"It was not mere delight..." - Donna Foster

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London View Inspiration Details

Artist Statement

Donna Foster

The writing in the balloon is the words of the pilot of the first hydrogen-powered balloon flight. I came across the quotation in a book review, and was struck by how vividly Dr Charles described this sensation and how we can share his thoughts today only because he wrote about it at the time.

When I researched the quotation, I discovered that the museum holds a handkerchief which commemorates this event. Handkerchiefs were popular souvenirs at the time.

I was already thinking of writing his words as a calligram, but then I tried to match this with the depiction of the balloon in the handkerchief. I wanted to portray the 'floatiness' of the feelings he described, whilst keeping some of the tension between the freedom of the flight and the 'weight' of the normal reality. I liked the contrast between the intangibility of the subject and the actuality of the balloon at the time, and also the magic of him having this experience in 1783 and us reading about it today. The words seem to be both fleeting, describing the first moment of the first such flight, and also very present. Had he only said it and not written it, we may never have known his thoughts.

Using an enlarged photograph of the handkerchief, I traced the outline shape, and worked out how to fit the quotation and citation within it. The dignity of Roman capitals seemed apt for the 'immensity' of his situation and they added another layer of contrast by using the classical 'old' letters for what was at the time an incredibly modern sensation.

Calligraphy attracted me originally because of what I saw as the 'wordiness' of it, but my course has helped me learn that the words are only part of the process.

"It was not mere delight..." - Donna Foster

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Inspiration details:



Alsace, France (Mulhouse in Alsace was one of the largest centres of production of printed cotton., designed and made)

ca. 1783 (designed and made)

Unknown (production)

Block-printed cotton, plain weave, dyestuffs probably iron and alum mordant, madder and indigo

V&A collection reference number(s):
Museum number: 1872-1899, Nominal File Reference: MA/1/F965/2 (same work)

2015 Exhibition Guide

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