26 Nov 2020

Here at the Reading Museum shop, we value our sense of community and heritage. As a retail establishment in the centre of a vibrant town, we love to showcase as much of the creativity and skill that Reading has to offer as possible. Many of our products are made by Reading residents, for Reading residents.

Sally Castle and Martina Hildebrandt have been a part of that initiative for many years now, producing a wide range of handmade gifts and prints for the Reading Museum shop, and collaborating with one of our most popular stockists, Two Rivers Press, designing beautiful lettering and illustrations for their books.

We asked both Sally and Martina for their help in designing our latest range of merchandise: Characters of Reading Abbey Quarter. These new products celebrate the skill of local artists and makers, and highlight the hidden history of Reading's remarkable Abbey and surrounding area. What Sally, Martina, and all our makers have produced are fantastic and iconic designs, celebrating our town's history and instilling a sense of pride in our local community.

We recently spoke with Sally and Martina, and asked them to tell us a little bit about themselves, and the artistic process involved in creating these lovely new designs. Here’s what they had to say!

Martina Hildebrandt

'As an artist with a training in theatre design, I like an image that tells a story and interacts with a viewer. I’ll often start a piece using traditional linocut methods. Creating silhouetted figures, either historical or contemporary, I’ll then see where they lead me, combining with other mediums to create the place they will inhabit. Here, for Oscar Wilde, Abbey and Gaol, our figure ended up standing as he likely never would have, admiring the Reading Abbey Ruins, with his back to the Gaol for which he sadly was brought to Reading. What he is thinking is for the viewer to ponder, perhaps to find out what book he is holding'.

'When creating a piece which includes a historical figure it’s inevitable that you have to work from photographs and existing images. Lockdown of 2020 meant I had little choice other than to scour the internet. Luckily Oscar appears to have liked having his photograph taken, there are so many images to consider and having worked on a few other Oscar Wilde projects over the last few years, I surrounded myself with past references, computer printouts and books'.

Martina Hildebrandt at work.
Linocut of Empress Matilda in progress with drawings.

'I’ll work with black pens and white paint to plan the figure, bit-by-bit simplifying the form, before transferring onto some traditional brown lino. I don’t know what happened this time, as unusually for me Oscar is here seen face on. The Empress Matilda piece is how I normally find the figures emerge, in silhouette side-on. The process of cutting refines the image some more, having first remembered to reverse it. Then it’s time to create the background. For Oscar Wilde, Abbey and Gaol I used a simple collagraph method of print to which I added watercolour and gouache. And it did then seem appropriate that Oscar would look good on the rainbow flag too!'

Sally Castle

'My work often combines hand lettering with linocut illustrations and my first thought was to look for quotations when Reading Museum asked me to think of some Oscar Wilde themed ideas for the Museum’s shop. I have designed covers for The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and A Ladder for Mr Oscar Wilde and for some time I have had ideas for Oscar’s fairy tales. In fact I am currently working on an illustrated version of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince which will be published in 2021'.

'I soon had a long list of possible quotations – he came up with such gems! “I can resist everything but temptation” from Lady Windermere’s Fan stood out as a great quotation to go on a biscuit tin, in custard cream and ginger nut colours of course'.

Sally Castle at work.
Sally Castle at work.

'The image and lettering on the key ring and fridge magnet are taken from one of my panels I was commissioned to design for Chatham Place in Reading. Ten two-metre panels combine lettering and illustrations of interesting facts about Reading and its history. The Museum also asked me for some ideas about Jane Austen and I found “Ah! There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort” from Emma, a perfect quote for a nice cup of tea!'

Sally was born in Reading, she studied Graphic design at Maidstone College of Art and MA Type Design at University of Reading; she has been a part of Two Rivers Press for over twenty years and is a director of the press. Sally has designed covers and or illustrated over thirty books for Two Rivers Press. She has a reputation for original hand lettering, and a particular interest in linocut printmaking, environmental lettering and mixed media artwork. One of her linocut prints of the Market Place was purchased for Reading Museum and notable public work includes the Walking Words panels at Chatham Place in Reading and the Forbury Square stone also in Reading. She has recently designed and illustrated a map for Reading’s Abbey Quarter.

Two mugs from the new Characters of the Reading Abbey Quarter range.
These two mugs are part of our latest range, Characters of the Reading Abbey Quarter!

To see more of Sally and Martina's work, visit their websites, at www.sallycastle.co.uk/ and www.hi-creative.co.uk/.

Our Characters of Reading Abbey Quarter range is now available to browse and order online. Visit the Reading Museum Online Shop today!