“Not Long Ago, there lived a Miller and her two sons in a watermill, in a hamlet near the Transylvanian village of Miklósvár. The mill was the prettiest building in the hamlet with the most beautiful cottage garden and chickens clucking through the flower beds. Although she was very old and very petite the Miller ran the mill as she had for many years with the help of her sons. Her sons had the bluest eyes in the land and were very tall. All she needed was contained in one small, dark room, her bed, her kitchen range, a table, a chair and her loom for weaving tapestries and rugs.
Sometimes she welcomed travellers to visit her mill to make extra leu. One day a Scottish visitor and a Geordie visitor came to the mill. She had baked them fresh pastries with jam which were delicious. Her sons showed the visitors how the mill and its water wheel worked, then the Miller allowed the Scottish visitor to try weaving a rug on the loom. Whilst weaving the visitor noticed a vibrant tapestry, hanging on the wall above the bed. The tapestry depicted a fairy tale and underneath it the Miller sweetly slept in her bed each night. When the tour was over the Miller stood in her garden in the sunshine waving goodbye to the visitors and her sons blinked their bright blue eyes”.
So many aspects of our trip to Romania in 2008 have stayed with us, the breathtaking landscapes, the beautiful villages, wolf-tracking, bear-tracking and the friends we made and two wonderful nights spent with them in The Shed – a glorious watering hole in a Transylvanian village.
And the Miller and her mill. I never forgot her standing in her garden waving to us.
During our Romanian adventure, partly in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor, (see 175 Steps with Patrick Leigh Fermor) we learned a lot about Communist oppression of the Romanian people, Communist State Terror and the purges resulting in many thousands of lives lost at the hands of the Securitate – the Romanian Secret Police. A tragically broken country and people, Romania only emerged from the shadow of Communism and Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in 1989.
Remembering the Miller and her precious fairy tale tapestry, I thought of the communist purges and the Romanian peoples forcibly torn from their homes by the Securitate and the possessions left behind in the many empty properties we saw across Romania, grave memorials of the state’s barbarity.
To commemorate such loss during the purges I decided to make ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’. It represents an interpretation of mass produced prints made in the 20th century of a fictional fairy tale about a ‘wolf cub’ and a ‘red horse’ and is reminiscent of Soviet Propaganda posters. The drawing signifies how subjective art is and once selected by an individual, and displayed in their home it becomes a statement of ‘this is my taste’. When the art work is left behind on the walls of abandoned homes, the home-owners ‘taste’ is exhibited to a silent audience or rediscovered by soldiers, refugees, other villagers or by nature. The drawing also pays homage to Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations, particularly ‘The Red Rider’ in the Russian tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful”.
I wondered had the Miller loved fairy tales as a young girl just as I loved my first fairy tale book illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. Incorporating a drawing in red Biro of a gypsy horse after Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, one of my favourite childhood illustrations, I placed Lily as a puppy playing the wolf cub, riding on the horse’s back. On the saddle is a projection of a Russian animation of a wolf which the wolf cub is watching.
The drawing also memorialises our wonderful trip to beautiful Romania.