‘My Uncle Tom’ Project

For our Field 4 project we have to create a body of work in response to the text assigned to each group. The characters all have connections to The Spanish Civil War and the Cardiff area, my group was given the character Jose Maria Larreta Lotina.

Who was Jose Larreta?

Larreta has lived a very complicated and unfortunate life, being shipped around different countries for most of his time. He was born in the heart of Tiger bay in 1916, and moved to Spain after his mother’s terminal illness. He studied engineering in Bilbao but was forced to give up to care for his brother and sister after the death of his father. Larreta believed strongly in the socialist party, possibly because of his father’s influence.

Larreta joined the Basque Army and took part in many operations high up in the mountains, fighting against the town of San Roque de Riomiera. Unfortunately Larreta became ill with the Typhoid Fever and had to be evacuated to hospital in Limpias. Without being fully recovered he was then sent to a hospital near Asturias. By autumn the nationalist defences were paralysed with the rising tide of refugees and Larreta managed to get  place on board the refugee boat and escaped a nationalist vengeance.

On board Larreta claimed to be British and a member of the Republican Ambulance Corps, he had no evidence against this. However his captors weren’t satisfied as they couldn’t afford to take any risks. For months he was confined as a special prisoner in the Santona Barracks. Luckily for Larreta, after being captured his sister Aurora managed to contact the British Embassy in Spain and the British Ambassador, Sir Henry Chilton wrote a note that potentially saved Larreta’s life.

His name now appears as number 38 on a list of British inmates at San Pedro. Over time batches of British, French and North American prisoners were released. Larreta has lost over two stones, he was given a suit that was much to small for him and a pair of boots that were several sizes too big!

After twenty years Larreta finally returned to Cardiff where he retired to a job in the Mountstuart dry-dock a couple of years after his marriage in 1947. His opinion on the Spanish Civil War have never changed and despite everything “he is not a bitter man”.

Information from – Cardiff and the Spanish Civil War.


After being set into our groups we had a brief presentation showing many different examples of what our body of work could look like, and what themes we could use. The first inspiration we had as a group was idea of focusing on Larreta’s appearance before and after his experiences, using the text to help us understand what he looked like. This then brought up the idea of creating an illustration of the portrait and possibly using a sewing machine so that we can use different media.

We thought it was important also to include key words from the text and the note that was written by the British Ambassador. We got the idea of creating these letters using screen- printing. The idea is to create a piece of work that looks rather distressed with an element of modern art and Graphic Design. To take this further we then decided that creating letters using bright colours would be visually interesting. Another was to possibly translate some of the words into ‘Basque’ as Larreta spoke a mixture of Basque and Spanish with his playmates.

Thinking about our final piece, we wanted to create our work so that they come in a series. The first idea was to create four wall hangings using machine stitching, screen print and other mixed media. However after further discussion we go the idea of possibly creating a series of cushions, each one representing an important experience in Larreta’s life. With this in mind, we really want to create a piece that show’s the characters personality and show people the many places he’s traveled through including maps of the areas he’s been on the piece.

On top of this we want to create one digital poster to go with the cushions, using the same styles as we will be using to create the four pieces. This will give us the opportunity to include more of our Graphic Communication skills for example using Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.

The piece 

  1. We have decided that the first cushion will be a portrait of J.Larreta using screen printing, and including two different colours. To decorate we want to include text from the piece of writing provided and screen print this on top. To finish this we will consider using the machine to stitch the characters glasses so that each cushion is linked in some way.
  2. For the second cushion we wanted to show Larreta’s experiences in war and his dedication to the Basque army. We had the idea of creating a gun and a grandee using screen print and pulling it all together by creating a distressed effect using the sewing machine. For the background we have the idea of potentially using the Basque flag.
  3. The next cushion is going to represent his experience of travelling from place to place, possibly using the idea of having a map, with the different pin points. I then got the idea of using the sewing machine to link each pin point .
  4. The last cushion will show Larreta’s life once he gained his freedom. The description of him in his baggy clothes and clown shoes was almost humorous, so we got the idea of creating Larreta similar to Charlie Chaplin (like the ones shown below), creating dark humour in a way! To complete this we will also include screen prints of text from the note that potentially saved his life.

Further Research

We decided to develop the first plan and make the piece slightly simpler and easier to communicate. Instead of using a variety of different colours we decided to stick to bold colours, Red and Black. We also decided to use stencils instead of screen printing, after researching into Shepard Fairey’s techniques. However we are continuing to use the sewing machine and other mixed media.

The Plan

1. The first cushion is going to be a stitched map of the Tiger Bay docks, as this is where Joe Larreta was born. In the text it quotes that Larreta was “born in the heart of Tiger Bay” so using a stencil and red fabric spray we are going to create a small heart shape in the middle of the cushion. For this we were definitely inspired by the street artist Banksy as his work usually is created using simple bold colours and stencils.

2. Keeping to the original idea, we were going to use the second cushion to show Laretta’s experience in the war. One of the group members decided to collect images of guns and grenades and created a possible print for the cushion. As a group we decided that this was a very successful idea. This made me think of different ways we could transfer the images to the page. I came up with the idea of using Acetone to transfer the images to the fabric, and possibly creating a continuous print over the fabric.

3. From the last discussion we had the idea of using an outline of Charlie Chaplin to show how Larreta’s clothes and shoes were too big for him after he returned home. We decided to move this idea to the third cushion and have the number 38 sprayed onto the figure. The idea behind this was because in the text it said “His name appears as number 38 on a list of British inmates at San Pedro”. To bring the image together i then had the idea of quoting the text and having “He is not a bitter man” stitched underneath the image.

4. For the last image we wanted something quite meaningful and relating to Cardiff, because this is the part of the story when Laretta returned home. We have decided to collect a load of images of the Mount-Stuart docks in Cardiff Bay, where Laretta started to work. We are going to use Acetone to transfer these images on the fabric and then using the sewing machine I am going to stitch the names of different areas in Cardiff on top.

Tiger Bay

It was said that over 45 different nationalities were based in Tiger Bay, that helped to create a multicultural area. I thought it would be a good idea to use the names of different areas in the fourth cushion. My other idea was to have the words written in Welsh, as I am a Welsh Speaker I think it is important to include the small details that link the project to the area we are basing it on.

Changing ideas

This morning we had a group discussion about our project so far and I found it to be very helpful and inspiring. After discussing our idea, we were then told to break it down into five different ideas and pick out which ones were the most important. We learnt that what is important within the project is to show the progress and our own techniques in the work, therefore the final outcome isn’t the most important thing!

They asked us how the cushions related to the project and then inspired us by suggesting the they were political and domestic symbols and that this is why they relate. However after listening to their opinion I became aware that we need to think more about the work. I was inspired when he told us that everyone has something they love and are good at, so not all the work is going to be the same.

Taking into consideration that the process of everything was the most important thing to communicate, I came up with the idea of having a sketch book that would contain everyone’s ideas, this would then be a mixture of typography, illustrations and stitch work. We have decided to keep with the same context but adjust it so that it’s slightly more simplistic. The book won’t show what exactly happened, but it will suggest the different events. For example, we will create several A5 pages of important words created using stencils and spray paints, quotes and symbols using stitch and meaningful illustrations weaved into the pages.

Even though only three people from the group turned up today we took it upon ourselves to begin the project and start creating. The quicker we started creating, the quicker the ideas started flowing!

Once we started creating different pieces we then came up with the idea of having a set of simple posters to go with the sketch book. I mentioned that Guerrilla marketing is a good way of showing the element of surprise and businesses use this method to promote their work, so we could do the same with ours. Using our ideas from the sketch work we will create 2 typographic posters using only key words, and 2 others using illustrations and digital prints.

Poster preparation


I decided to do some research into different typographic posters before starting on my poster. I really like the idea of having words placed across the page and in some way relating to each other. I quite like the idea of filling the page with words, shown in the first poster below. However I believe that the poster might then become cluttered and that keeping it simple with plenty of negative space would work the best. The second poster has inspired me to possibly create the words so that not all of them are visible and some may carry on beyond the page!

Planning / Ideas

After doing research I started sketching some different ideas and layouts. I really wanted to keep the pattern simple so that all the letters were clear. Continuing with this idea I’ve decided to use the font Helvetica with a mixture of bold and regular fonts. I will also experiment with the use of colour. I then made a list of key words from the first and third paragraph of the provided text, with some of them I have translated the words into the Basque language.

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I am very happy with the outcome of these two posters, and after sharing them with the group we have decided that they are very successful. I like the simplicity of the posters and the balance between the different sizes and colours. In my opinion the posters are visually striking due to the negative space, however the modern/ abstract style could be seen as rather Impersonal.


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