Llanfair Uniting Church Exhibition

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Ystrad Stories Exhibition flyer_Llanfair_V2

The Ystrad Stories project continues its tour of the Rhondda with an exhibition at the Llanfair Uniting Church, Penrhys. The exhibition coincides with the launch of the Ystrad Stories iBook and the trail through the Rhondda.

All the stories are displayed alongside the images that inspired them.

Weds 19th July to Thursday 27th July.

Llanfair Uniting Church, Penrhys, CF43 3RH

Opening times:
Weds 19th July – 9am – 1pm
Thurs 20th July – 9am – 1pm
Sat 22nd July – 11am – 1pm
Sun 23rd July – 11am – 1pm
Thurs 27th July – 11am – 1pm

Ystrad Stories talk – Welfare Hall, Tylorstown

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Ystrad Stories presentation

Ystrad Stories presentation

Im looking forward to visiting Tylorstown in the Rhondda Fach to talk about the Ystrad Stories project.

The talk is on Weds 12th July at 2pm at the Welfare Hall, Tylorstown.

Free to Guild Members
£1 for non Members


Ystrad Stories
Llwynypia, Ernest Zobole, c1953

Llwynypia, Ernest Zobole, c1953

Ernie Zobole and the Square

Author: Rob Cullen

Written in response to ‘Llwynypia’ Ernest Zobole, (c1953)
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru – National Museum of Wales

In the beginning there was no square it was just a tram stop. Later on there was a “zebra crossing” on Partridge Square. There were no zebras. The tips overlooking Ynyscynon and Pontrhondda stood higher than the houses. A street lamp stood in the centre of a square that was never a square. The old tin shed Saint Cynon’s Church on one corner never stood on the corner of the square that was never a square. And some people of the square were strangers to reality too. Old man Christmas, a foundling left at the workhouse door that loomed over the square was given a job, lived and died in the place he’d been found that became a hospital. Hospitable. Poor mad Mansel stood directing traffic until he caused too many accidents and was taken away. “Nancy” boy Lewis 6 foot 6 inches and size 6 shoes. A retired copper of a gay persuasion ran the grocery shop on one corner and wrong changed you with a smile. Jack Fish the betting office next door with its black and white sign for dog biscuits on the pine end wall and opaque windows preventing wives looking in to see their husbands laying bets with the milk money. Prim and proper Owen’s Grocers on the other corner and everything weighed to the exact ounce by the thin hands of Deunwen. And the mock Chinese pagoda bus shelter complete with ladies and gents toilets absent too. A square named after a bird that nobody had ever seen on a square that was never a square. In reality a legendary provocation to the tyranny of perspective.

Some Trees and Snow

Ystrad Stories
Some Trees and Snow, Ernest Zobole, 1978

Some Trees and Snow, Ernest Zobole, 1978

Picture Story

Author: Vera Button

Written in response to ‘Some Trees and Snow’ Ernest Zobole, (1978)
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru – National Museum of Wales

The picture of the train with mountains rising up from it, reminded me of when we traveled with a circus in South Africa and all the artistes lived on the train. Our wagon was always at the back of the train and it was very old, wooden and had a balcony at the rear, a bit like the old westerns era type.  Our family had one half of one wagon which consisted of three whole compartments and a half, plus the ‘luggage’ racks area which became part of the kitchen. Many of the places we visited were named after the beautiful areas of Scotland, England and Wales and they really did look like them. They were probably named by people from those areas in the first place.

Once, when we were going through the Drakensburg Mountains, we had fabulous vistas and scenery to take your breath away. Sometimes we had two engines on the front and the whole train would be linked, and as it was almost a mile long we’d be able to see the rest of it when on the bends and climbing. Once, it became too much for the engines, so they stopped, and uncoupled our wagons, leaving us parked on the side of the mountain until an engine could be sent back to ‘rescue’ us! Zobole’s picture reminded me of this episode.

We had many exciting adventures including a train crash in the Kruger National Park and amazingly, this painting revived many of them.

Some Trees and Snow

Author: Rob Cullen

Written in response to ‘Some Trees and Snow’ Ernest Zobole, (1978)
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The painting is of an Ystrad, Rhondda night time view. And beneath the puffed white clouded sky the tree bloomed slopes of Glyncornel covered in snow is dissected by the New Road and studded by the orange reflection of neon on the white road and the elm trees planted at regular intervals. An old style green train runs like a long spangled snake along the valley floor. It could be going or coming to Cardiff. Or to and from the outside world. Each compartment is lit with the yellow glow of night time. Imaginations realm. Maybe it’s a dreamscape made unreal.

Between the road and the railway the river flows. The river is not shown but hidden by the suggestion of slag heaps. The valley floor is wide here. Once river meadows stretched from Ystrad to Pontrhondda and fields of hay, wheat and barley were grown. When I was a child between the river and the road the tumbled down stone walls still marked the outline of the Lilly White, an old mill. A mill race that still flowed deep and still. A place we dared each other to wade. Our shorts rolled as high as they could go. In the fluid murk, water-scorpions fed on tadpoles and dragon fly nymphs prayed on our toes.

But where did Ernie play as a child? Maybe the Lamb Woods in Bodringallt. Maybe always on the outside looking in. Always standing at the doorway as if he is neither here nor there. Maybe he plays in dream.

Landscape at Night with Woman at Window

Ystrad Stories
Landscape at Night with Woman at Window Ernest Zobole 1980s

Landscape at Night with Woman at Window Ernest Zobole 1980s

Innocents and Accidents

Author: Carrie Francis

Written in response to Ernest Zobole, ‘Landscape at Night with Woman at Window’ (1980’s).
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

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.

Looking Out of Window in Winter

Ystrad Stories
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)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

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.

Ystrad Rhondda

Ystrad Stories
Ystrad Rhondda Ernest Zobole 1957

Ystrad Rhondda Ernest Zobole 1957

Ystrad Rhondda

Author: Jimmy Browne

Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ Ernest Zobole, (1957)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

It was a sunny but cold morning and the street was busy with mothers, some fathers too but mostly mothers, taking younger children to school; older children going in small groups to the big schools; and busy early morning traffic. Now they were all stopped in helpless anxiety and fear, except for those with the younger children who were shepherding them quickly away from the scene. “She just didn’t seem to see the car, just rushed out into the road. I think she was trying to catch the bus.” The woman spoke to the two police officers almost in a whisper, as if to speak louder would be somehow disrespectful to the elderly lady sprawled out in the middle of the road being given urgent treatment by the ambulance crew.

A younger, more distressed voice, came from behind me. “That’s my Nan, that’s my Nan!” I turned to see three teenage girls in school uniform. Two of them were clinging to the third who kept repeating the same words “That’s my Nan, that’s my Nan”, the words strangled by emotion and washed by tears flowing down a too white and disbelieving face. One of a second ambulance crew overheard and hurried to help the young girl, by now deeply in shock. The other crew member was treating the driver of the car that had struck the girl’s Nan; a man in his forties and as deeply in shock as the teenage schoolgirl. Next day, nearby railings covered with flowers.

Ystrad Rhondda

Author: Gerhard Kress

Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ Ernest Zobole, (1957)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

his blue period, dark blue, no danger of being overwhelmed by bright colours. perhaps the artist Zobole doesn’t do that. all is framed by two lines that eventually, but outside the picture, are destined to meet, were it not for a tall, wooden electricity pole, forcing my eyes back where the real tension is grouped around an empty bit of street.

it’s the expectancy of people on both sides, on their opposing pavements. most of them stationary but for two women in the bottom left corner on their way to the bottom right corner. perhaps they’ll walk out of the frame not concerned with the imminent arrival of that ‘something’ that is suggested to happen without hinting at, what it may be. and then there is a woman, standing and, like the wooden pole opposite, guarding to prevent my eyes from escaping the uncomfortable tension. there is both, stillness and tension. groups of two and three is as much interaction as I detect, with the exception of a boy holding on to the skirt of a woman who herself is holding in her arms a small, blonde child.

I am looking at this painting for a long time. not for what I can see but for what isn’t there. and I’m oscillating between wanting to know about the coming event, however fleeting it might be and feeling a slight dread as to the apparent disconnectedness of the onlookers, arbitrarily meeting in this gathering. in contrast I imagine bright sunshine and smiling faces.

People Crossing – Rhondda Crossing

Ystrad Stories
People and Crossing - Rhondda Crossing Ernest Zobole c1952

People and Crossing – Rhondda Crossing Ernest Zobole c1952


Author: Jean Bentley

Written in response to ‘People and Crossing – Rhondda Crossing’ (c1952)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

The sheep roamed the roads, don’t you know,
When I came here a long time ago.
They upset the bins
Spilt out ashes and tins
And left many a sad tale of woe.

You had to take ultimate care
To shut garden gates – for beware –
They’d chew up your plants
And trample your grass –
Your once pristine garden left bare.

In a flat where I used to reside,
The outer door had been left open wide;
I huffed disbelief
At the mutton, not beef,
That had gathered together in side.

I searched for a weapon – a broom,
This problem had left me in doom.
I prodded each one
Up the old ‘currant bun’,
Then cleaned out the foyer in gloom.

They cared not wherever they’d roam,
Down back lane or waste land they’d comb
For anything edible;
It was most incredible
How they’d always attack someone’s home.

Then one day – hip, hip, hip, hooray!
Legislation was coming our way.
The farmers were bound
To fence sheep around,
That problem has now gone away.

Sun Shining through the Hills

Ystrad Stories
Sun Shining through the Hills, Ernest Zobole, early 1980s

Sun Shining through the Hills, Ernest Zobole, early 1980s

My Story

Author: Lisa Powell

Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ (early 1980’s)
University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

As a commuter in the Rhondda Valleys for the past eight years and as an outsider I have always been fascinated by the rows of ribbons of terraced houses that shape the landscape and bring character to the area which is distinctive. Therefore, I have only ever experienced ‘the green Rhondda’ (post-coal era) where it is green again and even consists most recently of wind farms added to the landscape of upper Rhondda in particular. My two favourite paintings by Zobole look at the 1950s era showing the community life that once existed in a street scene ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and one from the 1980s era ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ which looks at the sunny landscape on the one side and the darker landscape the other side of the painting. These combined help me understand how since industry has gone, the area has changed in appearance as well as community aspects.  The past has a dark side where the landscape was dirty and wildlife destroyed but on the other hand work was plentiful. Today it may be greener but deprivation has led to some parts of Rhondda looking run down with shops closed and no future for young people. I therefore see Rhondda today as a mixture of both positive and negative aspects, which now characterise and have changed Rhondda both physically as well as socially. Today Rhondda has a population of predominantly commuters and sadly some young people have left to look for work elsewhere. Pubs, churches, high streets are closing and also schools even. Depopulation is the main cause of this as well as other factors. Mountain fires remind many people today of black mountains, similar to when the area was being mined which for some take people back to the ‘old’ Rhondda they once knew. Mountains scarred by the blackness, like a time machine taking us back to the past.