Pomp and plumage in rural England

Agricultural shows fascinate english artist Mary Newcomb. Competition is part of their tradition, between breeds of cattle, poultry, vegetables. A July entry in her diary records: "I have just seen the largest cow and the longest bean - heavy horses ... shampooed goats and spangled hamburgs laying golden eggs, real pom-pom ducks and regiments performing."

Typical of her humorous observations of the rural scene is her note of "regiments performing" tagged onto the end of a list of prize animals and birds. She cannot resist the parallel between animals and humans on display at the show.

Marching bands are part of these popular summer events, and the difference between a prize cockerel with splendid plumage and a military trombonist in all his spit-and-polish regalia may not be as great as we would like to fancy.

"The Cockerel at the Poultry Show," painted in 1990 with characteristic vitality and directness, presents the white bird alert and proud against a gray background, its vivid red comb and mask fiercely and unforgettably ... regimental.

Newcomb's birds and animals are often reminiscent of folk art in which simplicity turns a creature into an emblem - a wood carving, perhaps, or a painted sign for a shop or pub. Newcomb brings something of this disarming spirit into her fine art.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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