Flying the Flag – interview with Lucy Birbeck

Flying the Flag – interview with Lucy Birbeck

Commissioned flags inspired by Mercury the Messenger

New for 2021, are some specially commissioned silk flags by local artist Lucy Birbeck which are flying on the Café PK terrace. We had a chat with Lucy to find out how she started making flags on a large scale and what inspired her during the making of the PK flags.

When did you make your first flags?

About 25 years ago I volunteered for the first ever Golowan Festival in Penzance. My creative skill lay in being able to draw big – I had never worked with textiles before. The festival organisers wanted to create large scale artworks to bring colour and visual impact to Penzance town.

During the initial planning stages, Golowan was overwhelmed with a large donation of brightly coloured cotton fabric. The person who donated it, used the material to make traditional Cornish fisherman smocks. However, he was only interested in using muted grey, blue and brown colours for the smocks – and kindly gave us his surplus coloured fabric. From this generous donation I was tasked with creating large banners and flags to decorate the streets.

In 2000, I was taught by Angus Watt how to cut silk for the flags. Silk then replaced the heavier cotton ‘smock’ fabric. But it was the donation of that original Cornish fisherman smock material that kickstarted my large flag passion and creativity.

What happened after that first Golowan Festival?

The banners and flags created the impact that we had hoped and people loved them! Since then I have been approached by various charities and festivals to create large flags including Glastonbury Festival, Greenpeace, Eden Project, Jubilee Pool, and many other private and public businesses.

Fortunately I have had the assistance of a number of people over the years working with me, including the wonderful Mary Bridget Greenwood-Penny. From that initial Golowan Festival I estimate that I have made over 500 flags.

What do you love about working with silk?

Silk creates a beautiful wave of material in the wind. Working with bright and bold colours, silk retains the colour and therefore the visual impact. It is delicate to work with though and has an outdoor lifespan of about 8 – 12 months. Once the flags have served their time I usually recycle them or donate the material for other uses.

How did you start creating the flags at PK Porthcurno?

Julia Twomlow, CEO and Creative Director at PK Porthcurno, commissioned the flags. The subject matter was Hermes – the Messenger God in Greek mythology, known as Mercury the Messenger in Roman. I have a real passion for creating figures with wings – when I can! The fact that Hermes has wings on his head and feet was so exciting.

I started the process by sketching out the ideas for the set of flags. This included three different guises for Hermes holding the phone – which is unusual for me to do, but I was really inspired.

How long did it take you to make the flags?

The flags took at least 50 hours each, and there are 5 in total – so quite a bit of time! The commission from PK Porthcurno came in just prior to the first national lockdown. I had no other work commissioned so was able to focus purely on them, with the help of my grandson Horace. It provided us with a focused escape from what was happening, and to create the flags to a highly intricate level. 

Are you happy with the flags?

They are honestly the best flags that I have ever made! I loved the concept and I loved the subject – the detail in them is exquisite – I can’t wait to see them on display at PK Porthcurno.

I am really proud of the flags and I hope that everyone who visits the museum gets as much enjoyment out of looking at them, as myself and Horace did making them.

To learn more about Lucy visit or follow her on Instagram @lucybirbeckflags

Flying the Flag – interview with Lucy Birbeck
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