She had wondered, for years, what was the strange creature carved into the woodwork of her 17th century cottage.
Endless research and requests to experts had revealed nothing. Then, a chance visit to the Five Rivers Leisure Centre set her on her way to the answer.
It was there that she saw this:
City Story: Historic Past, Creative Future was a museum HLF funded project led by our own Katy England, with young people taking part in afterschool clubs, Saturday workshops for young carers and sessions for schools and colleges at the museum.
The 11 – 18 year olds had been working with inspiring local artists to explore the extraordinary objects in the museum’s Salisbury History and Costume collections.
A young man involved with the project had chosen the museum figure of the Harpy for his inspiration and produced the remarkable image we see above.
The lady spotted the print and knew immediately it was her strange creature. She sent this email to the museum:
I recently visited the Leisure Centre in Salisbury and noticed a picture in the reception area which is part of the City Art Project run by Salisbury Museum. I live in a listed cottage in Tisbury (circa 1620) and have a figure on an old door which is exactly like one of the figures in one of the pieces of work in the leisure centre. I have tried for years to identify this figure and all sorts of experts (including the listed buildings team, experts on historic buildings, experts from Devizes, local historians, internet searches etc) have failed to recognise it, saying that they have never seen anything like it before. I hope I have attached a picture of my figure which is only a few centimetres in height and is pinned onto an ancient door. The picture in the leisure centre is an exact replica and looks like some sort of lino print – bright yellow.
Can you help me find what the artist’s source of inspiration was? I presume that it is some object in the museum. Brigid Budd
The mystery was solved! Katy replied with this email:
I have some information for you on the artefact in the museum that closely resembles the figure on your cottage door.
It was originally thought to be a representation of St Michael, but when Brian Spencer (the expert who wrote up The Salisbury Museum catalogue) examined the object in 1986 he identified it as the following:
“Decorative pin or badge in the form of a grotesque, probably derived from the harpy, a mythological monster with the head and breast of a woman and the wings and claws of a bird of prey. Though the harpy was often associated with evil, it was used in heraldry as a form of decoration. Combination of brass pin and lead alloy ornament seems to have been a 16th century practice (Brian Spencer, 1986).”
I have mentioned your story to Peter Saunders (the previous director of The Salisbury Museum and an expert in the Salisbury History collection) and Peter has suggested that if the image was attached to a door, it may have been put there as a talisman to ward off evil trying to enter. Also, it fits the date of your cottage!
Katy arranged for the lady to have a framed print of the Harpy and, in return, the museum received a generous donation and Katy enjoyed the gift of a most delicious carrot cake!
Katy and the museum have been successful in a further bid, this time from the Esme Fairbairn Collections Fund, for further work with young people. See https://www.museumsassociation.org/news/05122017-esmee-fairbairn-collections-fund-successful-applicants for details.