The famous Salem watercolour.
The famous Salem painting by Sydney Curnow Vosper, in which some people see the image of the devil, returned on Friday to Llanbedr, near Harlech, near to the chapel that inspired it.
As part of the Masterpieces in Schools event – one of the outreach projects run by the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth – the painting was exhibited at Ysgol Gynradd Llanbedr near Harlech.
Pupils were able to see the painting close up at the school’s morning service and years five and six pupils took part in workshops. The children looked in detail at the techniques used to create the picture in a watercolour painting workshop based on the masterpiece.
A second workshop looked at the Welsh costume, focusing on the paisley pattern of central character Siân Owen’s shawl.
The watercolour painting depicts a scene from a service in Salem Chapel, Cefn Cymerau, Llanbedr, near Harlech, with the Owen in her traditional Welsh dress holding a hymn book in the centre of the picture.
Vosper (1866-1942) was inspired to create works based on Breton and Welsh culture during his lifetime, but without doubt Salem is his most well-known painting.
He created two versions of Salem during his lifetime, the first version, painted in 1908, being purchased by William Hesketh Lever to promote the sales of his ‘Sunlight Soap’.The image became iconic across Britain.
Salem was also a symbol of Welsh life and the nonconformist tradition in Wales and became ever-more well known because some people were able to see an image of the devil in the folds of the shawl worn by Owen.
The second version, which only differs slightly from the original, was created in 1909 for Frank Treharne James, a solicitor from Merthyr and brother-in-law to the artist. It was purchased by the National Library in 2021.
Tesni Edwards, a teacher at Ysgol Llanbedr, said: “We are very grateful for this opportunity which enabled Ysgol Llanbedr pupils to come face to face with one of Wales’s most iconic paintings, and learn more about the collections of our most important institutions.”
Rhodri Morgan, the National Library of Wales’s head of education services, said: “It’s our privilege to use the National Library’s collections to offer unique and exciting experiences to the school pupils of Wales.
“Offering a workshop on the original painting by Sydney Curnow Vosper to the children of Llanbedr, a stone’s throw away from the chapel that Siân Owen attended more than a century ago, enriches their understanding of their locality, as they continue to celebrate the history of their surroundings.”
Later in the year, the library will invite all the pupils of Ysgol Llanbedr to Aberystwyth so that they can see where the painting is kept safely and learn more about the other collections.
The Masterpieces in Schools project is part of the library’s strategy to reach out to communities across Wales and support participation in cultural, educational and artistic activities for children and young people.
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