During March and April 2016 workshops were held at Porth and Treorchy libraries. A selection of artworks by Ernest Zobole depicting locations in the Rhondda Valley were explored and discussed. The images prompted memories and brought long forgotten events to mind. Recollections both local and global were revealed, such as skipping home with the grandchildren after school and travelling with the circus in South Africa.

Each participant saw something within the images that they could relate to their own lives, either as an experience from the past or what the valley represents today, bringing a personal connection to paintings.

All the stories written in response the these artworks and submitted to the project can be read in the Ystrad Stories section.

The final stage of the project is to bring the stories together with the actual artworks. To make this happen the stories will be displayed alongside the artworks in an exhibition at the Oriel y Bont, University of South Wales. The exhibition opens on Thursday 2nd June 2016 where the storytellers from both workshops will come together to read their stories aloud amongst the paintings in the University of South Wales art collection.


Photographs by Jon Pountney

Innocents and Accidents

Landscape at Night with Woman at Window Ernest Zobole 1980s

Landscape at Night with Woman at Window, Ernest Zobole, 1980’s

Innocents and Accidents

Author: Carrie Francis

Written in response to Ernest Zobole, ‘Landscape at Night with Woman at Window’ (1980’s)

The harvest Moon of autumn is a constant, distant, yet familiar friend. Her only friend. It wasn’t as though his human counterparts hadn’t offered, but there were times when Old Man Moon was the only company she desired, because he showed her things the people of the valley couldn’t.

It was these nights she sat in her bedroom window, curtains wide open and Old Man Moon blinked his greeting before lighting up the streets and mountains. Houses and trees glow ethereally in his beams, and one by one, the Innocents begin to materialise from the gloom, their forms glowing with pure light, walking the streets hand in hand, side by side or chasing one another. They are untarnished, and will remain so.

Then the Accidents emerge from the shadows to join them, walking slowly, limping.

Figures of all shapes, size and age, they stroll alongside the Innocents in the beams of Old Man Moon, their soot black forms a stark contrast. They are welcomed, for they are all friends, and only they can touch each other. Innocents of small stature leap into the arms of many an Accident, greeted with a long forgotten kiss.

As she fingers the curtains, she can see her husband and son greeting one another, both Accidents, covered from head to toe in coal dust. It had been six months since they were both killed down the mine, and here Old Man Moon offered her a way to see them again, painless and free.

Is It Safe?

Looking Out of Window in Winter Ernest Zobole (1980s)

Looking Out of Window in Winter, Ernest Zobole, (1980s)

Is It Safe?

Author: Carrie Francis

Written in response to Ernest Zobole, ‘Looking Out of Window in Winter’ (1980s)

It doesn’t feel particularly sturdy, and whilst I could just take off and leave it at that, Mama assures me it’s safe and actually rather fun. The white stuff crunches even under my meagre weight, the tips of my wings brushing the surface as I attempt to steady myself. Flapping wings sound above me and I see Mama landing next to me.

‘You’re still worrying about it? Just go already!’

‘Are you sure this is safe?’

‘I do it every time the white stuff comes, and so does everyone here. It’s perfectly safe!’

I look around to see my friends and siblings all doing it, black feathers racing down the white slope, and they are cawing and cackling with laughter. Surely it cannot be that much fun? They’re throwing themselves down the slope, they could hurt themselves, but they keep coming back for more! The cold must be getting to them!

By the time I realise Mama has pushed me, I am sliding face-first, screaming. Cold air rushes past me and I am at the edge, heading straight towards a large pile of the white stuff behind the humans’ nest. A sibling allows herself to crash into it but I stop myself just short, flapping my wings furiously. It takes a moment to recognise the euphoria coursing through me, even longer to realise I had gone back to try again.

My own laughter joins the elated chorus as I merrily roll and tumble down the white stuff.

Mama is smiling.

From then to now

A Painting about Myself in a Landscape Ernest Zobole 1994–1995

A Painting about Myself in a Landscape Ernest Zobole 1994–1995

From then to now

Author: Ann Davies

Written in response to ‘A Painting about Myself in a Landscape’ Ernest Zobole, (1994–1995)

The dim mists of time evolve as ripples. From childhood I recall that trees would bow their branches in respect as the wind whipped the mountain sides. Below, the valley bed beckoned like a guided missile.

It was out of dusk’s dreaming lights that I noticed a man standing. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, unaware. The man stood, his arm extended to some unknown point. The man was gaunt and thin, dressed in a suit.  He turned around, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the man vanished as quickly as he arrived.

I married and raised a family. My career and family were my life, but when my wife died I felt as though my whole world had collapsed around me. Slowly our children left.  For the first time in my life I was alone; the world seemed bare, bereft of human companionship. In retirement I felt as if I had been an alarm clock that was slowly being run down, its battery about to expire.

I was drawn back to that childhood haunt; it was like a magnet, all embracing. I had to be there.

My journey ended where it began, the light shimmered like a soft kiss on the mountainside’s surface. My spirits rose.  I could almost smell the camp fire of my childhood. I raised my hand – perhaps I could just reach out, touch and be that carefree boy again.

A forgotten memory brought to mind.

THAT man was me…

Nant y Gwyddon

Penrhys, Ernest Zobole, c1951

Penrhys, Ernest Zobole, c1951

Nant y Gwyddon

Author: Bill Monington

Written in response to ‘Penrhys’ Ernest Zobole, (c1951)

Situated on the mountainside between the Rhondda and Ogmore valleys about two hundred yards above the village of Gelli is the notorious Nant y Gwyddon landfill site.

Over years, unscrupulous dumpers have used the tip to shed all kinds of unwanted chemical waste – to the chagrin of the long suffering residents of the area who formed an action committee. ‘RANT’, engaged experts to analyze the contents, but results were treated with derision by the Local Council until two completely unconnected incidents brought a lot of publicity to the area.

Sixty year old Richard Roberts was in the area one Saturday afternoon when a bunch of young cyclists rode through the tip. Incensed, Mr. Roberts lashed out with an open hand; unfortunately he dislodged one of the groups who fell into the evil smelling mud. The lads dispersed yelling abuse. However the parents of the unseated rider decided to prosecute for assault. A couple of the London based tabloids joined with the local press in reporting the prosecution. Questions were asked, answers were unacceptable to the press who continued to report on an almost daily basis.

The other was when the Council  informed the residents that a few long established trees were to be cut down to allow a wider access entrance to the tip. Now this inflammatory move resulted in some of the protesters chaining themselves to the condemned trees, which attracted environmental attention, providing juicier stories for the press. Following the unfavourable publicity, the council closed the site.