October 30th, 2016
Years ago, when our children were young, our generous friend Mary took us all for summer holidays at her family house, on one of the outermost islands in the Outer Hebrides. There in the rain, with white sands and beach lunches cooked for 22 people, I met Domenica and her husband the screenwriter and author Charlie Fletcher. She is so modest that it was only a few years ago that I found out what she was doing. Domenica was an art student, the child of two more artists, who had once worked on The World of Interiors and Elle Decor in London and LA. But she was a maker at heart, fashioning dolls, toys and dolls clothes for her daughter, ‘who wasn’t the least bit interested. But I became more and more obsessed.’ The extraordinary canine menagerie that she began to make after that features at the end of this photo essay. But first, the house.
A top floor bedroom.
Domenica’s father, the artists Harry More Gordon (b.1928) who died last year, taught at the Edinburgh College of Art. The painted hall floor was executed by two of his students. Bobs, one of two family dogs, the cheerful mongrel bitch whom he befriended on holiday in Greece.
Harry’s choice. An early Hockney poster, The Rake’s Progress.
Harry’s painting of Domenica, garden flowers.
And two more of his watercolour portraits propped on the hall bench.
The house,a few miles north of Edinburgh towards the sea, austere, sandstone, dated 1748 in the pediment, built for Archibald Shiells. Domenica’s parents Harry and Marianne, bought it in run-down state in the 1960s when she was three years old. They found its furnishings in local auctions and junkyards.
And the back, with dog, semi-couchant.
Dining Room. Marianne More Gordon’s textile hangings made with a local community sewing group for Remembrance Sunday 2015 appliqued with doves and poppies, the work in progress on the table.
Harry More Gordon, lively, outspoken, ‘the best dancer ever, and unlike most fathers, never embarrassing’, one time picture and layout editor at Vogue.
Francis Kyle exhibition poster, another family portrait. Domenica in bed and James Holloway, director of the Scottish Portrait Gallery at the time and a keen biker, on the sofa.Watch out for this four poster bed later on.
Domenica’s younger sister Zillah, ill in bed. Harry More Gordon loved painting pattern and oriental fabric.
The first floor spine corridor, icons, Staffordshire porcelain and two Chinese portraits that Zillah gave to her parents.
View into the Drawing Room.’Dad’s taste was much more flamboyant, more twentieth century, whereas Mum would be much more eighteenth century, most of what is here is Mum’s. This house is all about Mum and family and roots’.
House plants, one in a chamber pot planter.
End wall of the Drawing Room, the next photograph is a detail of the watercolour by Harry More Gordon hanging on the right.
Domenica, Zillah and tigerskin rug painted on the same spot.
Seat cushion and 3D textile (detail below) by Marianne More Gordon [nee Thompson-McCauseland], who trained at the Central School of Art. This house with its aqueous colour and pattern is another of her works of art.
Ditto, with ironing board.
Harry and Marianne painted in 3 poses by their friend, Patrick Procktor, who inspired Harry to use watercolour without any preliminary pencil drawing thereafter.
The crimson bed in that poster, hung by Marianne with a document linen bought at a local junk yard that she painstakingly washed and restored.
Harry More Gordon designed textiles and scarves for Libertys, this is one of his designs, hung in an upper corridor above the jugs that were often props in his paintings.
Top floor lavatory painting, the gift of one of his students.
[My] guest bedroom.
View from the back of the house across open fields, a scattering of wee raindrops.
Another guest bedroom.
Exquisite antique textiles and linens collected by Marianne, who was responsible for decorating and arranging the house’s many rooms.Tulip paintings by Rory McEwan.
My favourite portrait.
Zillah by Harry More Gordon, post-school, with home made badge, ‘Piss Off.’
The top floor spine corridor, with eighteenth century mural of country pursuits, commissioned by the house’s builder and first owner, Mr. Shiells. Dolls house at the end of the enfilade, outside Charlie’s writing room.
Charlie’s writing room, with another of Harry More Gordon’s designs for Libertys, and a landscape oil painted by an illustrator for the ‘Ladybird’ book series, bought for £5 in the fabled local junk yard. Here he wrote his compelling stories of British folklore and the supernatural, the mesmerising Stoneheart trilogy for children and now The Oversight, his darkly atmospheric adult novels set in Victorian London.
How to decorate a bathroom.
When Charlie, Domenica and their two children came back from living in LA, they moved into the house’s generously proportioned raised basement. This is one corner of their long room, both sitting room and kitchen. Orkney chair with one of Domenica’s dog cushions designed for Chelsea Textiles.
Paper tree birthday card made by Domenica.
Lunch and garden flowers in the little vase that Domenica found on our trip to the mythical junk yard.
Sitting room overmantle.
Late still life by Harry More Gordon. Objets trouves, the ceramics, feathers and the things picked up around the house that habitually made up his compositions.
A jolly nice bath.
And the bathroom corner cupboard. Euthymol toothpaste.
Domenica’s studio in an old stone pavilion building in a corner of the courtyard.
At last! The dogs. Sculpted from felted wool, conceived and hand made by Domenica.
Domenica’s worktable. If you see the same things in two different places it is because these pictures were taken on two visits made about seven months apart.
Archie is a beloved, elderly black and tan Lakeland Fell terrier, the family pet for many years now. He was Domenica’s principal muse and model, and then became the hero of her books written and illustrated for children.
Hand knits, tartan, Fair Isle and roller skates. Note the minute elastic striped belt.
Bride dog, work in progress, seen in autumn 2015.
Domenica’s eye for costume detail is immaculate, She cuts and tailors and sources everything herself. Back on the Hebrides one summer we took 2 Calmac ferries to the island of Barra, where in the local history museum she pored over old photographs of crofters and their children in homespun jumpers, hand -me-downs and Harris tweed. All this knowledge percolates through.
Bride dog resplendent.
Now Domenica has taken her menagerie much further back in history, creating a troupe of characters who enact the narrative of eighteenth century Grand Tourists, and writing and illustrating the story of their travels in watercolour. You can see some of her work on her instagram feed here.
Cobblers workbench with minute eighteenth-century shoes being made in all sizes.
‘I chose dogs because they are such good channels of emotion, ideal for capturing that childhood intense connection with an object. [They] are usually with me in my studio and I have to be careful to keep my work out of their reach as I have found some of my wool dogs in a fairly battered state in their dog baskets. I take it as a compliment and feel that I have achieved a certain level of intense connection… Actually, I think it’s the smell of the wool…’
Studies of ceramics.
Vignettes and character sketches for the new book.
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Grateful thanks to Domenica and Marianne More Gordon and Charlie Fletcher. All photographs copyright Domenica More Gordon and bibleofbritshtaste.
NB: You can read Charlie’s privately published short story, Safe Home, here. It was written as a ‘venting exercise,’ in response to the Iraq war and the Chilcot enquiry. I highly recommend it.