It all began in my head several years ago, this need to thank those involved in my childhood, my neighbours who lived in Tremeirchion, in North Wales, a mostly agricultural village of about 500. Yes, I was raised in a real village in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s and I was so lucky.
Now, I was faced with 30 oil portraits. Shipping costs were enormous so they had to go in a suitcase. Fortunately, my husband is practical and used to packing and shipping things. I left him to it and there they were, wrapped and packed among clothes and shoes as we headed to Delta check-in at Charleston airport. I was a gibbering wreck in case they were deemed illegal but of course they weren’t. I knew their weight was good because I’d spent hours carrying birch boards around the art supply store while working out the best size, and we kept weighing them while packing. Many hours later, we met again in Manchester’s baggage claim and put them in the rental car. They were going home!
The next day I went to meet Lynne, whom I had never met, at The Carriageworks, the lovely gallery where they were to be displayed before departing with their families. I panicked as I opened the door, and instead of the dignified entrance I’d planned it was anything but. I wailed,
“What was I thinking? It’s a terrible idea, nobody will come,” to which a quiet and gentle voice said firmly,
“It’s a fine idea and you must be Meyriel. I’m Lynne.” The rest of the adventure had begun and I had met a wonderful person who ensured everything went perfectly. We hung the portraits after going across the road to the Hardware shop for mirror plates that neither John nor I had ever heard of. He measured meticulously and finally there they were, around the walls, some looking a little surprised.
For three days the beautiful, sunny building was busy with people recognizing their old friends. I am still stunned. But the most amazing day was the reception for the families. There were no artsy discussions just reminiscences about people. They were funny, heartrending, gossipy, serious, just like village life. Photographs and actual family trees were laid out on the pine tables, tea cups were pushed out of the way as family lines were gesticulated. It was moving, and totally unexpected. It was noisy with much laughter and stretched out onto the medieval street.
The two patriarchs in their 90’s held court alongside their portraits, and one, Ivor, made a moving speech at the end. He had said he was not coming but his daughter thought otherwise and brought them both. Most of the subjects passed away years ago but I was able to make studies from life of Ivor and Eifion and I think that shows in the result. The others came from old photographs that dear friend, Mair, tracked down. Without her it could not have happened. In spite of the photos I still don’t know how I did it with such little information. But I remembered the characters with love and that carried me through. Not one painting was homeless and it was a profound moment when suddenly the walls were bare and so much energy had dissipated. We hugged Lynne and then she locked the doors, wide to accommodate carriages in their former lives. That Sunday evening I felt honoured to be an artist that enabled me to give my thanks to so many in such a way. As we wandered to the car, I realized I had given back to my village the best way I could.