Kyffin Williams, the photographer

Kyffin Blog / News and Events - Posted 11-01-2011

Whilst researching for Small World, an exhibition based on the theme of travel in Wales, I couldn’t help but refer to Patagonia. The voyage of the Welsh who emigrated and settled in Patagonia in 1865 is a story that has been told plenty of times in print, in the media and in exhibitions, so when it was time to present this aspect of history in the Small World exhibition, I was keen to look at it from a different perspective.

Kyffin Williams, Father and son near Trevelin, 1968

In 1968, with the help of a Winston Churchill fellowship, he spent several months in the Welsh-descended communities of Patagonia. The product of this trip was very different from his earlier work as he used brighter colours to depict the arid region and gaucho people of Patagonia.

Today, Kyffin’s Patagonia paintings are well-renonwed, but you might not be as familiar with his talent as a photographer. During his time in Patagonia he used photographs extensively for the first time. He took a series of striking 35mm. colour slides of the country and its people, and it is a selection of these slides which I decided to exhibit in Small World. Previously unpublished, the collection of photographs on display in this exhibition capture Y Wladfa through the artist’s eyes.

Alongside these colour photographs, the Library has an unique collection of ephemera belonging to Kyffin Williams, and a few of these objects, relating to his Patagonia trip, can also be seen in the exhibition, including his passport, pesos (Argentinian money) and a mate gourd with bombilla collected by the artist during his stay in Y Wladfa.

Kyffin Williams, Self Portrait, 1968

Whilst in the country Kyffin recorded his impressions of an Indian-Welsh family which he spent some time with, where all the Indians spoke Welsh, and the wife:

“…always referred to the Wales she had never seen as the ‘Hen Wlad’ or the Old Country. Señor Goronwy had so imbued her with the Welsh spirit and the Welsh religion that she was indeed more Welsh than many in Wales…”

Since Small World opened its doors on the 16th of October, 2010, I have been aksed several times to identify my favourite item. There are over 300 items in the exhibition and a number of these are valuable and unique, but my favourite item, without doubt, is Kyffin Williams’ palette, the one used by the artist to paint his famous Patagonian landscapes. The bright oil paint can still be seen on the dark and heavy palette, and I felt a thrill of excitement when I first set eyes on it.

Carys Mai

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

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