Sunday, November 1, 2020

Moreton-in-March, Gloucestershire

Border control 

I’m always telling people to look up at buildings, but sometimes it pays to look down. Look down, especially, as you enter a shop, and you might see one of these elegant Victorian (or later) threshold mosaics advertising some past proprietor’s business. In Moreton-in-Marsh, a Cotswold town full of limestone buildings of various dates and degrees of picturesqueness, I’d not necessarily expect to come across this sort of thing, but even here, shop fronts have been continuously modified, and, as we know now more than ever, businesses come and go on the high street. Sometimes they leave their mark by the entrance. The one that surprised me in Moreton must be early-20th century, or at any rate done under the strong influence of Art Nouveau.  

Although I’m often mightily impressed by the way mosaicists form letters out of tiny tesserae, the letters here are far from perfect. There’s a wilfulness about stroke widths (look at the final ’s’), an uncertainty when it comes to curves (the lower part of the ‘B’, and an inconsistency with the serifs (the peculiar backward-facing foot of the second ‘R’) that mar the effect for me. Getting this sort of thing right isn’t easy, and in some mosaics the letters are formed with such flair you hardly notice the effort that must have been involved; not so here. What I do like, though, is the border, with its beguiling combination of curves which go this way and that, overlapping and doubling back on themselves, in an orgy of Art Nouveau invention.* Even the way in which the reddish-brown lines abut and interact with the fan-like arrays of white background tesserae is well judged. If the mosaicist’s letters are weak, his border is admirably well controlled.  

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* How inventive is it? Is this the kind of thing you could lift from a pattern-book? Possibly, but you’d certainly need to be resourceful to plan it out in little tiles and combine it with the rest of the design.

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