The Case of the missing Druid

…this immediately recalled another haunting encounter with a vanished object that had taken root in my consciousness, grabbing me with stony fingers, extending out of the gloom of history, as if to take possession…

The Scene of the Crime, Erddig House West Front, Nr Wrexham, Wales

… an obsessive, yet thwarted hunt, for a Druidic Statue pictured in The Chronicles of Erthig on The Dyke simply entitled THE DRUID. For a static object he had been surprisingly peripatetic, missing, relocated and mutilated, not to mention the case of THE DRUID and it’s double. He had not however been a lonely wanderer for a whole cast of characters and host of voices past and present had captured his trials and travels and assisted me on mine.

These dramatis personae included the antiquary, the 2nd wife, the head gardener, the rector and chorographer, the photographer, the rare book conservator, the family historian and culminated in the unlikely event of a deathbed confession by The Labourer to the Rector & Chorographer, concerning a mishap relating to the arm of THE DRUID, which apparently haunted him all the way to his grave, until that point he held his tongue and spake nothing. The act of collecting in this instance was not just a gathering but an act of dispersal. In short THE DRUID sent this peripatetic subject on a wild goose chase tracing this enigmatic signifier through desire lines and ribbons in the dirt across a number of temporalities and spatial locations. These included the Family Museum, a strange cornucopia of domestic and exotic objects all staged in a coffin like structure fit for Snow White, the Flintshire Archives at The Old Rectory in Hawarden, the Attic and the North Flat (formerly the Yorke’s family quarters), it was now home to rare and antiquarian books (I failed to find the flat several times because it was hidden behind a secret door of mahogany panelling at the bottom of the stairs).

    

Footnotes

“Bell-horses, bell-horses, what time of day? It is six in the morn. We are off and away!”

THE DRUID

In contrast to the Antiquary’s somewhat melodramatic encounter with the patriarchal stone figure of the Druid in a dealer’s shop in London, mine was a humble affair. According to the family historian when his eyes alighted upon the object this encounter turned the event, a desire to possess the coveted object, into something of a spectacle. With the cracking of a great whip, the humble trade of an empty cheese wagon was temporarily promoted to the transport of a more fragile cargo; a relic of bygone days swathed in straw. All of which was performed to the rapture of a gaping throng of onlookers. My encounter with the Druid however, occurred with the event of the image within the private space of the book and the intimate act of reading. Like the antiquary of old I was equally struck by the image of the Druid, captivated like Narcissus caught in the auto-affective structure of his gaze, briefly I entered another’s space becoming a site of inscription like the blank page.

Like Poe’s purloined letter the image was both a revealing and a concealing, in the space of the book I had no place to run to in this prototype theatre, I could only act out to the sides. What was it about this image that pricked me so? Was it the idea that it was entitled THE DRUID, a paradigmatic example on which all other Druids are based? Or did I somehow respond to the sound of its evocation when its sightless eyes, wrapt in eons of stony reflection, appeared to meet my gaze? Perhaps it was its elegiac nature, its enigmatic status framed within the frame of the page rendered even more mysterious by its decontextualized display. This fragment of a larger scene was impossible to locate in time or place…a somewhere else, an elsewhere…

Closer inspection revealed the image was harbouring its own complex mise-en-abyme caught up in several layers of representation. In the first instance it is an image of an image, it is also the image of an image of an object. This object which appears to be made of stone is a statue representing THE DRUID which in itself is a representation, a copy without original or an original copy? From whence does this image derive? Whose spectral visage did it bear? The statue in fact is not made of stone but Coade Lambethware, a type of ceramic mimicking the characteristics of stone in turn mimicking the human form, a human countenance, a funereal fleshy foot, a flowing beard that did not flow, locks of hair locked in place and folds of textured cloth draped in ceramic stone. The whole scene is a fiction, a complex masquerade, an impossible image of an impossible object. Yet there it was, a chimera hiding in plain sight…

53°01′38″N3°00′24″W / 53.0272°N 3.0066°W

….some time later on site…

I confess to being crestfallen when denied the thrill of the chase regarding the poetic desire to locate the lost object, the missing, peripatetic, mutilated statue of THE DRUID. This desire was impeded since I had conversed earlier with the Archaeology Intern who subsequently that day consulted the Head Gardener, thereby locating the statue’s whereabouts in the garden along the Moss Walk. The Druid had been found, surprisingly made whole again, but it was a sad scratch, a collection of fragments badly restored, scored, marked, glued, pitted, stained and etched into by various vandals including a…      

                                                                                

“The Druid’s Arm, which has at last been repaired (in 1922) and was what in this room having been hidden away in 1880 after being dug up in the wood. The arm was considered too dilapidated to be mended so it was hidden away, & when found in 1908, it was kept in the Museum for 14 years. The story of the Druid is to be found elsewhere and on the board in the wood.”

The manufactured fake right arm, sutured onto the main body of the original fake ceramic stone statue of a representation of a druid, was quite different in texture, colour and accentuated pallor. Strange to touch, this phantom limb caused a shudder as the object appeared to be a kind of Frankensteinian act of restoration. Upon close inspection, depressingly he was clutching a broom handle in his fake right arm as his staff of office. Not unlike Ruskin’s bookcases, the Head Gardener informed me that the statue had been found in pieces unceremoniously dumped in a bin around 1950. I revisited the statue regularly at different times of the day observing the light to determine the best time to capture an image but despite my best photographic efforts repeated over 50 times I could not recapture the enigma of the original, I failed to inflect the icon with the same blank magic.

It was not THE DRUID for in actuality that only existed in the image or more specifically the photograph which may no longer exist and which I could not obtain beyond its reproduction on the page, in that sense my desire was doubly denied. The image of that object which had taken root in my psyche belonged to an alternate temporality, a time when antiquaries transported coveted possessions in cheese wagons from London to Wales and the familiar sound of old nursery rhymes resounded in the air. THE DRUID belonged to that strange, magical wood, an elsewhere, a somewhere else of which I had no memory. I was not standing in Erddig even if I was paradoxically standing in Erddig, a temporal dislocation caused by the theatre of representation, a carefully crafted reconstruction and uncanny doppelganger of the original Erddig. Although a painstaking effort had been made to restore the statue to its former glory somehow it had been irrevocably lost in the process, dismembered and disremembered.