Another highlight of the Festival for me was a special exhibition of works by Harry Becker. He is of course very much the local artist of the early 20th century but he is far more than that. He was a superb draughtsman and excellent painter who had the knack, from familiarisation and acute observation, of capturing exactly the detail of many agricultural jobs on what was still a horse-dominant, manual and largely seasonal round of work on the land in and around the Halesworth area of Suffolk. Nor did he shy away from recording the first appearances of mechanisation on the farm after the First World War.
I own two of his pencil studies, one of two ram sheep and one of shearing a sheep. They give me enormous pleasure, particularly now in the light of my recent experiences with sheep – even though these studies appear to have been made in Sussex, not Suffolk. But does it matter? – the significant characteristic is that he catches exactly, with just a few pencil marks, a sheep looking backwards and a shearer at work. In the Festival exhibition, you can see this characteristic across a range of sketches and finished work; and because of this, his art enjoys the added value of being an historical record of a way of life which has now gone. Becker achieves in art what George Ewart Evans did with tape-recorder and writing.
Am going to an evening discussion about Becker later in May. It is followed by a supper of soup and salad by the fire, a reminder that this Festival in its entirely embraces ‘the Arts, Food, Farming and Landscape.’ What’s not to enjoy?