In the Valley
Author: Ann Davies
Written in response to ‘In the Valley, No.4, No.7’ (1962)
The mist is draped like a blanket over the land, it is dark and damp. There are distant sounds as the heavy laden coal trams traverse the incline to divulge their contents onto the slurry tip reigning supreme on the mountainside.
The gas street lights glisten like diamonds in the coal blackness. A Hooter sounds, its rhythm is short, no alarm – the shift is over. The Banks man engages the gears to raise the pithead cage from the innermost depths of the mine bringing the miners safely to the surface. Silently the men make their way home. Will is soaked from the underground workings; all he can think of is to lie down in front of a welcome fire. He is too tired; the fire becomes embers. A soul departs.
The river at the valley bed meanders on its way; some children have lost their lives in the blackened whirlpool within as dark dust from the slurry tip is whipped up by the strong winds. No washing tomorrow it whispers. The dankness lingers long.
In her sleep a Mother laments the thought that her only son will join the Air Force. She knows her two daughters will go into Domestic Service.
Her husband touches her shoulder gently; he doesn’t want his son to go down the mine – or dig tunnels in a distant field in Flanders as he did. There must be something more.
Dawn breaks as if emerging into life with a blink; uncertain of its future role.
Author: Lisa Powell
Written in response to ‘Ystrad Rhondda’ (1957) and ‘Sun Shining through the Hills’ (early 1980’s)
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.
Sky walking with Ernie!
Author: Rob Cullen
Written in response to ‘A Painting about Myself in a Landscape’ (1994–1995)
Sky walking with Ernie. What took my eye was a recognition of the similarity between some of Ernie Zobole’s paintings with Australian – so called Aboriginal – peoples use of sand paintings. I no longer interrogate the basis of such intuition. From ancient times, Australian indigenous people made a kind of aerial landscape art. It is a map-like, bird’s-eye view of the desert landscape, and it is often meant to tell a traditional dreaming story – “time out of time”. Ernie Zobole’s painting involves representations of aerial maps of the valley and the landscape of which he was entirely familiar. But they also hold a dream like quality especially when he depicts himself standing in a doorway – the entranceway – or maybe lying in a bed – (another kind of doorway into dream) looking out on a fragment of the valley map. Doorways are symbolic places of transition representing the passageway to another reality. I mused that if Ernie Zobole’s painting were akin to Australian indigenous people’s art then what would the story of the Songline sound like and what would the story of the Songline tell people about the mythic creatures of the Rhondda. Later I once again considered the painting and thought about the Mohawks “Sky Walking” when constructing sky scrapers combined with ideas involving five-dimensional space. Walking through Ynyshangarad Park, a friend who was very familiar with Ernie Zobole’s work, had considered whether the artist had outer body experiences which seems to be reflected in the aerial maps but also of his depiction of himself not only looking down at the Rhondda but of himself looking out while looking in.
Author: Jean Bentley
Written in response to ‘People and Crossing – Rhondda Crossing’ (c1952)
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.