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Background

This resource was designed in collaboration with artist Kim James-Williams, and offers support to educators studying 'Salem' by Sidney Curnow Vosper (1866-1942).

The work in watercolor depicts the scene from a service in Salem Chapel, Cefncymerau, Llanbedr near Harlech, with the character Siân Owen in her traditional Welsh dress holding a hymn book in the center of the picture. Throughout the decades 'Salem' became an iconic symbol of Welsh identity and the non-conformist tradition in Wales.

Two versions of ‘Salem’ were created by Vosper during his lifetime. The first was created in 1908 and was exhibited in London where it was bought by the industrialist William Hesketh Lever who used the image to advertise his product ‘Sunlight Soap’. As a result, ‘Salem’ evolved into an iconic image across Britain.

The second version which differs slightly from the original and which was bought by the National Library was created in 1909 for Frank Treharne James, a solicitor from Merthyr and the artist’s brother-in-law.

Many believed that they could see an image of the devil in the fold of Siân Owen’s shawl, which did much to add to the work’s intrigue. Some believed that the image of the devil was a warning to others against the sin of vanity, something Siân Owen was displaying by dressing extravagantly to attend chapel. It could also be said that Siân Owen represented the figure of the ‘Mam’ in 19th century Wales.

View full blog: Salem - A Symbol of Welsh Identity

 

Questions to discuss

  • What do you see?
  • What can you tell me about the person in this painting?
  • What shapes can you see in the picture?
  • What is the main focus point?
  • Can you sense a particular mood in the painting?
  • Can you see anything in her shawl?
  • In you opinion, what's good about this picture?

 

Activities

  • Copy the painting and concentrate on geometric shapes and tone.
  • Concentrate on the perspective of the picture.
  • Create a 3D version with cardboard. Highlight the foreground, background and middle ground.
  • Create a picture and add a 'hidden figure' within the picture.

Learning experiences

(derived from the statements of what matters)

Expressive Arts
  • Develop and refine designs
  • Mastering creative techniques
  • Developing creative techniques
Humanities
  • Understanding the past
  • Similarity and social differentiation