Sicilian Carts (Pimp my ride).

Here is a essay on Sicilian Carts. It is from a short lived art journal called Arts and Crafts ‘A monthly review’ edited by Herbert Furst, and then Wilfred Lewis Hanchant. It ran from between 1927-1929.

What is interesting is the essay is by Claudia Guercio, who later became Claudia Freedman. Claudia was born in Formby, Liverpool and studied at the local art school before going to the Royal College of Art. There she met and married Barnett Freedman.

It can be a bit rambling but I think it is worth a read and Claudia also mentions her beloved Sicilian Puppets.

Sicilian Carts by Claudia Guercio

One of the most outstanding features of Sicilian life, in the eyes of any foreigner visiting Sicily for the first time, are the carts used by the peasants of that country. As the carts used in Palermo, the capital of the island, are supposed to be without parallel it is of them we shall speak the writer happens to have lived many years in Palermo and is well acquainted with the carts to be seen there and in the surrounding countryside. They are just the ordinary working carts, used by the proprietors of orange and lemonade orchards in the country to carry their fruit to market in the towns, used by the charcoal sellers and the peddlers of fruit and vegetables, who go their rounds in the morning through alleys and by-streets. These beautifully painted carts are used for even humbler purposes, great loads of seaweed are carried away in them from the sea-shores and loads of stones from the quarries. They are mostly drawn by mules and donkeys, as those are found to be the hardiest animals for that work, though horses of the Sicilian breed  are also used. 

One of those most remarkable things about these carts is that their shape is of the most primitive and utilitarian kind, and yet, they are enriched in all parts with the most exquisite carvings and imaginative paintings. The pattern is always the same though the subjects of the paintings and the details vary.: two panels of painting on each side and the axel is elaborated with wind wood carvings and iron work, all painted in bright colours, and sometimes another strip of similar work hands, like a curtain, from the back of the cart. The four panels of figure painting – two on each side of the art – are illustrations of all kinds of historic and legendary subjects, and they are placed, like pictures in a framework of carved and painted wood, which form the two sides of the cart.

Among the legendary subjects thew favourite ones are: the episode of Rinaldo and Armida, from Tasso’s “Jerusalem Delivered”; Roland at Ronceveaux; Oliver’s Duel; Charlemagne and his Peers, and Angelica at Paris – (an episode from Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso.”) There are also paintings on the carts whose inspiration comes from such far sources as Greek history and mythology; such as the burning of Troy, the Trojan Horse, and the Rape of Europa! Among the historic subjects the favourites are the Coronation of King Roger – episodes from the Norman Conquest of Sicily, the Retreat from Moscow and pictures of Napoleon III: all derived from more or less authentic sources. 

Sometimes the paintings are of a religious kind; and there are also more familiar subjects such as attacks of brigands and family pictures. The subjects of these paintings are usually chosen by the owners of the cart. What must seem most wonderful to the foreigner is the surprising knowledge of such a variety of legends and historical anecdotes on the part of what are often quite illiterate people. But their two great sources of information are the Marionette theatres and the old Sicilian “contastorie”

In the Marionette theatres, for a few soldi, one can see enacted by puppets – on a diminutive stage – the whole epic of Charlemagne, to the accompaniment of a barrel organ – and with loud comments from the spectators, who become as a rule, excited to the point of jumping onto the stage to fight Orlando’s battles for him! This, and the “contastori” who still goes his rounds in the old parts of the town – and relates, in the Sicilian dialect, and after his own fashion the great deeds of Paladins of France – to an audience of men and boys, who belong to the peasant class of Sicily, are their two great sources of information.

The carvings underneath the cart, round the axle, are often a strange medley of religious and profane subjects. Two little fat men with a big barrel of wine are found, for instance, carved underneath the outspread wings of an angel blowing a trumpet; and the Madonna and Child are surrounded by carvings of grotesque figures, and fantastic leaves and flowers. But all these carvings, whatever the subject of them may be, are executed with refinement and beautifully painted, and they are nearly all so miniature as to be visible only on close inspection. One can surely say that the makers of these Sicilian carts are true artists, for they lavish their skill and imaginative genius on even those sections of the cart which are almost completely hidden from view; and one feels they work for the sake of their art rather than for the effect their skill can produce on the outside world.

Even the wheels are delicately painted, and the spokes have little carvings on them, though these sections of the artist’s work are always fated to disappear under coatings of dust and mud after the cart has been in use for a short period.  The shafts are also carved and painted, and now that I speak of them, I must say something about the trappings and harness on the horse which goes between them. Even on working days the horses, mules, or donkeys of the Sicilian carters, have something gorgeous and fantastic about their harness, even if it is only a bunch of scarlet plumes on their heads and a few circular pieces of mirror, set, like jewels, in the leather of their harness – or a piece of red ribbon tied on to one ear!

These are supposed to be charms – efficient in warding off the “evil eye” from the horses, or any other blight or illness feared by their superstitious owners. On working days the horses also wear large tassels of bright coloured wool, hanging down below their ears, and on their backs, there is a vertical section of their harness, about twelve inches high on the top of which is fixed a bunch of red feathers – their harness is also worked in wool, with brass nails and red ribbon as ornaments, and many bells are attached in various places, which make a continuous sound when the horse is in motion. The same trappings are used on mules and donkeys, and very often one sees a small donkey of mouse grey colour cantering along with his cart rattling behind him – a big tuft of red feathers on his head waving as he moves and all the bells on his harness jingling! 

One feels that these are proud moments for the owner of the cart, who looks well satisfied with himself as he cracks his whip merrily in the air, and nods to his acquaintances as he passes. But these wonderful carts are not used only for industrial purposes, and on holiday occasions the Sicilian peasant takes his whole family for an airing in the cart – and even long pilgrimages are attempted in them. A number of rustic chairs are placed on the cart, forming a small square and men, women and children take their places on them, sometimes as many as eight in one small cart.

One a year, in the spring, there is a special festival for the Sicilian carts, and they come into Palermo from all parts of the neighbouring country, and parade about the streets, and prizes are awarded for the finest cart and the best caparisoned horse. It is then you see the houses in their full glory, and the carts, fresh from the hands of their makers, are wonderful to behold! Last spring, when I was in Palermo, I was present at this festival, and I will describe a cart and horse which won some of the biggest prizes.

The horse was of a light bright colour, and a fine example of the Sicilian breed, and his harness was ornate to a fantastic degree; he shone in the sunlight like the steed of some fairy prince! His harness was covered with incrustations of what seemed solid silver and had the appearance of being wrought like filigree ornaments, and it was studded with tiny pieces of mirror. When he moved the music of countless bells was heard, and his whole neck and mane was covered by what seemed armour, of wrought silver, and with a great bunch of nodding plumes on his head, he looked the visionary steed of some mediaeval warrior. Everything about him was one bewildering mass of detail, and in some parts of his harness the silver fretwork stood out several inches from his body like sculptural ornaments. There was hardly a portion of his body visible under these magnificent trappings, and he had even small leggings of silver coloured fretwork. The cart behind him was fresh from the hands of the painter, and adorned with countless enrichments of wood-carving and wrought iron.
Words cannot describe the dazzling colours in which every section of it was painted, or the wealth of incident portrayed in the pictures on it: the hands of the artist had lavished all their skill on it, and there was not the space of one inch on its whole surface that did not have some exquisite carving or painting on it. To complete the picture, I must add that the most beautiful Sicilian girl, among all the peasant women competing for the women’s beauty prize, was sitting in this cart, and great was the applause when the cart, horse and women according to the Sicilian custom – received substantial prizes for their excellence!

Barnett Freedman for Guinness

Barnett Freedman worked in various ways for Guinness, not just advertising but also with the Guinness Lithograph print series. But here are three visual rhyme adverts I thought you would enjoy. 


 Barnett Freedman – Stick to Guinness & be well.


 Barnett Freedman – For strength and energy stick to Guinness


 Barnett Freedman – Oxford and Cambridge train crews on Guinness

The Three Suitors

Magazines in second hand book and charity shops are treated with various levels of scorn, I am guessing it’s because they don’t stack on a shelf easily and can look untidy. It’s a shame as some are full of adverts and illustrations that are not found anywhere else. 


Here is one piece illustrated by Barnett Freedman from the Housewise Magazine in the 1950s. Although there maybe more, I have never seen Freedman illustrate a magazine artical. It’s a simple monochrome print with the focus was on the draftsmanship.


Many of Freedman’s book dust jacket designs are like this too, but with a simple colour wash behind them, he was very economic with colour – in printing terms. With his marvellous free-drawn typefaces and grainy illustration, with closer views you can see the picture is of a theatre and the balcony with the audience looking down on the artical. The heroin is in a locket cameo to the left and the hero to the bottom right. Short simple and I hope an unusual sight for those who know Freedman’s work.


Edward Bawden – Early War Paintings.

This post is a light introduction into Edward Bawden’s early war work and paintings, before he was stationed to the Middle-East.


 Edward Bawden – In an Air Raid Shelter, Dunkirk – Bombs are dropping, 1940.

On Thursday, 7th March, 1940, three days before his 37th birthday, it was announced in the British papers that Edward Bawden and Barnett Freeman were to become Official War Artists on behalf of the British War Office.


 Newspaper with the small announcement under ‘War Artists’.

In the first days of April, Ardizzone (Edward) and Bawden took rooms for a while in the hotel Commerce in Arras, fussed over by a shared batman. They enjoyed the local wine and hospitality, before being billeted separately. Arras was dour, small and grey, It was also the GHQ for the British Army in France. 


 Edward Bawden – Boys Serving Coffee, Dunkirk, 1940.

From the outset Edward Bawden had wanted to be close to the action: ‘Mr Bawden … would like to get to the front and live in close touch with the RAF.’ In the event he began his time in France with the 2nd Northampton Regiment, rather than the air force.The Northamptons, he found, were ‘nice, simple fellows … who tear about wagging their tails, fetching sticks and retrieving balls.’ 

The war artists found themselves being toured around by a Conducting Officer, who would choose the suitable sites and subjects. Once, Bawden was placed under arrest as he was painstakingly drawing a gun. On another occasion he was able to sit in on a court martial and sketch. 


 Edward Bawden – A Court-Martial, Halluin, 1940.

On his way to Dunkirk, Bawden has rolled up his paintings in a cylindrical tin which he clutched under his arm. †


 Edward Bawden – Embarkation of Wounded, May, 1940.

Approaching the port, he ditched all his equipment except his art materials (what would the Germans have done with them?) Marching into the town, they ran the gauntlet of ragged French soldiers jeering them. It discomforted him, as did the looters sweeping like locusts through abandoned houses. †


 Edward Bawden – The Quay at Dunkirk, 1940.

He reached the quayside in the company of a Canadian major, and they watched with dismay the frantic self-preservation of a group of British generals on the Dunkirk quayside, the swagger sticks pointing at likely boats bound for England. He turned to the major, with a wry smile. ‘Rats always go first’ he said. †


Edward Bawden – Embarkation of Wounded, Dunkirk, May, 1940 

After Dunkirk, Bawden found himself off to Iran and Iraq in 1943. The War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) found itself in review mid-war, with the pay and styles of the war artists coming into dispute. It was taken over by F.H.Dowden.


 Edward Bawden – The Entrance to an Air Raid Shelter, Dunkirk, 1940

Dowden has previously been an art inspector with the Board of Education (war art otherwise had almost nothing to do with the Home Division), but those credentials did little to facilitate a happy fit between the WAAC and its new minder. Among other things, he vetoed the allocation of funds to pay for the depiction of themes that seemed to him superfluous. ‘There is too much repetition of subjects which are historically unimportant,’ he objected, ‘and it may quite well be that the Committee are more concerned with finding work for artists in whom they are interested, than they are about making a record of the progress of the war.’ As a result of Dowden’s interference the WAAC’s decision to send Edward Bawden to Ian and/or Iraq in 1943 earned Home Office agreement only with difficulty, while a plan to give Stephen Bone an open contract to record subjects of his own choosing was rejected as an irresponsible use of public funds. ‡

Below is one of the paintings from Bawden’s time in Iraq. It was editioned as a print by the Curwen Press in 2008 in a limited number of 145.


 Edward Bawden – Preparing to Entertain, 1944

The Sketchbook War by Richard Knott, 2013
‡ War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain by Brian Foss, 2007. 978-0300108903 p168.
◦ Images c/o the Imperial War Museum, London.

Lyons Teashop Lithographs


 Lyons Print: William Scott — The Bird Cage.

The war had not only hit at Britain’s cities with bombs, but also at the people with rationing. Food and fabric, paper and paint, tea and sugar were all rationed.

It was in the war years that the Lyons teashops became shabby and as fashions started to change in the post war era they looked dated. Materials like wood and paint where mostly reserved and rationed for government use in the post war construction, so another idea had to be devised to make the Lyons tearooms look more respectable.


  Lyons Teahouse. 1951 The 2nd series of lithographs on the walls.

The directors, Felix and Julian Salmon had the idea of refreshing the tearooms with lithographic pictures to make them more appealing. In 1947 they sort advice from Jack Beddington who was the Artistic Director of Shell-Mex.


 Shell Advert by Tristram Hillier — White Cliffs of Dover

The advertising in the 1930’s for Shell-Mex featured British artists modern work with simple text. It had been a public success and an exhibition of the Shell-Mex lithographs in 1939 was well attended.

The art of advertising in London from the mid 1920’s onward had seen modern art projected onto the public with company’s like Shell-Mex & London Transport using artists like Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Horace Taylor and Graham Sutherland to illustrate bold and simple posters.

It was an age when galleries charged admission and in the war years galleries where disbanding and hiding their art collections safe from German bombing raids. This would mean that the colour advertising posters where some of the few artworks to be left open to the public in wartime and where displayed all over the country. It would be the first time the public would encounter these artists.


 Shell Advert by Richard Guyatt — Ralph Allen’s Sham Caster nr Bath.

By appointing Beddinton they relied on his contacts with artists to product the lithographs. Samples and designs where commissioned and the first series of these sixteen prints featured Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Clifford & Rosemary Ellis, Barnett Freedman (who assisted with artistic advice on lithography) Duncan Grant, Edwin La Dell, John Nash to name half. Artists also claimed royalties on copies sold in the tearooms, an unusual practice in it’s day. One thousand five hundred prints where made of each poster in the first series.


 Lyons Print: David Gentleman — Cornish Pilchard Boat

Some of the troubles in printing came from printing trade unions and of artists unfamiliar with the lithography process. Some of these posters had to be hand drawn onto the lithographic plate to be printed, pre-made works where translated from paintings by Chromoworks Ltd, London.

The artworks for Lyons had a press release in 1947 at the Trocadero Restaurant, London, where Lyons often had their board meetings.
A special preview was arranged for Queen Mary.

Many prints where glued to wood or mirrors for hanging in the tearooms, the public could then buy the posters un-mounted and unframed, it’s the prints unglued to canvas and board that are worth more money today.


 Edward Bawden — The Dolls at Home.

Thirty of the Lyon’s Tea Rooms in London exhibited the prints at first. Due to the press and public interest the prints were soon found in all Lyons’ teashops. The success of the first series of prints meant that a second and third series of prints came in 1951 and 1955.

It is worth noting that companies like Guinness started to produce lithographic prints (The World Record Series) to brighten up their pubs soon after. So the series and it’s publicity had an ongoing effect.


 Michael Ayrton — The Spectators


 Barnett Freedman — People