John Barleycorn Must Die | Maya Chessman

Maya Chessman is a second-year illustration student at Norwich University of the Arts. She focusses on exploring drawing and traditional printmaking methods to tell stories. Here, she shares a series of etchings and explains her process in her own words.

I am interested in exploring craft, folklore and heritage but I aim to depict these themes in a contemporary way, to engage new audiences in collective stories. In this series of etchings, I wanted to depict the folklore and customs surrounding harvest in Britain and across Europe. I found it interesting how the general beliefs in corn spirits and the celebration of harvest were universal across the continent but there were specific regional customs and local traditions (for instance “Crying the Neck” in Cornwall and Devon). I also enjoy the way that these beliefs are derivatives of ancient ones but remain relevant because of the cycles and the way grain is ever-present in our food and drink in modern times. A key theme that I wanted to show with the series was the personification of the grain.

I loved the idea of corn dollies being made to capture the corn spirits as it showed beliefs that lead to the action of making, the craft and folklore are so intertwined. I really tried to focus in on the intricacies and patterns found within the corn dollies as I was captivated by the skill in these tiny objects and let them lead the look of my work.

I wanted to experiment with soft wax etching and so used this project to do this. The way I approached the project was by combining little sketches and notes to myself which had no purpose initially. For instance, the type was picked from some church graffiti I had drawn out earlier and adapted, while the crowns were inspired by straw work, the faces from a combination of masks and Roman roof tiles.

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