Tuesday, September 30, 2014
This is the creature that was never seen…
Looking rather soulfully down at potential customers is this three-dimensional sign on the Unicorn Inn in the Oxfordshire town of Deddington. I’m kicking myself for not having noticed it before, as it’s an appealing sign. But perhaps these days it’s not as affective an eye-catcher as it was – driving past, you are apt to be dodging other vehicles in the town’s busy market place, which is made narrow by parked cars. Walking along the pavement, the sign is easy to miss as you pass, being tucked on its ledge, its white body set against the pale background of the wall behind.
When you do see it, though, it’s arresting, the golden bits helping its white body to stand out against the white wall, and it’s one of those bits of folk art that’s worth admiring. And what a fine and distinctive creature to put on your inn – mythical, enigmatic, elusive (‘This is the creature there has never been,’ begins Rilke’s sonnet on the beast, in J B Leishman’s translation), and yet instantly identifiable all the same.
I’ve managed to miss the Tate Gallery’s exhibition of Folk Art in London, but intend to catch it at Compton Verney soon. I’m hoping that it includes some pub signs – both painted and three-dimensional – along with the marvellous ships’ figureheads, shop signs, felt pictures, and other delights I’ve seen illustrating reviews of the show. Traditional inn signs, it seems to me, offer a terrific opportunity to display works of art out of doors, and the nature of the genre dictates that they be clear, easy to read, and characterful. Even though I found it hard to spot, Deddington’s unicorn makes up in character what it lacks in other ways: it seems to fit the bill.
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If you like this sort of thing, I’ve noticed a few other three-dimensional inn signs on my travels. They include: the uniquely named Dying Gladiator at Brigg, Lincolnshire; the splendid, gold-maned White Lion at Upton on Severn, Worcestershire; the Old Sugar Loaf at Dunstable, Bedfordshire; and the Swan at Wells, Somerset (with musical bonus).