Drawn to our animal arks at exhibition highlighting Norfolk church carvings

Beast and More Beasts (detail) by Jo Davis Trench

Beast and More Beasts (detail) by Jo Davis Trench - Credit: Jo Davis Trench

Dogs, demons, lions, mermaids, pelicans and more – carvings from East Anglian churches have inspired Beasts and More Beasts a new exhibition at Norwich Cathedral by Jo Davis Trench.

Binham Lion by Jo Davis Trench

Binham Lion by Jo Davis Trench - Credit: Jo Davis Trench

East Anglian churches hide many unusual creations. Mermaids, green men, ape priests, dogs and demons, pelicans, sheep, cats and more can all be found on ancient misericords and a vividly carved pew ends.

This menagerie of mythical and medieval animals have long fascinated artist Jo Davis Trench and they are the subject of a new exhibition of her etchings and drawings.

A printmaker working in Norfolk, Beasts and More Beasts at Norwich Cathedral Hostry is the result of her exploration of medieval church carvings.

Cley Pew Ends by Jo Davis Trench

Cley Pew Ends by Jo Davis Trench - Credit: Jo Davis Trench

'To walk into one of these churches is to enter another world, where the pew¬ end carvings become animated by the fables, stories and scenes that inspired them,' said Jo, whose love of animals and churches stem back to her childhood on a farm in Essex, and at Runton Hill School on the north Norfolk coast in the 1960s.


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At school the girls were allowed to attend any Sunday service of their choice, as long as they went in pairs. 'My friend Clare and I attended church services in West Runton, East Runton Methodist church, Quaker meetings and Jehovah's Witness meetings in Sheringham, but the church I remember most was Beeston Regis with its magnificent rood screen and a vivid carved hare,' said Jo.

Later her mother moved to a house overlooking Cley church and Jo was enchanted by the figures she found here. 'Horses, mermaids, green men, cats, dogs, sheep, ape priests and pelicans: carvings so small they could be fitted into the hand and were smoothed by the rubbing of many hands.

Walsingham Lion by Jo Davis Trench

Walsingham Lion by Jo Davis Trench - Credit: Jo Davis Trench

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'I used to look at these often and gradually I came to make work from them. Many of the animal carvings throughout Norfolk and Suffolk remain intact whereas many of the carvings of saints were desecrated in the Reformation.'

Her exhibition is of etchings of animals she discovered in churches including Cley, Beeston Regis, Upper Sheringham, Great Walsingham, Brinton, Tuttington, Feltwell, Freckenham and Thurgarton, as well as Binham Priory and Norwich Cathedral.

'Drawing these creatures in the cold, in the dusk, in the heat, from impossible positions brought me closer to imagining and feeling how and why they had been made,' said Jo.

Lakenheath Dog by Jo Davis Trench

Lakenheath Dog by Jo Davis Trench - Credit: Jo Davis Trench

'Trying to draw the carved faces and animal scenes on misericords whilst squatting on the floor and looking up is excruciatingly uncomfortable, infinitely rewarding and fun. It allowed me insights into this world that without such proximity is impossible.'

An alumna of the Royal College of Art, Wimbledon and Camberwell Art Schools and the Royal Drawing School, Jo is the author of several books on knitted textiles and over two decades was a visiting lecturer at London and regional art schools. As well as her own studio practice, Jo continues to teach and is currently mentoring prisoners for the Koestler Trust.

• Beasts and More Beasts is at Norwich Cathedral Hostry until September 24, Mon-Sat 9.30am-4.30pm, Sun 10am-3pm, admission free.

Norwich Owl With Mouse by Jo Davis Trench

Norwich Owl With Mouse by Jo Davis Trench - Credit: Jo Davis Trench

• Jo will be speaking about in the work in person on September 9 from 9.30am-4pm.

• More details at jotrench.co.uk

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