In the footprints of Dylan

Seimon Pugh-Jones at the Tin Shed, Laugharne. Photo cr Graham Harris of GPhotography

Seimon Pugh-Jones at the Tin Shed, Laugharne. Photo cr Graham Harris of GPhotography

Dylan Thomas was born on this day in 1914, making it entirely appropriate to celebrate with an artist I met in the town where he wrote much of his poetry, and the play Under Milk Wood.

I encounter Seimon Pugh-Jones in Laugharne while exploring the Tin Shed museum – a marvel of a place dedicated to wartime memorabilia. There’s even an Anderson shelter in the back garden, and countless ephemera such as old letters and guides for American GIs posted in Britain with glorious cultural titbits such as ‘Reserved, not unfriendly…”

Seimon is one of the museum’s founders, with a background in film photography. He’s currently absorbed in painting all the characters from Dylan Thomas ‘play for voices’, Under Milk Wood.

Cherry Owen by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Cherry Owen by Seimon Pugh-Jones

I’d done stills photography for the History Channel. It was for a series called ‘Battle Stations’, which gave me a lot of experience in historical reconstruction pictures,” says Seimon. “That basically means, recreating images in the style of original WW2 pictures. Costume, props and vehicles had to be accurate to the period and then I would create a little story within the image to add some pseudo-reality, if that makes sense.”

Through “being at the right place at the right time”, Seimon was invited to work on Band of Brothers, supplying ‘newsreel’ style footage shot on a vintage camera. “I even got a bit part. That was an amazing experience,” he comments.

Gossamer Beynon by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Gossamer Beynon by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Seimon then became a stills photographer for an American history magazine called Armchair General. “I did ‘reconstruction style photography’ full time for four years, and loved it, but then my contract came to end and I was out of work,” he says. “Because I had a large collection of costume and props, I ended up opening the Tin Shed museum with a friend of mine, Andrew Isaacs, in Laugharne.”

After focusing on working on the museum for several years, Seimon was interviewed for a web-based photo-site. “One of the questions asked me was ‘What’s your next project?’ I’d committed myself to an exhibition of photography at a local gallery, and when I listened back to the interview, I realised I’d lost the enthusiasm for taking pictures.”

PC Attila Rees by Seimon Pugh-Jones

PC Attila Rees by Seimon Pugh-Jones

He adds: “I’m a bit old school, I love shooting on film and working in the dark room. There are some great photographers out there, but Photoshop and computer-manipulated images have taken the magic away from photography for me… But I’d made a promise to fill the gallery, so what could I do? I’d dabbled a bit with painting, nothing serious..so I though, Give it a go!”

Captain Cat by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Captain Cat by Seimon Pugh-Jones

He says producing portraits of Under Milk Wood’s characters was almost inevitable. “I live in Laugharne, virtually opposite to where Dylan Thomas is buried,” he says. “It’s a magical place and I quite understand how he got his inspiration for Under Milk Wood. This led me to take a photograph of a friend of mine, John Bradshaw, dressed as Captain Cat, with a fish on his head, (as you do) as a little photo project. It worked well as a picture, so I thought I’d paint him. It turned out ok. And as Captain Cat needs a Rosie Probert, she was next.”

Rosie Probert by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Rosie Probert by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Using the people of Laugharne as models for this was equally inevitable.

“Rosie Probert was another friend of mine, Lorrain King, who sings in the band I play for, Trenchfoot. That’s another story. As the paintings progressed, I realised I needed models…then I realised it would be so much fun getting my friends involved. So it went on from there.”

Mrs Ogmore Pritchard by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Mrs Ogmore Pritchard by Seimon Pugh-Jones

All kinds of details are to hand to bring the caricatures to life.

“Dylan Thomas has given the caricature such depth and richness, and a back story. I try and make the expressions realistic to those ‘moments’. I also try and incorporate subtle bits of humour.”

Running the Tin Shed museum offers endless opportunities for staging and painting the portraits. “I love vintage fashion, and having props and costume to hand makes it interesting too,” he comments. “The museum is not for profit, we can’t take a wage from it, so being able to paint around the museum, so to speak, is very handy.”

Evans The Death by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Evans The Death by Seimon Pugh-Jones

The lack of technology involved in his painting style is also appealing. “I suppose going back to ‘Old school’ works for me. I think art has replaced what I was missing in photography. It’s a new challenge.”

You can see more of Seimon’s paintings dotted around Laugharne, as well as encountering his models going about their everyday lives in a variety of settings around the village!

No Good Boyo by Seimon Pugh-Jones

No Good Boyo by Seimon Pugh-Jones

He admits that showing his models the finished works is always a tense moment.

“This is the nerve wrenching bit, because Under Milk wood is full of colourful caricatures. I have to make sure my models are comfortable with the casting. But so far, I’ve had a great response… Fingers crossed for the next series!”

Find Seimon at www.pughjones.co.uk.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

A retreat in Laugharne

Taf Etsuary, Laugharne cr Judy DarleyWhile others seek winter sun (and yes, I’m tempted), I often find myself drawn to the more secluded places, the out-of-season contemplative corners where mist and moss hang from the trees and the only sound may be the distant waterfall of a curlew’s call.

Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, Wales, on the estuary of the River Taf, is one such place. I had the chance to spend four foggy, magical days there in Spring 2012, and returned there this November.

Laugharne signpost cr Judy Darley

Home to poet Dylan Thomas for the last four years of his life (he died in 1953), Laugharne is the perfect spot to squirrel yourself away for plenty of thinking space and glorious views.

With my family, I stayed at the Season’s resort situated on the hill there, in a self-catering cottage with views over the Taf Estuary and the village rumoured to have been the starting point for the fictional Llareggub in Dylan’s Under Milk Wood. Although the invented name looks genuine enough for that area of Wales, if you reverse it you’ll discover the words bugger all, which tells you everything you need to know about this peaceful retreat.

Milk Wood, Laugharne cr Judy Darley

Ironically, Dylan’s time there has resulted in a number of attractions to visit and influxes of literary minded tourists in high summer, but at this time of year the majority of the visitors are wading birds, searching the estuary’s shallows for molluscs.

Dylan's Walk cr Judy Darley

Just along a little forest track from the resort, called Dylan’s Walk (and decorated lavishly with the afore-mention mist and moss hung trees), you’ll find Dylan’s writing shed, where you can peer in through the glass-panelled door and see it just as he left it, with a jacket hung over the back of his chair and bottles, books, paper and other ephemera littering the desk and shelves. I think it looks as though he’s nipped out for a moment’s think, and is standing somewhere nearby staring out at the Taf and swilling words around his mouth.

Dylan Thomas writing shed cr Judy Darley

A short way beyond this, you’ll find the Dylan Thomas Boathouse where he lived with his family, and now a museum. It’s a lovely building, with a cute café so you can pause for a coffee and a ponder. The Boathouse is also a great place for a spot of word bombing, as I did in 2012!

Boathouse word bomb cr Judy Darley

Boathouse word bomb cr Judy Darley1

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few minutes walk in the other direction leads to the village past the dramatic ruined Laugharne castle, which apparently boasts a summerhouse where Dylan used to write – presumably when he needed a very slight change of view. He described the castle as “Brown as owls” in his Poem in October.

Laugharne Castle cr Judy Darley

He was also known for frequenting Brown’s Hotel, which still thrives today – apparently his routine was to write at his shed in the mornings and then head to Brown’s in the afternoons, where he could drink beer as he wrote. According to the hotel’s website, he said he liked to “moulder” in the corner facing the entrance as he worked. Back then it was known simply as a bar with room, but now it’s a luxury boutique hotel – ideal for a romantic hideaway.

Dylan Thomas grave cr Judy Darley

If you head inland from Dylan’s writing shed, you’ll eventually reach St. Martin’s Church, where Dylan Thomas’ grave is marked by a plain white cross with exquisitely curly lettering. The name of his wife, Caitlin, adorns the other side as she’s buried with him. It looks like they’re finally achieving the marital harmony in death that eluded them in life!

Tenby cr Judy Darley

Further afield there are plenty of diversions. On our previous visit, we spent a pleasant day visiting the pretty harbour town of Tenby (above), and this time we went to Carmarthen and Pendine Beach, and called in at the excellent National Botanical Garden of Wales – another perfectly tranquil spot – on our way back to England.

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