

‘Nyangui Aloes’ by Sally Scott
Medium: Chalk Pastel

Last year I translated that photograph into a chalk pastel painting and was reminded once again that Nature is the great teacher and Creativity, the therapist. Or is it the other way round?  Whichever way I look at it they seem to work in tandem and I am very grateful for both.

 

Advertisements
Categories: Background, Drawing, Inspiration, Landscapes | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Easter, Eggs and Influences

It’s Easter morning and I am alone in my kitchen, cooking a breakfast for one. I am watching myself prepare the tomatoes as they go into the pan, satisfied that they have just the right amount of seasoning, and are spread evenly beside the bacon for maximum exposure to the heat. I reach for the eggs, and am fleetingly startled  by their beauty as they nestle harmoniously in the bowl. I hesitate before taking one, aware that it’s removal will affect the balance of the whole, but I must eat and the anticipation of the meal overrides my moment of uncertainty.

A moment of being in the moment

A moment of being in the moment

I pick up the largest egg and hold it in the palm of my hand, closing my fingers around it briefly to feel its sculptural form. I look at it carefully, marveling at the perfection of it’s shape and the colour and texture of it’s shell, and I have a sudden  flashback to my childhood in Harare, where as a very young girl I would go into my brother’s bedroom and stand before a bank of beautifully made, wooden specimen cabinets …little chests of drawers, with two rows of small round knobs that went vertically down either side. The drawers were slim and inviting, and I would hesitate momentarily, deciding which shelf to pull out first. I remember the sound of  the drawers sliding open and the moment of delight as the contents were revealed. The entire drawer was divided into small compartments, and in each were small nests of perfectly coloured eggs, some speckled, some plain in a whole array of hues, all neatly labelled with the name of the bird that produced the relevant egg. It was one of those moments of childhood, where the perfection of Nature was magically,unexpectedly revealed.

So as I return to the egg in my hand, I realize that this appreciation is not something new, but has always been there and was nurtured by the small, pale blue, speckled eggs that to me were the best in my brother’s collection. With the splatter of popping bacon, I am pulled back to the present and remember it’s Easter and that out in the world today, there are many more people thinking about eggs of different shapes and sizes.

As I eat my meal, I smile at my recollections and think about some of the other things I remember about growing up in a family with six brothers and sisters, each with their own particular collection of interests and fascinations, and I realize how much they have influenced me, often in ways that are so subtle they might never even know.

In a flash of clarity I realize that there’s no such thing as an insignificant word, action or moment, for everything in life, no matter how small, has the potential to influence both our own lives and that of those around us.

Categories: Background, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Roots: Part 2

My mother, Monica Stidolph (nee Bridgen)

My mother, Monica Stidolph(nee Bridgen)

The history of my mother’s family is not as clearly defined as that of my father, but the earliest records of the Bridgen family go back to the 18th Century, where the family originated from the Hampshire-West Sussex border of England.

Monica was one of four children born to Helen and Sidney Bridgen. He was a headmaster at a school in the quiet little village of Cassington, near Oxford, and later in the villages of King’s Somborne and Herstmonceux.

Helen and Sidney Bridgen

Helen and Sidney Bridgen

Sidney’s father had come from Midhurst and his mother, Sarah Pusey, from Wandsworth. Helen was the daughter of Patricia and John Perkins of Ockham, Surrey, and most of Helen’s childhood was spent in Leicester and Rutland area where her father owned a large cabinet making business. According to my mother, Grandpa Perkins was very musical and played the cello, had a lovely bass baritone voice, and was much sought after to entertain people at parties.  My grandmother’s sister also had a good rich singing voice and played the piano. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit any of this musical talent.

Perkins, Long and Tyler. My great grandfather, John Perkins on the extreme right

Perkins, Long and Tyler. My great grandfather, John Perkins on the extreme right

My mother had two sisters, Barbara and Marguerite, and a much beloved brother, Harry, who was a pilot, tragically killed during the war. It was through him that she had met my father when she was still a schoolgirl.

My mother’s side of the family was generally blessed with artistic, literary and musical talent. Her sister, Barbara was a very talented writer, and my grandmother, Helen, was known for making richly coloured rugs, a fact that I had no knowledge of when I began working in textiles. It was only after I had started researching and making my own fibre wall hangings that my mum made the connection between my work and my grandmothers. Although I had never seen any of these works, she said that our colour sense was very similar. I find this a significant and interesting link and my regret is that I never got to see her work.

The Bridgen Family

The Bridgen Family. (Monica third from the left)

The village of Cassington

The village of Cassington

Monica’s childhood was spent living and playing in the gentle, English countryside, an environment that probably influenced her interest in the arts. She was extremely talented artistically and apart from writing poetry, was very good at drawing.

Monica, 1934

Monica, 1934

The poem below was written by my mother when she was only 15 year’s old:

'The Seagull' by Monica Bridgen

‘The Seagull’ by Monica Bridgen

A drawing of her sister, Maggie, done by my mother in 1937

A drawing of her sister, Maggie, done by my mother in 1937

Although her first love was art, Monica’s father had wanted her to become a teacher and so she registered at Goldsmith’s College, but her stay there was cut short due to the escalation of the war and the fact that she was soon to be married to my father, the adventurous pilot from Africa .

Reg and Monica's wartime wedding. Herstmonceux

Reg and Monica’s wartime wedding. Herstmonceux

They married and had two children by the time the war had ended, and in 1946, Reg and Monica decided to return to Africa and settle in Rhodesia. My father traveled by air, whilst my mum, with her toddlers Patrick and Paul, went by sea on the Carnarvon Castle. They were met at the docks in Cape Town by my father and his uncle, Randolph Nesbitt, a colourful character who had led the Mazoe Patrol and won the Victoria Cross for the rescue of the beleaguered party at Mazoe Mine, Rhodesia, in 1896.

My father, having gone ahead of his family, had in the meantime acquired a Humber Super Snipe, and so he collected his young family and they traveled to Salisbury in style.

Monica and Reg, with their sons, Patrick and Paul

Monica and Reg, with their sons, Patrick and Paul

And thus began their African adventure…

(To be continued…)

Categories: Background | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

My Roots

In order to understand my artwork, it helps to know a bit of my background, so in the next few posts I will be unearthing a little family history and will explain how I came to be born in Africa, the continent that is so central to my work.

On my father’s side, I come from a long line of pioneers, and as they were responsible for bringing us to Africa, this seems an appropriate place to start.

The history of my father’s mother’s side of the family can be traced back as far as the 14th Century to Robert the Bruce and the Royal House of Scotland, and through the female line to the Royal House of Norway, but for the purpose of this story, we begin in the 19th Century in the Orkney Isles, where my great, great, great grandfather, Benjamin Moodie, a larger than life character and the last Laird of Melsetter on the Island of Hoy, was preparing to leave for Africa.

Melsetter House, Hoy, Orkney Isles – owned by the Moodies from 1500’s – 1820

Melsetter House, Hoy, Orkney Isles – owned by the Moodies from 1500’s – 1820

He set sail in 1817 for the Cape Colony of South Africa with three shiploads of artisans from N. England and Scotland to start a new life on a continent he knew little about. Shortly after he landed, many of the artisans abandoned him for better opportunities, but despite this disappointment and the financial implications, he settled on a beautiful farm called Groote Vadersbosch, near Swellendam and helped establish Port Beaufort (now known as Witsand) on the Breede River.

Groote Vadersbosch, Swellendam

Groote Vadersbosch, Swellendam

Benjamin Moodie's grave, Witsand

Benjamin Moodie’s grave, Witsand

Benjamin had three sons, the eldest of whom, James, fell ill and was nursed back to health by Susannah van Zyl from Cradock. They fell in love and moved to Grahamstown, where they were married, and from here they moved to Bethlehem in the Free State.

The Pioneer Trek to Melsetter

James’s son, Tom, and daughter, Margery and her husband Edmund Coleman, were part of the famous Pioneer Trek to Melsetter in Gazaland (now Zimbabwe). With them on the trek were Margery’s daughter Sarah and her husband John Nesbitt and their three young children, one of whom was my grandmother, Josephine, who was 3 years old at the time. We have a fascinating account of this experience written by Sarah, (after whom I am named), as she bravely set out in an ox wagon into the unforgiving wilderness with her husband, children, livestock, a few personal possessions and Persian cat.

The trekkers stop for a picnic on the banks of the Shashe River

The trekkers stop for a picnic on the banks of the Shashe River

The 17 wagons and 59 members of the Trek finally reached their destination eight months after having set out on this treacherous journey, with Tom settling in Melsetter, (named after the Moodie family estate in the Orkneys) in the Eastern Highlands and Margery, Sarah and her family going on to Salisbury (now Harare), which at that stage was made up of a few mud huts. An extract from Sarah’s diary says: “There were only eight women and a few children in Salisbury then, not counting the R.C. nuns and sisters”, so they truly were amongst the first pioneers to arrive in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Inspan

Inspan

According to Sarah’s diary, her mother Margery lived in a pole and dagga house and started the first boarding house in Salisbury. Meanwhile, Sarah and John Nesbitt went to Umtali, where he became the District Commissioner, but he died in Penhalonga of Malaria, and soon after that Sarah moved back to Salisbury.

The family’s first home in Salisbury

The family’s first home in Salisbury

Josephine, Sarah and Norah

Josephine, Sarah and Norah

Meanwhile, on the male side of my father’s family, my great grandfather, Harold Edward Stidolph, who had been living in Ealing, UK, was also having thoughts of leaving for Africa, and in 1884 he immigrated to South Africa with his 6 children, including 7 year old Alan, his aunt and sister-in-law. His wife Ada had died in childbirth in 1879. Harold was an organist and Professor of Music and they settled in Cape Town.

In the early 1900’s, Alan Stidolph, who had trained as a land surveyor, bid farewell to his family and moved north to Rhodesia. He soon met and married Josephine Nesbitt, and they settled on a farm, which they named Tudely, (after the family home in Kent,UK) situated in the Avondale/ Mt.Pleasant area of Salisbury. Part of this area is now occupied by the University of Zimbabwe.

My father, Reginald Stidolph, was the third of five children born to Alan and Josephine. He was a bright and rebellious spirit, and after leaving school, against his father’s wishes, went to Britain to train as a pilot. His brother Jack also became a pilot and they both participated in WW2. Jack was killed during the war, but my father went on to become a highly decorated Bomber pilot, earning himself a Distinguished Flying Cross, and becoming a Wing Commander by the time he was 28.

My father, Reginald Stidolph

My father, Reginald Stidolph

It was while he was training to be a pilot that he met the lovely Monica Bridgen, sister of his best friend, Harry. She was to become my mother, though at the time they met, was a shy 16 year old schoolgirl.  The relationship blossomed and they were married in 1940, the year she turned 20.

The war continued for another 5 years, with my father being away much of the time. My eldest brother Patrick was 2 1/2 years old by the time my father saw him for the first time! Fortunately my mother was a strong and resilient woman, characteristics that stood her in good stead for the journey that lay ahead of her.

Wing Commander Reginald Stidolph at Shepherds Grove 1945, seated in second bottom row, directly under the nose of the Lancaster Bomber

I will be taking a look at my mother’s family in my next post.

Categories: Background | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.