Stroud artist Alison Merry’s illuminated artwork

Rainbow Nativity, by Alison Merry

Rainbow Nativity, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk

During the national lockdown, rainbows were seen as symbols of hope and solidarity. In the spirit of Christmas goodwill, Bisley artist Alison Merry has captured the zeitgeist in her distinctive illuminated artworks, currently on show at Stroud's Museum in the Park

Three Ships, by Alison Merry

Three Ships, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk

What was it like to be locked down at home in Bisley – how did you manage to stay sane?

I counted my blessings every day and stayed busy at my desk. I’ve had plenty of outdoors for escape, and live in a caring village community, so no excuses for going cabin-fever crazy. Hugging trees and talking to my cats has helped at critical moments. I have a great view from my window and have spent a lot of time contemplating that.

Bisley Rainbow, by Alison Merry

Bisley Rainbow, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk

Your Bisley Rainbow Nativity, which is available as a Christmas card, shows Mary raising a protective veil over her sleeping baby. What was the inspiration for this?

Rainbows have been a symbol of hope in many cultures throughout history, and never more so than in our own times when they have come to represent movements for social change and, in 2020, a nation’s solidarity with the NHS. I knew I wanted to produce something rainbow themed.

In the 19th century, a wall painting of Mary and her ‘protecting veil’ was uncovered in Bisley Church. The overarching of a rainbow reminded me of the enfolding embrace of Mary’s cloak, and the Bisley design evolved from the combination of those two ideas. The beautiful Norman font in Bisley Church made the perfect crib. The little picture on the reverse shows our local post office and shop as a tribute to Tom and Lucie (and Teddy the dog) for all they have done for the village in lockdown.

Saint Wulstan, by Alison Merry

Saint Wulstan, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk

Another of your seasonal cards depicts St Wulfstan dining with geese. What’s the story behind the tale?

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This was a subject for a Christmas card suggested to me years ago. In lockdown, I had time to explore the idea. It’s one of many anecdotes associated with Saint Wulfstan, an 11th-century Bishop of Worcester. Ashamed of being distracted while celebrating Holy Mass (at Hawkesbury, Gloucestershire) by the smell of roasted goose coming from nearby kitchens, Wulfstan vowed to give up eating meat forever. He is depicted on my card dining on veggie kebabs in the company of some very happy geese. Wulfstan is the patron saint of vegetarians and dieters.

I love your cover illustration for Kevin Walker’s book, Queer Folk Tales! Do tell us more...

That was a nice surprise! A lockdown commission from Cheltenham’s History Press. I was sent the story of ‘Good King Richard’ from Kevin’s collection and asked to design a cover illustration for the book. A gay 12th-century royal merman! What’s not to like?

Dick Whittington, by Alison Merry

Dick Whittington, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk

What can we expect to see at your exhibition at Stroud’s Museum in the Park?

It’s a privilege to be asked to exhibit at our wonderful local museum. We shall be displaying a selection of paintings and prints that tell some of the local history stories I have illustrated over the years. Some old favourites, some new and, because of the timing of the exhibition, there’s a strong Christmas theme. It celebrates legends, people and places associated with the Cotswolds as well as from further afield. It will take you to Hailes Abbey, Cirencester Abbey, the Rollright Stones, Bristol and Norwich amongst other places, and introduce you to Aethelflaed, William the Conqueror, Dick Whittington, Thomas Becket, Thomas Traherne, the Tetbury dolphins and Mabel, the Stroud cat.

Good King Wenceslas, by Alison Merry

Good King Wenceslas, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk

What are you hoping the New Year will bring... globally, personally and creatively?

What a big question!! Globally (vain hopes): that humankind wakes up to the catastrophes the world is facing, that integrity becomes more fashionable, that power passes into the hands of the wise, the visionaries and the compassionate. And the taming of Covid, of course.

Personally – and most urgently: those long-overdue reunions with family and friends and a bit more freedom to roam. More whimsically: the return of Wimbledon and The Proms, a new scented wisteria for my cottage to replace the magnificent one that died this year, and tea with Grayson Perry would be nice. Creatively: that the ideas keep coming, that my eyes and hands keep working, and that time allows me to finish all the pictures I want to paint. There are so many good stories still to tell.

Visit Alison’s website: merryilluminations.co.uk

Alison Merry’s exhibition at Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud, runs until Sunday, December 19.

Cotswold Nativity, by Alison Merry

Cotswold Nativity, by Alison Merry - Credit: merryilluminations.co.uk