“They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…”

Here are some more images of “They looked like silver birds.  The sun was shining on them…”.

The subtle effects that silverpoint-on-gesso create are so difficult to reproduce via photographs or scans.  Silverpoint lines are created by tracing a point of silver across a prepared surface.  The reaction of the silver with the Zinc-White, in the gesso mixture, creates a very subtle blue-grey line which slowly changes to a brown line over time.  The colour of these drawings will continue to change over time.  There is a subtle sheen to this type of mark and this might entice the viewer to look further into the drawings and to move around to catch glimpses of this effect.  This is another reason why this particular drawing is so hard to reproduce here on the computer screen.  Another thing that makes it difficult to photograph is the fact that it is a wide drawing (about 107cm x 30.5cm) with significant details within it that are very small (the individual drawings are not much more than about three centimetres high).  I hope these images, added to the previous ones posted here, give an impression of the real thing.

Below is an image of some of the panels at an earlier stage.

The portraits are worked from reproductions of newspaper images of some of the victims.  I had to try to work out the look for each of these people from images which were often quite indistinct.  However, quite a lot can be reconstructed from very little.  For example, the shape of a shadow under a nose will imply the form of the upper lip and shape of the nose that cast that particular shadow.  Most of the original images would, most likely, have been collected from individual or group family portraits and some of these would have been ‘touched up’ or fashionably stylised.  I tried to find each person’s individual ‘look’ from out of these often very vague images.  In several cases the reference images were so vague that it was difficult to get a clear sense of what the person actually looked like from them and so in these cases I reproduced this obscurity with equivalent lines, marks, scratches and traces.  All the time I was hoping that I was being fair to the real people and that if it was possible for these people to see these drawings they wouldn’t be annoyed at me for representing them in this way.

The drawing is made up of four ranks of seventeen gesso panels.  Each of the people who were killed by the bomb have a panel with their name, age, cause of death and perhaps a fragment of a story connected with them.  Five of these panels contain transcriptions of eye witness remembered accounts of the event.  Individuals who were with each other at the time or who were related or connected to each other have been placed next to each other in my drawing.  For example, ‘Rose’ Hughes and ‘Florrie’ Francis were friends who were buried next to each other and with similar looking grave stones and so these are next to each other in my drawing.  ‘Gwennie’ Terry, Dorothy Jackman and ‘Madge’ McDonald were seen to be laughing and joking outside Gosnald’s shop just before the explosion and so these too have been placed next to each other in my drawing.

There is a small plaque in Tontine Street in Folkestone to remember the people were killed there (there were others who died in other parts of Folkestone and in the area that day but Tontine Street was the location of the largest loss of life that day).  The place where Stokes’ shop stood (the bomb exploded outside this shop) is presently an open gap between buildings where a pub beer garden used to be.

This work has its origins in a question I asked when I was about seven years old and a family memory of a bombed building in Buckingham Road Margate in the First World War – but that’s another story.

I recommend Martin Easdown’s book, A Glint in the Sky for those who want to know more.

I’ve posted some short videos of this drawing on youtube.  Google ‘Roy Eastland Drawing’ into youtube and you should find them there easily.

2 thoughts on ““They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…””

  1. Hi Roy,

    We just visited the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle and saw your piece ‘They looked like silver birds…’

    What an evocative piece of art, we studied it for ages and are planning on another trip to see it again.

    The use of silverpoint on gesso made such hauntingly brief and ghostly marks, they were perfect for the, obviously, well researched subject.

    The story of the little girls head is still with my partner.

    Thanks for the work and story.


    1. Thank you for your comments.

      I hope some people will spend some time with it and make their own version of events, in their own imagination, as they notice the connections between people. I’ve tried to place people next to each other if they were near to each other when it happened.

      I hope to return to this work in the future.

      Since making this piece I have received an email from someone who told me that his Mum was caught up in the explosion. She was unharmed but her brother (Ernest McGuire in my drawing) died. He sent me a jpeg image of the original photograph from which the newspaper portrait was taken (most of the faces in my drawing are from a newspaper report published soon after the air raid). It was a picture of ‘Ernie’, as he was known to his family, and his little sister (the mother of the person who emailed me). He also sent another picture, taken a few years later, in which his mother is shown sitting by herself. She is wearing a broche and in the broche is that some picture of Ernie.

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