Have you seen Mary Woodin's cheerful paintings of East Anglia?
PUBLISHED: 14:03 04 February 2018
Her book Drawn to the Country is a perfect pick-me-up on a dull, grey, winter’s day
Mary Woodin studied at the Royal College of Art in London and after she graduated was commissioned to create ceramic tile murals for South Kensington Underground station. It’s fair to say, then, she was a city girl.
But life changes, and there came a time when she found herself nursing a dream and thumbing through The Complete Encyclopedia of Chickens in bed.
The result? She and her family decided to move to a farmhouse in the East Anglian countryside and embrace a dramatically different lifestyle.
To be honest, the signs had been there. Nature had exerted its pull – her first book was The Painted Garden, a watercolour diary based on her London garden. And then there was her heritage.
Mum Susanne was eight years old when her brave parents sent her from risky Berlin to safer England. The youngster was looked after in rural Norfolk (near Downham Market) by Ted and Maud Hanslip, who ran a village shop and sold the vegetables they grew on their small-holding.
“A self confessed ‘tomboy’, my mother adapted eagerly to country life, and has only ever expressed gratitude for her good fortune,” says Mary. So, about a dozen years ago, Mary, husband Andrew and their children also came to East Anglia.
How Mary has grown to love her adopted rural region – its views, quirks, characters and traditions – is chronicled by the words and pictures of her new book, Drawn to the Country.
It’s described as a sketchbook anthology capturing the beauty she finds in the everyday as the seasons pass, and offers us the chance to pause, consider and celebrate.
The artist guides us through the year in the company of cabbages and sprouting broccoli, sheep, pigeons, blackbirds, the auctions at Diss, chickens and cuckoos, woodpeckers, catkins and comfrey, nets of seed potatoes, farmer Geoffrey and his Friday vegetable stall.
Mary’s “fascinated by detail and drawn to capture the extraordinary that lies in the seemingly ordinary” – such as a hen’s first egg or an ancient oak on the horizon.
It has been something of a learning curve, though, upping sticks to the Norfolk-Suffolk borderlands, close to Scole and Eye. “If I remember correctly, we were seeking a slower pace of life more profoundly immersed in the seasons. Hmm,” she reflects.
They arrived at their old farmhouse one September night, the sky “disconcertingly black” and, even indoors, found a bat skimming from beam to beam. “Yes, we did fleetingly question what we had done.”
Another confession: They took possession of their three and a half acres with “only scant gardening knowledge” but rose to the challenge and learned through trial and error. And they gradually became attuned to the rhythms of country life… and made East Anglia home.
Of course, our rural region is not preserved in aspic. Change is a fact of life. Even 90 or 100 miles from the metropolis.
One of the towns they visit regularly is historic Eye, a “wibbly-wobbly kind of place” they like very much.
“When we arrived twelve years ago ‘cappuccino’ didn’t feature in the Suffolk dictionary. Now we have a heady choice of four locations to enjoy a cup of coffee…”
Drawn to the Country is published by Conker Press (www.conkerpress.com) at £15