Eidel Aeke, born on this day 1592, loved patterns and symmetry, that much is clear from the intricate wallpapers and fabrics on show today at the Museum of Rural Life, an old tithe barn on the outskirts of the City which collects and exhibits items which help Buentoillitants to understand those who choose to live outside the City’s bounds, often in single houses out in the middle of nowhere. Aeke was one such ‘woman of the country,’ whose life is today celebrated by the exhibition, as well as a trip to the (now sadly dilapidated) house in which Aeke spent most of her days.
Today Aeke’s patterns are well known, with the originals (many of which are on display as part of the Museum’s one-day exhibition) being reproduced for many modern furnishings, yet during her life they were seldom seen outside her own home. Whilst she made a few sales to other homes, and even managed to get a few designs stocked in Billert’s Seven Stories of Home Furnishings, they never took off whilst she lived. The designs were perhaps ahead of their time, with Buentoillitants previously favouring cleaner, simpler styles than the busy, organised chaos of many Aeke works.
The most famous print, which graces the walls (either in wallpaper or framed format) of many Buentoilliçan homes, is called ‘Perfect City,’ and depicts a symmetrical, walled City made from pleasing blocks of colour in a naive style. Between the houses, little smiling simplified figures performing various labours are depicted in an almost identical manner, so that they appear to form part of the ‘Perfect City’ itself; little cogs whirring in the greater, symmetrical whole. The design is constructed in such a way that it can either be repeated ad infinitum, the walls snaking here and there around the room, or placed as a single image with the walls forming a perfect circle.
From the sketchbooks of Aeke we can gain some insight into her personal world, with its scribblings and scribblings out, its failed ideas and successful prototypes of famous designs. In the margins of the first draft of ‘Leaf Bouquet III,’ another highly successful design in modern times, there is a far less delicate feel to the foliage, perhaps because at that point (if the accompanying notes are anything to go by) Aeke was obsessing over by the symmetry of the piece rather than those details. There is a roll of wallpaper which has a small female figure out of place in one repetition, as if it were standing back to look at the design before it. Scholars have disagreed for some time as to whether this was a misprint or a deliberate placement; a depiction of Aeke within her work.
Like ‘Leaf Boquet III,’ many of the pieces that Aeke created were focused on naturalistic themes; the passage of water over rocks, the formations of birds, innumerable species of plant and flower, real and invented, and hilltops. The natural world is perhaps a strange subject for one so obsessed with symmetry, but according to Aeke symmetry was a ‘nayturale funktion of nayture,’ it was just a matter of finding the correct perspective. The City, she claimed, was much harder, the intentionality of the space working against its natural symmetry and patterns. Aeke sought to bring some of the beautiful symmetry of nature to the City-dwellers through her work; it is ironic that ‘Perfect City’ something of an outlier in her body of work, is now the most popular.
Aeke created her designs from a tiny, octagonal, one-room house next to a deep pool in a river valley to the west of Buentoille. Her bed was in the loft space, raised up above the perfectly symmetrical space below. The central line passes though the fireplace, with long wooden workbenches lining each side, joining up by the wash basin at the other end of the room, interrupted by the two doorways. On one side she would cook, the other she would sketch her designs. Outside a small garden mirrored the shape of the house it surrounded on all sides. Almost all of this is gone now, become overgrown, hollowed out. Only the eight walls and part of the roof remains, the rest wasted partly through time and neglect, partly wrecked by the actions of the witch hunters who murdered Aeke.
It was ‘Perfect City’ that attracted their attention; it was found in the house of another woman Tellius Frene, also murdered for alleged witchcraft (although in her case this was almost undoubtedly a plot by her husband to distract from the sustained campaign of emotional and physical abuse he had subjected her to), and the witch hunters had decided that it was some kind of magical glyph, a curse on the City, especially when they found out that it had been made by a woman living on her own in the deep countryside. On the eighth of August 1634 she was dragged from her home by a small mob of men, her garden was trampled, her windows were broken, and they drowned her in the deep pool.
When the walkers, admirers of Aeke’s work one and all, reach the remains of the house today they will cut back the plants that grow over the old walls, mow the grass that surrounds it, and sweep up inside. The benches are gone, rotted away, but the sink can be cleaned, the flagstones swept. Flowers are left in respect, symmetrically laid out in the centre of the room. The festival has only been going for thirty years, since her works were rediscovered and popularised, and is attended by only about thirty Buentoillitants. Most of these are artists and graphic designers who have been inspired by Aeke’s work. Five years ago the group, which goes by no official name, started to raise funds to repair and renovate the building, and it is thought that by next year they will have enough for everything they have planned.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Day of the Bog Flute
- The Anniversary of the Fat Diocese Riot