The magic of the artists who have created Marlborough’s truly unique tribute to the Queen
Three talented artists who work as an inspired team in a factory hidden away down Elcot Lane, will be presented to Duchess of Cornwall, tomorrow (Friday) when she arrives at Marlborough town hall.
The rare royal occasion is the unveiling by Camilla of their remarkable creation - a huge hand-painted mosaic depicting the historic town and its landmarks – all as a tribute to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee year.
The original concept is that of Marlborough’s elegant Mayor, Edwina Fogg, but the execution is that of Jenny McShane, Helen Whitfield and Kirsty Robinson, who have worked on the project during its five weeks of gestation at Marlborough Tiles.
It would be difficult to find three more modest people at such a grand event, but when I met them Kirsty admitted: “Yes, I’m looking forward to meeting Camilla. It’s going to be a great day for Marlborough.”
And, inevitably, it will be their prowess – and love of Marlborough -- that will excite and earn the praise all those who will see their masterpiece hanging in the town hall’s Court Room in the years ahead.
Kirsty has created the royal coat of arms on the mosaic, which measures some two metres wide by just under a metre deep, made up of nominal 13 by 13 centimetre tiles held within a written border made by Helen Whitfield.
And the actual mural picture itself of Marlborough’s iconic buildings and key sites such as Savernake Forest, the Kennet and Avon Canal, the White Horse and legendary Silbury Hill is the painted creation of Jenny McShane.
“I love Marlborough,” camera-shy Jenny told me. “I love the town and the surrounding countryside. So I hope we have been able to capture a little bit of everything -- and that there’s something there for everyone.”
Her contribution has earned the admiration of Jamie Robb, 46-year-old managing director of Marlborough Tiles, a company that dates back to 1936 and remains among a passionate handful left in the country producing artistic and valued hand-decorated tiles.
“Jenny worked on 90 per cent of the mural,” he told me. “She is an exceptionally talented individual who, after we had taken photographs of the sites we wanted to capture, took them away to draw the design by hand.”
“She was able to make the whole thing flow together, one building, one site flowing into another, which is where her strength came from. It is not actually like real life but that’s how it works magically on tiles.”
Moreover, Jenny, who has been with Marlborough Tiles for five years, used the centuries-old majolica painting technique from Italy to transfer the design to the raw-glazed tiles before they were placed in constantly monitored kilns.
Jamie describes it as an unforgiving process like painting on blotting paper because you can do only one brushstroke at a time and not go back over it.
“It’s been a fantastic challenge – how best to capture the colours and the sense of the image on a tile,” confessed Jenny. “You have to have the confidence to make the mark on the tile with just one stroke of the brush.”
“It has been good to do something on such a big scale, very satisfying to see it through to completion. And I’ve enjoyed us working on it as a team.”
For Helen Whitfield too, who has been with Marlborough Tiles for 17 years, it has been the biggest project she can recall working on.
“And it’s the project that’s taken the longest time to complete,” she said. “I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about it. I was confident that we could do it.”
The event is not the first brush with royalty for the company, which began life as Packard and Ord, after Sylvia Packard and Rosamund Ord whose tiles, trays and giftware were bought by the late Queen Mary as presents for friends and family.
Jamie Robb’s grandfather, Hugh Robb, took over the business at the end of World War I, his five brothers all initially playing a part before, eventually, Jamie’s father, Alastair Robb and his late brother, David, took control, Jamie following suit when his father retired to Somerset.
That long association resulted in Edwina Fogg inviting Marlborough Tiles to produce a fitting tribute to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
“We were delighted to say Yes,” added Jamie. “It is probably the biggest commission we have had while my hands have been on the reins – and the fact that the mosaic is being unveiled by the Duchess of Cornwall a wonderful moment for us – and good for business.”