Header image Gail Baxter  
Ghost Tree Studio  
Which Way does the River Flow?

In an attempt to protect the British wool trade the first ‘Burial in Wool’ Act was passed in 1666 but it carried few penalties for evasion. It was followed by the 1678 Act which stated that: - ‘no corpse of any person (except those who shall die of the plague) shall be buried in any shirt, shift, sheet or shroud or anything whatsoever made of or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold or silver, or in any stuff or thing, other than what is made of sheep’s wool only . . . or be put into any coffin lined or faced with . . . any other material but sheep’s wool only.’

Failure to observe the law brought a fine of £5. However it was considered a great privilege and honour to be buried in lace and many people preferred to pay the fine and to be buried in their best lace. Mrs Odlfield, a famous 18th century actress and lace collector, was buried in Westminster Abbey, in 1830, in a Holland shift with a tucker of double ruffles, and a fine Brussels lace ‘head’. Even highwaymen thought it their duty to put on a good show and went to the gallows in their best lace in the hope that they would be buried in it.

Going to the grave wrapped in wool was the inspiration for ‘Which way does the river flow?’ From prehistoric times death has been seen as the gateway or portal to the afterlife and this piece asks the viewer to consider which way they see themselves passing – from the darkness of this life into lightness of what lies beyond the grave or from the light of this life into the dark of the unknown? Out of darkness into light, out of the shadows, the Promised Land and heaven and hell (light and dark) are common concepts in religions ancient and modern. Hades in classical mythology is the abode of the departed spirits, a place of gloom and the River Styx is the river that must be crossed for the sprit to rest in peace.

The portal is hung with layers of gossamer fine cobweb felt to give the impression of passing through a soft misty curtain. The felt is deliberately loosely formed to allow glimpses of what lies beyond the successive layers yet dense enough to prevent a clear view through to the other side. Bobbin lace set into fine felt represents the River Styx as lifeblood flowing in the form of a ‘Red Carpet’ carrying the viewer into or away from the portal depending on their point of view.

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Gail Baxter - Which way does the river flow?

Which way does the river flow in the Rhythmns and Cycles exhibition at Highcliffe Castle

Gail Baxter - Wich way does the river flow? - From darkness into light

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Gail Baxter - Which way does the river flow? - Red River

From darkness into the light?

Gail Baxter - From the Light into Darkness

From light into darkness?