Stroud artist Alison Merry’s illuminated artwork

Rainbow Nativity, by Alison Merry

Rainbow Nativity, by Alison Merry - Credit: Archant

Over the last eight months or so, rainbows have been a symbol of hope and solidarity. And now, in the spirit of Christmas goodwill, Bisley artist Alison Merry has captured the zeitgeist in her distinctive illuminated artworks

Saint Wulstan, by Alison Merry

Saint Wulstan, by Alison Merry - Credit: Archant

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.

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?

Bisley Rainbow, by Alison Merry

Bisley Rainbow, by Alison Merry - Credit: Archant

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.

I understand villagers are producing an online advent calendar...

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This is being organised by members of Bisley’s church community, with personal contributions which will be put together to produce a daily online Christmas thought or memory alongside a serialisation of the Christmas story. Technology harnessed to reach out to people this Christmas - especially to those who aren’t able to get to church this year.

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

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?

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, and I’m grateful it’s going ahead despite the limitations of Covid restrictions. 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.

What are you hoping 2021 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:

*PLEASE NOTE: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Alison Merry’s exhibition at Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud has been postponed until Nov/Dec 2021.

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