Matrix – The Art of Tirzah Garwood

Photographs of Tirzah Garwood

Tirzah did no more engraving after her marriage. Her first child was born in 1936 and was followed by two others. She was a devoted wife and mother and perhaps the medium of wood engraving was too exacting to combine with the domestic chores which she never found either easy or congenial. In 1933, however, she was working with her husband on murals for a circular tea room and bar at a newly built railway hotel at Morecambe. But the stylised seaside scenes animated by fireworks and fluttering flags and almost empty of figures were wholly of Eric’s devising.

Papers marbled by Tirzah Garwood

Soon, however, encouraged by Charlotte Bawden, Tirzah discovered a new outlet for her talents, one that was less demanding than engraving making marbled pattern papers. She quickly mastered the volatile medium and produced patterns the like of which had never been seen, delicate repeating designs which had nothing in common with traditional marbling. The motifs are nearly always based on natural forms, on leaves, frail flowers and grasses, and the freedom and unpredictable character of the medium imbue them with a tremulous, poetic sense of life.

Papers marbled by Tirzah Garwood

The sensitive colour range includes pale grey, lilac, mole brown, indigo, light rust red, olive green and palest emerald and an occasional vivid touch of orange or scarlet. Rows of spear like leaves of dull grey green alternate with little blobs of the same colour circled with dots of pale red brown; large pink, shadowy leaf shapes surge upwards against a pearly luminosity; irregular spots of white like tiny flowers or flashes of light and fine dark narrow leaves move across roughly defined squares of light red pigment; discs of fiery red with dark curves above and below them, like luscious fruits and their leaves, shine between lines of tender white tassels; bold, curving petals, arranged to suggest a stylised flower, sprawl across the paper in two tones of grey; a thick mesh of vigorously upthrusting leaves is enlivened by little dabs of orange; strong branching light terracotta leaves cast green shadows; sober grey, minutely spotted discs are flanked by broken twisted cotton like filaments. Similar clusters of spiralling white threads divide large mouchette shapes outlined in red and filled with sultry, mottled green; thin, almost black leaves twist and turn against a mist coloured ground and the elegant shadows of flowering grasses lie athwart the pale, rust coloured, almost translucent forms of ragged autumn leaves. In one specially subtle design barley sugar stripes of twirling strands of white and deep grey green stand out boldly from a background of light red, white and palest dove coloured flowing and crisscrossing tendrils upon which are scattered small honeysuckle-derived flowers.

A short description of the way in which Tirzah achieved these ravishing effects will perhaps give some idea of the amazing dexterity she developed. She filled a large shallow dish, sink or portable bath with water and added a little flour to thicken it. Onto this she dropped a brush full of oil paint thinned with linseed oil and stirred the water until it became a uniform colour.

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