‘John Barleycorn should die’

Bonfield Block-Printers

‘John Barleycorn should die’
  • £145.00

This image is from the ancient Somerset folk song, ‘John Barleycorn’. In it, Barleycorn is a personification of the beer and whiskey crop, barley. The song tells a grisly tale of the indignities, attacks and eventual death he suffers; mirroring the various stages of barley cultivation. In this print, John Barleycorn is portrayed as a pagan totem - a kind of Beowa.

Printed in Carbon black linseed-based ink on Somerset ‘Antique’ 285gsm paper. Limited to an edition of 50. Numbered and signed in pencil by the artist, Janet Tristram. Dimensions - Width: cm Height: cm

The story behind the ‘Songs of Somerset’ prints - This collection of block prints (originally conceived for the linings of our ‘Song Coats’) celebrates the exploits of song-hunter Cecil J Sharp in 1903. Over the course of a few years, Sharp roamed Somerset on his humble bicycle, amassing more than 1,600 songs from 350 singers. His quest took the form of exploration. A diary entry reads:

‘Folk-song takes refuge in the poor cottages and outlying hamlets. It harbours in the heathen kingdoms and the wilder parts. It is a treasure to be sought and found in nooks and corners...’

Sharp understood that these songs wove generations together, and bestowed on folk a sense of identity and belonging. They were among the most intimate possessions of the poor. He wrote:

They come out very shyly, late at night, and are heard when the gentry have gone to bed, when the barrack-room has exhausted its Music-Hall menu.’

Sharp’s objective was preservation, and he recorded both lyrics and melodies expertly - his only tools a well-trained ear and a pencil. Many of the songs tell fanciful and peculiar stories - some dark, some light - providing us, the artists, with an abundance of rich imagery to interpret. We conceived and carved around twenty new blocks, the fruit of which you have before you. 

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