Ynys Mon (Isle of Anglesey) and Charles F. Tunnicliffe

I've recently returned from a short tour of Snowdonia and Anglesey (April 2015), which fortunately coincided with a spell of warm settled weather - creating perfect blue skies and wonderful light in which to view the stunning scenery. The imressive mountain range of Snowdonia was an ever present backdrop..misty blue in the morning and glowing pink in the evening, and Anglesey was sparkling and bright. Green fields dottted with yellow Gorse, hedgerows with Hawthorn in full blossom, trees of many variety just coming into leaf, and soft pussy willow, all together creating an inspiring landscape filled with sounds of birdsong and the bleating of lambs.
   This was the setting for the wonderful painting, drawings and illustrations of Charles Tunnicliffe, who moved to Anglesey with his wife in 1947 and lived there until his death in 1979.
   Many people of my generation will be familiar with at least some of Tunnicliffes work although they may not know his name..or be aware of the great scope and variety of artwork he produced. He is probably best known for his illustrations in the popular 'Ladybird' books such as 'What to look for in Spring'..Summer, Autumn, Winter, and the 'Brookbond' Tea Cards we so loved to collect, which featured birds, animals, insects, flowers and trees.

  Arriving on Anglesey on the morning of a warm spring day I felt immediately immersed in his landscapes and his world. His sheep were in the fields, Hawthorn and Willow, Swallow and Rook seemed to appear from the pages of the books I had grown up with. I visited first the small village of Malltraeth where he lived with his wife at 'Shorelands', a bungalow overlooking the Cefni estuary. Now privately owned, the bungalow is visible, and the estuary still rings with the haunting cries of Curlew, and many other wading birds may be seen. A lovely spot for artist and bird-watcher alike.

Measured Drawing - Greenland Falcon
Mereside Chronicles' published 1947

Maltraeth, where Tunnicliffe lived.

 Having imbibed the atmosphere of Maltraeth, I next found myself at Oriel Ynys Mon, a small museum and gallery situated in Llangefni, which preserves several collections of Tunnicliffes work -although much is in private hands. Here I found a small area dedicated to Tunnicliffe. There is a glass cabinet housing the tools of his trade - various brushes, magnifying glass, dividers, and a large pencil chest, and a selection of paintings and drawings. Considering the huge body of work Tunnicliffe produced - measured drawings, illustrations for a large number of books, incuding 'Tarka the Otter'..and many wood engravings - the amount on show was disappointing, although I understand that the museum has a programme of  'rolling exhibitions' throughout the year. Fortunately, I had a pre-arranged appointment to meet with Museum Officer Ian Jones, who had agreed to show me some of Tunnicliffes work which was not on show. In a back room, where temperature , humidiity and light is carefully controlled , Ian brought forth box after box of drawings, paintings and sketchbooks. I was thrilled to view many of the beautiful 'measured drawings' of birds of prey up close. These are virtually life size painted studies which  Tunnicliffe created from dead birds and animals found and brought to him for study. Each page shows wing structure, head and claw, with feather markings, accompained by careful notes and measurements.
Ian Jones is a knowledgable and enthusiastic guide to Tunnicliffes work, full of interesting stories about the artist and deep knowledge of his history and that of his work, which is spread across a variety of institutuons and also held in private hands. The museum has a small fund with which to purchase work when it occasionally comes on to the open market from private hands, and is also the first port of call for film-makers, photographers and researchers on Tunnicliffe.
With my own passion for detail, it was a particular delight to view the copper engraving used to create illustrations of Henry Williamsons 'Tarka the Otter', and the tiny monochrome paintings which Tunnicliffe produced in abundance for his 'Meerside Chronicles' For me, these were the highlight of my visit. Page after page of water and land bird skipping across pages, flying out in formation, and merging with rippling water. These tiny paintings seemed to have a zen- like quality and some parts are reminiscent of oriental brushwork. There is simplicity, lightness of touch and poetry in each tiny masterpiece whcih is delightful, magical and deeply pleasing.  Unfortunately reproductions of these little drawings are at present quite dreadful! Anyone glancing through a copy of ' Meeerside Chronicles' would be given no clue as to the beauty of the originals. In the chronicle they appear murky, grainy and dull due to the poor printing and paper quality of this 1947 Country Life publication.

Numerous text books, booklets and story books can be discoverted with Tunnicliffes illustrations and many wood engravings, but for anyone interested in art and illustration, the countryside, birds and birdwatching, there is a hidden mineof beauty and inspiration waiting to be discovered at Oriel Ynys Mons , and  I would highly recommend an hour or two spent in the company of Mr Ian Jones and Mr Charles F Tunnicliffe

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