Published Apr 2015
John Craske, a Norfok fisherman, was born in 1881 and in 1917, when he had just turned thirty-six, he fell seriously ill. For the rest of his life he kept moving in and out of what was described as ‘a stuporous state’. In 1923 he started making paintings of the sea and boats and the coastline seen from the sea, and later, when he was too ill to stand and paint, he turned to embroidery, which he could do lying in bed. His embroideries were also the sea, including his masterpiece, a huge embroidery of The Evacuation of Dunkirk.
Very few facts about Craske are known, and only a few scattered photographs have survived, together with accounts by the writer Sylvia Townsend Warner and her lover Valentine Ackland, who discovered Craske in 1937. So – as with all her books – Julia Blackburn’s account of his life is far from a conventional biography. Instead it is a quest which takes her in many strange directions – to fishermen’s cottages in Sheringham, a grand hotel fallen on hard times in Great Yarmouth and to the isolated Watch House far out in the Blakeney estuary; to Cromer and the bizarre story of Einstein’s stay there, guarded by dashing young women in jodhpurs with shotguns.
Threads is a book about life and death and the strange country between the two where John Craske seemed to live. It is also about life after death, as Julia’s beloved husband Herman, a vivid presence in the early pages of the book, dies before it is finished.
In a gentle meditation on art and fame; on the nature of time and the fact of mortality; and illustrated with Craske’s paintings and embroideries, Threads shows, yet again, that Julia Blackburn can conjure a magic that is spellbinding and utterly her own.