My consolation in all afflictions - Louie Young
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
The unprecedented events over the last year have touched every one of our lives. All of us lost something, be it a loved one, the freedom to go where we please, to hug friends and family or the simple pleasures of everyday life. In short, we all grieved something.
In hindsight, we should have seen it coming, but for a time it was easy to believe it only affected other people in far off places. Pugin himself foresaw the loss of his second wife, Louisa, twice dreaming of her passing before her death. Whilst it could be said that we, along with Pugin, may have anticipated what was to come, none of us truly believed our greatest fears would actually be realised.
I still vividly remember the shock as the reality of how the world was being turned upside down sunk in. I felt lost and isolated but also struck by an overwhelming urge to do something, anything that would make me feel less helpless. And so, I took to my little summer house at the bottom of the garden where I could channel my increasing feelings of grief into something positive.
I had just cancelled an upcoming trip to Staffordshire and decided that if I could not go to Alton Towers, then I would bring a little piece of it to Norfolk by attempting to recreate Pugin’s glorious chapel ceiling.
It wasn’t an easy process. Firstly, I had to scale down the pattern to fit the ceiling panels of the summerhouse. I then drew each piece of the design out on paper, trying to be as faithful as possible to the original. From these drawings I figured out how to convert them into workable stencils. The centre piece was the most complicated, requiring a number of different elements to create it. I made the stencils from sheets of mylar plastic, which I placed over my drawings before carefully cutting out each design. It was quite a fiddly task, despite the robustness of the mylar. I can, therefore only imagine how difficult it must have been in the 19th century using only paper or card, which would not only have been less forgiving but also much more fragile.
It took a few attempts to get the hang of applying the paint, as it had a tendency to creep up under the stencils. After a bit of practice, I found that the best technique was to make sure the brush was as dry as possible by dabbing off the excess paint on a cloth. Although I soon mastered the application, it wasn’t long before my neck was stiff, giving me a whole new respect for the craftsmen who implemented Pugin’s designs, sometimes in the most awkward of places.
As I worked, I reflected on how Pugin might have felt in his time of grief and how he, too, had thrown himself into his work - was his increased desire to create his way of dealing with all he had lost too?
A few months after lockdown, I was able to reschedule my trip to Staffordshire. Whilst it was wonderful to have a change of scene, there were constant reminders of how much things had changed. As I stood outside the padlocked gates of St Giles, they seemed to personify the current state of the world, kept away from those we love, what we hold most dear and things that raise our spirits.
Pugin in his darkest moments was able to find solace in St Giles, and although at the height of the pandemic the doors, for a time, were closed, the chains were eventually removed and the doors were once again opened. And whilst we may not have returned in the same way as before, forever changed by our experiences, we like Pugin can find hope and some kind of comfort in always remembering to look forward, to always look En Avant.
For me art and creation have always been a way of expressing myself and channelling my feelings. At first it may seem over the top or even ostentatious to have decorated what is effectively a garden shed in such a way but for me, as I sit and drink tea in my summerhouse and look up at the finished ceiling.
Article first published in the Pugin Society's annual newsletter, Present State in 2021