Louise Bourgeois in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

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Spider (1996)

If you’re scared of spiders, it’s probably best if you keep away from the Rijksmuseum Gardens at the moment! For the last few years there’s been an exhibition of works by a noted sculptor in the gardens, and this year they have works on display by Louise Bourgeois, who is well known for her bronze sculptures of giant spiders,

When we’d looked around the Tassel Museum we wandered along the canals, grabbed a bite to eat and then made our way to the Rijksmuseum. We expected that there would be an exhibition in the gardens and we knew we’d have time to have a look before we got the train back to Haarlem. And, unlike the main part of the museum, entry is free! We hadn’t checked out what was on but as soon as we spotted the first sculpture, we knew who the artist was! Luckily spiders don’t scare me, as several of the arachnid monsters are on display! !

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Crouching spider (2005)

The gardens themselves are very attractive and popular on a sunny day – and the sun kept breaking through the cloud while we were there.

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Louise Bourgeois grew up in a suburb of Paris, in a family of antique tapestry dealers and restorers. In 1938, following her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater, she emigrated to the United States. It took a long while before her work was acknowledged, as it was quite different from the type of art popular in America at the time. and she only started to become popular in the 1970s when she was in her 60’s.

Her work often represents aspects of her life. the spiders, for example, are influenced by her protective mother who, although she didn’t spin webs, was a weaver and by the familie’s tapestry repair business.

I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bask into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it

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Spider couple (2003)

This was probably the only one of the 12 sculptures on display I wasn’t so keen on. It rather reminded me of the monsters that used to appear in Doctor Who in the 1970’s – perhaps that’s why!

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In and Out #2 (1995-6)

This was the earliest work on display. It’s quite different from the others and rather like the works of Brancusi. It’s apparently meant to be a self portrait of the artist surrounded by her 3 children.

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Quarantania (1947-53)
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Welcoming Hands (1996)

This rather moving group of bronze sculptures displayed on rough stone pedestals, represent friendship and solidarity. They were originally displayed in New York on a site with a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where immigrants first arrived in America, although they are now normally sited in the Tuilleries in Paris. Their message has a contemporary resonance with all the movement of people trying to escape war and poverty, looking for a better life. Some people show friendship and solidarity to them. Sadly, in these cruel times, too many don’t.

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This sculpture of a child’s hand was particularly touching (emotionally, that is, of course)

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Fountain (1999)
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Untitled (2004)

These two high-gloss aluminium sculptures of Untitled (2004), hanging from the branches of the great wingnut tree, refer to her father’s habit of storing chairs by hanging them on roof beams in the attic of their home

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Inside the museum entrance atrium there were four seats in the form of giant eyes

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Source: https://www.azquotes.com/author/18216-Louise_Bourgeois

Plas Newyyd

After a glorious hot and sunny day on Tuesday, we woke up on Wednesday to grey skies. We’d planned to visit the National Trust Property, Plas Newyyd, near Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch and only a short drive away from our holiday apartment.  The house is in a stunning location on the banks of the Menai Straights with, on a clear day, views over to Snowdonia.

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A bit grey today

The house dates from 1470, although there have been substantial modifications since then, and, until it was handed over to the National Trust, it was the seat of the Marquesses of Anglesey. However, they must have made a “sweetheart” deal with the NT as the current Marquess’ son and his wife live there in private apartments.

The National Trust website tells us that

Plas Newydd belongs to the early 19th century and the ‘cult of styles’, cheerfully mixing Neo-classical and picturesque Gothick……. the interior is mainly Neo-classical with very good examples of late 18th-century Gothick work in the hall and music room

Although we didn’t realise it until we’d arrived, the house is currently undergoing a large scale refit (reservicing) that will see the replacement of the majority of its mechanical services including heating, electrical, and other essential systems – many of which were first installed during the 1930s. This means that it isn’t possible to visit many of the rooms I saw during my visit last year and some of the rooms that were accessible had been stripped of their contents or had some, or all of the furnishings covered to protect them from the ongoing works.

The Duke’s library and study, with it’s messy contents, was still open, although we were told that it’s intended to remove them in the near future. Taking out the contents, cataloguing and then putting them back in exactly the same places is going to be one hell of a job!

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The NT have done their best to keep the house open and have actually made the reservicing a feature of the tour, which I personally found interesting. They even had a display about the removal of asbestos, including a mock up of an enclosure and a mannequin dressed up in the personal protective equipment the asbestos strippers (that’s the people who strip out the asbestos in case the word conjured up a different meaning in your mind!).

The most interesting room in the house is the dining room where one wall is covered by a large mural created by the artist Rex Whistler in the 1930’s. This was still accessible so we could view the mural, but the furnishings had been removed.

The mural is a trompe-l’oeil seascape painting of an imagined scene of Snowdonian mountains, Italianate churches, castles, and a harbour. There are many tricks of perspective which result in various elements of the painting appearing to change when seen from different parts of the room.

It was impossible to get a photograph of the whole of the mural, so here’s one from Wikipedia

Rex Whistler - Dining Room Mural - Capriccio - Plas Newydd.jpg

After looking round the house and an obligatory visit to the cafe for a brew, we had a wander round the grounds. First we visited the formal gardens

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Afterwards we had a walk through the woodland the skirts the Menai Straits to the Rhododendron Gardens.

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Unfortunately it was too late in the year to see the Rhodedendra in bloom, but it allowed us to stretch our legs.

We treated ourselves to an ice cream and then, avoiding the wasps attracted by them, made our way back to the car park, stopping off to admire the wild flower gardens with their colourful display of poppies, cornflowers, daisies and other native species.

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McKenzie’s Pyramid

Mckenzie’s soul lies above the ground
In that pyramid near Maryland

McKenzies pyramid

After we’d visited the Hardmans’ house we walked a short distance down Rodney Street to the former church of St Andrews. We wanted to take a look at a monument in the graveyard that features in a well known tale told in Liverpool.

A pyramid stands over the tomb of a certain William McKenzie. He was a “self made man”, born in Nelson, Lancashire, who, after initially working has a weaver, became a civil engineer and became a successful contractor in the canal and railway industries, which developed rapidly in the 19th Century. He eventually moved to Liverpool where he lived in Grove Street, which I know very well as this is where the University of Liverpool Chemistry building is located!

He is supposed to have been an inveterate gambler, who bet and lost his soul in a game of poker with the Devil. The local legend is that he is sat upright in the tomb at a table with a winning hand of cards in his hand, thereby, not being buried, depriving Old Nick of his soul. However, his unusual entombment also prevents him entering heaven, so his ghost is said to prowl Rodney Street at night.

An interesting story but one that cannot be true (even if you believe in heaven and hell). McKenzie died and was buried in 1851 but the pyramid was only erected 16 years later by his brother.

Despite this, the legend persists, and is even mentioned in the first two lines of a song Does this train stop on Merseyside by local band, Amsterdam.

It’s also been recorded by the well known Irish Folk singer, Christy Moore

Which version do you prefer?

Halima Cassell at Manchester Art Gallery

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After a busy week in Ireland, the day after my return we headed into Manchester. We had tickets for the production of Mother Courage at the Royal Exchange and had booked a pre-birthday meal in a restaurant in the Northern Quarter, and decided to drive in during the afternoon to visit the City Art Gallery. There was a lengthy queue for the Leonardo exhibition, so we decided to give it a miss. It would have taken up all the time we had and we’d probably have chance to see it on another day before it leaves Manchester and we wanted to have a look at another exhibition that had just opened in the Gallery.

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Halima Cassell is a sculptor who was born in Kashmir but grew up in the north west of England  and currently lives in Shropshire. She creates complex geometric patterns in unglazed ceramic, bronze, stone, wood and cast glass. I’d seen one of her works during a visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery last year and there were a couple of works on display last time we were at the Manchester Gallery (they were preparing for the exhibition) and we were keen to see this large scale display of her works.

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Her sculptures are incredibly complex geometric patterns that, in many cases, are clearly inspired by nature.

Cassell is gifted with an exceptional ability to visualise complex patterns and mentally project them on to 3-D objects. Her work is diverse in inspiration and form, but her personal style is instantly recognisable due to her bold, energetic designs, crisp carving and intuitive understanding of how to integrate pattern, form, material and scale. (exhibition website)

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Looking at the works I couldn’t help wondering whether she ever made a mistake with her carving (just imaging spending hours on a complex carving then at the very end slipping with the chisel !!) or if something went wrong with th efiring. Well these things, particularly the latter, clearly happen. One of the exhibits was a piece of a cast ceramic that had exploded in the kiln. and she has also embraced problems where cracks can develop in castings by using a Japanese technique where gold is used to fill the cracks, thereby turning a potential disaster into a creative work of art.

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One work, still in progress, was Virtue of Unity a display of ceramics using clay collected from different countries, the patterns embodying some perceived characteristic of the nation.

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Her intention is that, when it’s complete the work will represent every nation on earth. There’s a long way to go yet!

Her work is amazing and as the exhibition is on until the beginning of January next year it’s pretty certain we’ll be going to see it again.

Halima Cassell: Eclectica–global inspirations from Manchester Art Gallery on Vimeo.

Castletown – A walk around the estate

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After looking round the IMMA for a couple of hours I was starting to feel a little “arted out” – I’d spent the day before in Galleries too, in Liverpool – and needed some fresh air. So I decided to drive over to the Castletown estate, about half an hour’s drive from Kilmainham and not far off my route to Naas, to take a walk around the estate. I’d been there before – I was surprised to find it was almost 4 years ago when I checked. Castletown House is notable as it was the first Palladian style house in Ireland, built between 1722 and 1792 for William Conolly, who was the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons.  During my previous visit I’d looked around the house, but this time I wanted to take a turn around the grounds – a relatively easy walk. In any case, the house was closed for the winter and was only due to open in March.

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The car park was packed but I managed to find a space in a layby on the main drive and set out for a stroll. It had been bright and sunny, though quite windy in Dublin, but the cloud had come in by the time I arrived at Castletown. But it was still pleasant enough for a walk. Plenty of other people, including quite a few families with children, had the same idea. It’s a relatively easy walk as the grounds are quite flat and I managed a couple of circuits, stopping briefly for a coffee at the cafe in the house’s west pavilion.

The Liffey, Dublin’s river, flows through the grounds

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View of the house
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Gothic style gate house
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View of the ruined church over the Liffey
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A folly, built in the style of a classical “temple” , complete with columns removed from the Long Gallery during it’s redecoration in the 1760s
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The ice house

Street haunting in Galway

I was only in Galway for a couple of days. I had a flight back to Manchester from Dublin late Tuesday afternoon, but I had the morning to have a bit of a wander around the city. The weather was a real mix of sunshine, rain and sleet, but wrapped up warm I managed to have a decent walk around, even getting to a few places I hadn’t previously seen. Here’s a few photos.

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Galway Hooker monument, Eyre Square
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Music shop window
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The Long Walk
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Galway Bay
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The Long Walk
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Galway Swans
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The harbour
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The harbour side looking towards the Claddagh
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Street art
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Irish post box
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Galway Cathed
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Equality Emerging

And I will walk 1000 miles

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Last Thursday I had an appointment at the hospital – my annual visit to see the diabetes specialist. It was a beautiful, sunny – if cold! – winter’s morning so I decided to use the opportunity for a walk through the Plantations, there and back. Just 4 miles in total, but my first walk of the year.

UntitledThe “70 Steps” up to Sicklefield

My appointment showed that all was good – but I could do with losing a few kilograms – and I’d promised the consultant that I’d lose at least 2 kg by next year. So perhaps as well that I’ve decided to take up the 1000 mile challenge this year. I did quite a lot of walking in 2018 and although I logged the distances of my country walks I didn’t keep a proper log of total mileage, so I’ll need to do that this year.

I needed to set some ground rules. I’ll not count “everyday” miles like walking into Wigan for shopping. But I’ll count mooching / street haunting around Manchester, Liverpool and other towns and cities. I’ll measure my mileage using my phone app rather than map miles, as that takes account of the distance associated with walking up and down hill.

So that’s my first 4 miles done. A lot more effort needed if I’m to hit the target.

UntitledLooking towards the buildings of the former Haigh Foundry – the Isle of Man’s Laxey Wheel was (allegedly) cast here
UntitledA small working foundry on the site of Haigh Foundry
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The Lodge on Hall Lane at the entry to Haigh Woodland Park
Lodge has 2 meanings – a gatehouse to a landed estate (as here) but also a small reservoir for a mill or factory
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