Fragile, naïve and centuries old; Peak District well dressing

A lovely video from @terrybnd all about our wonderful well dressings. Tissington is always the first and is the most spectacular, but from May to September you can find a well dressing somewhere in the Peak District.

Tissington is a neighbouring village, and we always try and take the opportunity to wander around admiring the well dressings during balmy evenings, after all the crowds have gone.

Well dressings are the amazing and ephemeral works of art displayed, briefly in villages all over the Peak District. For hundreds of years villagers have celebrated the gift of sweet water by decorating the village wells with intricate patterns and pictures often inspired by Bible stories. The pictures are made of flower petals, carefully laid over each other like roof tiles, fixed into damp clay, held in large decorative vertical wooden trays.

The designs are pricked out on the clay using paper patterns, the outlines created with tiny pine cones. Then starting at the bottom the vibrant coloured flower petals are gently fixed into the clay. Some wells have traditional patterns repeated over the years. The decorations remain on view for just one week, then everything is cleared away and planning starts for the next year.

I’m a painter, specialising in Swedish style folk art. When I paint about the Peak District I always give Peak District women well dressing skirts- even my ‘Angels bending near the Earth’ have well dressing robes.

Harps of Gold

Harps of Gold, egg tempera on gesso on canvas by Sue Prince 2010 (c)

Folk art (naïve art, outsider art, self-taught art) is pretty well hidden in Britain. It is hugely valued in many countries; America, Sweden, Russia and also Slovenia, as I discovered having been invited to paint in Slovenia. I joined 42nd gathering of international naive artists at the Galerija likovnih samorastnikov The Gallery of Naïve Artists

The Gallery was founded in 1971 as a result of an annual action camp for Naïve Artists, which started in 1968. At these meetings artists from around the world met each other and shared experiences while creating pieces for the permanent collection.

Well dressings are the Peak District’s folk art. Created by people of the place, they haven’t been to art college, they aren’t professional artists, but what they create touches the heart and warms the soul!

Tissington Well Dressing

Tissington Well Dressing

To appreciate a well dressing is to appreciate the closeness and tradition of a community, the relentless turning of the seasons, the love of nature and flowers, the patterns and images that surround you and the protected landscape they sit in.

Coffin Well Tissington

Coffin Well, Tissington

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One Response to Fragile, naïve and centuries old; Peak District well dressing

  1. pottijo says:

    Fascinating Sue. I never knew abything about well dressing. I love the idae of it too, a great community engagement activity for everyone and a great opportunity to acknowledge how lucky we are to have access to water.
    Love the wonderfully colourful dressings. Someone should do a local history book which chronicles the dressings each year!

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