I’d booked myself a short break in the Lakes starting the Wednesday after Easter. After a good few days during the Bank Holiday weekend I was hoping for some good weather to do some walking but, unfortunately, the forecast for the first couple of days wasn’t so good. I decided against what promised to be a drowning on my first day and so, instead of going for a walk, I headed over to Windermere to pick up some supplies and then drove the short distance to Blackwell. It’s always a good bet on a rainy day and I wanted to have a look at their latest exhibition.
Unearthed by Kendal-based artist Amy Williams, celebrates the contribution of women in Cumbria who have often been overlooked by history, representing them with large scale paper-cut wildflowers. It’s not a large exhibition, only occupying one room upstairs in the Arts and Crafts style house, but I found it quite fascinating and educational.
For each of the ten women featured in the exhibition Amy selected a wild flower that she felt represented their character and created a large scale version from paper. Looking closely at these paper sculptures I could see that she had incorporated features and symbols that represented their life and contribution to society.
“For me it feels important to be able to shine a light on these extraordinary women and to commemorate their lives through this visual medium. I’m pleased we’ve been able to coordinate the exhibition to run across Women’s History Month, especially given this year’s theme of ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.’ I love the setting of Blackwell and am looking forward to transforming the space into a delightful wonderland. I’m grateful to Naomi Gariff, the curator, for giving me so much creative freedom to fulfil this vision. It’s a special thing as an artist to be given this opportunity.”
In an adjacent room there was a Community Garden – a display of wildflower paper cuts created by women from local community groups over a six-month period
Each of the women had written a short note about a woman who had influenced them and made a mark on their lives.
A few weeks ago it was (yet another!) significant birthday. To celebrate we’d decided on a family trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park followed by a meal in Wakefield.
It had been some time since we’d last been to the YSP – we’d visited back in March 2020, the week before everything locked down and not been since. It was time to put that right. There had been some changes in the way they operate. Previously entry was free, but there was a fairly hefty car parking fee. Now they charge per person but parking is included. I reckon for a couple visiting that probably makes little if any difference, but with four of us it was more expensive than it would have been in the past. But given the amount here is to see, it’s still more than worth the trip.
The exhibition in the Underground Gallery, and the grounds in the immediate vicinity of the building, featured the work of the American artist, Robert Indiana.
There were a couple of smaller exhibitions in the main visitor centre and one in the Weston Gallery, but there was nothing showing in the Old Chapel or the Longside Gallery. Just as well as we spent the whole afternoon looking around the exhibitions and wandering round the grounds where we spotted several new works along the Lakeside – and we didn’t explore all the extensive grounds.
Relics in the Landscape was a small exhibition of six works by Daniel Arsham diplayed out doors in the 18th-century Formal Garden.
On the way across the grounds heading to the Weston Centre we stopped for a while to contemplate the sky in the Deer Shelter
The Weston Gallery opened in 2019 and leading up to the entrance from the car park is the Walk of Art2, which incudes J’s name. Our daughter was living in the Netherlands when it was installed, so this was both a chance for her to see it for the first time and for us to see how it had weathered and changed
The artist was inspired by the landscape at the YSP which used to be part of a private estate owned by landed gentry and coal owners, which restricted access to the hoi poloi. In the past we wouldn’t have been able to wander around here. She also references the “right to roam” which , in England and Wales, is under threat, particularly given the recent legal case which has outlawed wild camping on Dartmoor, so now it’s illegal throughout England and Wales
Thinking historically and politically, themes of power, ownership, access, control, boundaries, and division all come to mind, and this is the impetus for the work.
But we are now able to wander at will through the grounds (providing we’ve paid the entry fee, of course!) and that’s what we did, checking out some favourite works of art on the north side of the lake,
and discovering some new ones
There were some other new works that we passed as we made our way back to the main Visitor Centre
And of course we had to make sure we visited Barbara Hepworth’s Family of Man
Until 2020 we had regular days out in Liverpool but we lost the habit. Over the past 2 years I’ve only been twice – once on a solo visit to the Tate last year and then, just before Christmas for the Kate Rusby Christmas concert at the Phil. But we’re determined to get back into getting out and about in our local cities and a couple of weeks ago we caught the train into Liverpool for a day out.
Leaving Lime Street station we made our way to the Pierhead and the Tate Gallery/ I was keen to see the Turner exhibition and the show devoted to the four artists who were candidates for the Tate Prize last year. Bowland Climber had been there and reading his post about his visit had whetted my appetite so I’d been keen to find an opportunity to get over to the Gallery
First of all the Turner exhibition.
Dark Waters was a relatively small scale exhibition in just two rooms with only a limited number of seascapes – some unfinished works – together with sketchbooks and works on paper. One of his most famous works, The Fighting Temeraire, depicts a ghostly battleship being towed by a steam tug over a placid sea during a blazing sunset. He clearly was fascinated by the sea and painted many seascapes, in many cases depicted savage, stormy seas, some of which were included in the exhibition.
Turner is a favourite artist of mine, but there are two sides to his work. Some of his masterpieces reflect the conventions of the day – Elysian landscapes and mythological and historical subjects. The other side is the one I like and admire. As he got older his paintings became much wilder and impressionistic – almost abstract in some cases, particularly his later works. In many ways he could be considered to be the first Impressionist, although the French would probably disagree. However, the Impressionists must surely have been influenced by him.
On entering the gallery and having our membership cards “zapped”, the first works we saw were sketches and drawings, ideas for possible larger scale works. Turner certainly knew how to draw and a few lines and squiggles portrayed boats, ships, people and the sea.
The stars of the show, though, were the paintings. The exhibition emphasises the influence of Dutch marine art.
But Turner developed his own approach with dramatic, swirling, stormy seas
Some of the paintings were unfinished I’d still love to have one on the wall above the fireplace at home.
Two electronic audio installations, Resounding Water 2022, and Life and Death by Water 2021 by Lamin Fofana, an electronic music producer, DJ, and artist. He grew up in Sierra Leone and Guinea before moving to the US when he was a teenager. He currently lives in Berlin. The music was, rather like Turner’s paintings, abstract, rather than melodic, but created an ambient atmosphere that complemented the works. Both pieces included “field recordings” taken in Liverpool, Freetown, Sierra Leone; New York, and Berlin, reflecting the “triangular route” of the Atlantic slave trade. Life and Death by Water also included a hummed melody from Rivers of Babylon – the most well known versions by the Melodonians (a Reggae group) and Boney M – but originally a biblical hymn expressing the lamentations of the Israelis taken captive by the Babylonians.It represents the suffering of Africans taken into slavery and other displaced peoples over the ages.
The exhibition closes at the beginning of June but I hope to visit again before then.
After a brew and a snack in the cafe we went up to the top floor to visit the exhibition of works by the finalists of the 2022 Turner Prize.
Each of the four finalists had a room to show their work. The prize wasn’t specifically judged on these displays but took into account their body of work. Nevertheless, they gave a good insight into the artists’ work, style and approach.
The first room was allocated to a multi-media artist, Heather Phillipson. We entered through a short, narrow corner and was immediately dazzled by the video images of the eyes of various animals, clipped from nature documentaries, shown on screens lining both walls.
We passed into the larger room, lit with a bright electric blue light where there were more moving images of storms and swans projected onto the walls and on video screens. Earphones hung from the ceiling where visitors could listen to an audio commentary.
A not so subtle message about the environment, the use of whizz bang technology certainly made an impression.
The next room showed the work of the winner of the 2022, prize Veronica Ryan. It couldn’t have been more different than the previous room. It was much more low key with small scale works representing natural forms including fruit, beans and seeds as well as fabricated containers and lightbulbs.
My first reaction was surprise that this was the winner’s exhibition as it was so low key with the room only sparsely filled with the sculptures and with a number of then hanging from the ceiling in string bags. However, checking on my phone I realised that she had been awarded the prize for her work in general, including her Windrush memorial of giant sculptures of Caribbean fruits displayed on a street in Hackney, east London.
Sin Wai Kin’s work in the next room was a return to flash-bang multimedia with video images, mannequins and cardboard cutouts. The focus was the artist himself playing different characters. The Tate website tells us that these
exist across the spectrum of femininity and masculinity and reappear in different contexts, creating new constellations in the artists’ expanding universe
I wasn’t keen. It was my least favourite and I found it rather pretentious. But that’s only my opinion, of course. I moved on to the final room devoted to the work of the photographer Ingrid Pollard.
The first of two rooms showed a selection of photographs, pub signs, prints and objects, created and collected over 25 years, from her 2018 exhibition Seventeen of Sixty Eight that focused on the representation of the black figure in British life. I was particularly drawn to a large pub sign. In the town where I grew up there was a pub called the Black Boy (it was near the Black Horse, a pub that had once been run by my great grandparents). As I grew up and developed more of a social conscience I had started to feel uncomfortable with the name of the pub and the plaster model of a young black boy’s head above the entrance. The title of the original exhibition The title, Seventeen of Sixty Eight, relates to the 68 pubs in the UK that have “Black Boy” in their name. No doubt many people would see this as harmless, but to me there’s a clear underlying racism that is far from harmless but reinforces a harmful stereotype. Other exhibits echo this message.
In the next room ‘Bow Down and Very Low’ was inspired by a film from 1944, ‘Springtime in an English Village’, which included a young black girl who had been installed as a village May Queen. It centred on an image of the girl curtseying, copies of which were displayed.
The image was interpreted as a representation of how black people were subjugated – forced to bow, curtsey or otherwise show deference. I felt that the same analysis could be applied to other groups, including the working class in general.
The display included three kinetic sculptures made from found objects, developed in conjunction with with artist Oliver Smart. The central sculpture bowing as if subjugated by the one of the right which wielded a baton. The one on the left, which included a saw and wasn’t operating due to safety concerns.
This video shows the sculptures in operation. The one on the left making a rather loud grating sound as the saw scrapes against the metal strip as it flexes.
Initially I’d been seduced by the dynamic display of flashy visual images by Heather Phillipson, but having spent time looking closely and talking to room custodian about the work I left feeling that Ingrid Pollard’s lower key work was my favourite section of the exhibition.
We made our way down the rest of the building, we visited the other rooms. There had been some changes in the displays since our last visit.
We’d spent a few hours in the gallery and had enjoyed it, but the day wasn’t over. We made our way along the waterfront, first of all to visit the Open Eye Gallery on Mann Island – always a good bet – and then had a look around the Museum of Liverpool Life.
Since “you know what” we’ve lost the habit of going out to galleries and exhibitions. It’s something we need to correct. As a start one Thursday a couple of weeks ago I had to go into Manchester to pick something up from my office (I’m hardly in there, mainly working from home for my part time job), so we decided to drive in and make a day of it. The Whitworth Gallery, a short distance from the office, is open late on Thursdays so we used the opportunity to visit the Manchester City Art Gallery and then head over to the Whitworth.
There were a couple of exhibitions on at the City Art Gallery
Dandy Style, “focuses on men’s fashion and image from the 18th century to the present day” with items from the Gallery’s own collection together with loans from other art institutions and private lenders. I wasn’t sure that I’d be that interested in looking at men’s fashion, but I was pleasantly surprised. It traced the evolution of men’s outfits from Georgian times up to the modern day – a history of fashionable clothes.
The outfits were not exactly the type of clothes worn by working men but nevertheless it was interesting to see how typical upper class apparel evolved over the centuries.
Out of the Crate showcased a large selection of the Gallery’s sculpture collection, and is described as “part exhibition, part research space”
Room 1: What’s in Store? – the first room had around 60 sculptures, but they weren’t displayed in the conventional way. Instead they were “displayed on racks, in cupboards, on pallets and in open crates and grouped as they would be in a store, according to size and/or material and weight, rather than guided by themes or chronology as in a conventional gallery display.” Most of them weren’t labelled and it felt as if we were rummaging through a storeroom. It was an interesting way of displaying the sculptures as we saw them in a different way and discovered works by both familiar and unfamiliar artists.
I thought I’d more photos, but looking on the photo library on my phone I discovered I only had a few snaps. A pity as I discovered some artists I hadn’t previously encountered and now, three weeks later, I can’t remember who they were! Luckily the exhibition is on until the end of this year, so I think another visit will have to be on the cards.
Room 2: Cold Cases
This room showcases a changing selection of 10-15 sculptures under investigation. These are artworks about which we have little information, are in poor condition or have been off display for a long time and would benefit from new research.
The Gallery keeps comprehensive notes about the provenance of all the works they own, and they were included with the specific works on display, together with an explanation on what was being investigated and notes on what additional information the Gallery would like to find. There is, perhaps, a small chance that a visitor might be able to help to fill the gaps!
Room 3: It’s Good to Talk
This section of the exhibition was curated by the Making Conversation group – a group of people from all walks of life who take part in monthly workshops with artists and gallery staff.
Here are a couple of the works that took my eye
We had a mooch around the permanent collection and then left the Gallery and set off down Oxford Road to head over to the Whitworth.
The main exhibition was a major retrospective of the work of Althea McNish (1924 – 2020), “the first Caribbean designer to achieve international recognition and one of the most influential and innovative textile designers in the UK.” It’s a touring exhibition curated by the William Morris in London/ I’ll let them describe the background about the artist
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, McNish (1924-2020) moved to the UK in 1950, completing a postgraduate textiles degree at the Royal College of Art before rising to prominence as a Black female designer. On graduating, McNish began designing bestselling furnishing and fashion fabrics for iconic firms including Liberty, Dior, Heal’s and Hull Traders, for whom she created one of her most famous patterns, Golden Harvest, in 1959. As her career progressed, McNish took on major interior design projects and mural commissions around the world, as well as creating wallpapers for leading companies.
McNish’s painterly designs incorporated natural botanical forms from Britain and the Caribbean, using a riotous colour palette that overturned the staid rules of mid-century British textile design. Her technical mastery gave her the freedom to create ever more complex prints. “Whenever printers told me it couldn’t be done, I would show them how to do it,” she said. “Before long, the impossible became possible.”
Her designs were used for wallpapers, furnishings and architectural features as well as fabrics. She even designed restaurant murals for the liner SS Oriana – built in Barrow on Furness for the Orient Steam Navigation Company‘. They’re incredibly bright and colourful and were influenced by the plant life and landscape of her native Trinidad – she is quoted as saying that “everything I did, I saw through a tropical eye“. I’d certainly agree with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s view that they
injected much-needed colour and life into the post-war fashion and textiles industry from the 1950s onwards.
Every year in November, Kendal hosts a Mountain Festival – four days of of films, talks, exhibitions and events covering all aspects of mountain and adventure sports culture. It’s probably the major gathering of outdoor enthusiasts in the UK and I’ve never been – although I did buy a ticket to watch the talks which were shown on-line during the Pandemic. Now I have more free time I was thinking of spending some time there, but the weekend events clashed with the Rugby League World Cup final which took place on the Saturday. However, I’d spotted an event on the programme on the Friday evening – Music on Nature: Finding A Language For Landscape – “tracing the connections between nature and sound, … (and exploring) the landscapes around us through music, prose and poetry“.
The publicity for the event told us that
In this new and exciting event, we welcome you on a sound journey to explore what the landscape means to you, how to tune into and unlock its hidden tracks. Set your ear to the earth and travel through its layers. Join us as we travel through deep time and sing the songs of the Anthropocene – enter a sonic world encompassing a nature rhythm to capture the visceral tones of our world – and dream of a history of things to come.
It sounded interesting so I booked a couple of tickets. I thought we might travel over and experience the exhibition and free events in the Base Camp and at the Brewery Arts Centre before the concert. A well intentioned plan didn’t work out quite so well as the weather that day was appalling. It was chucking it down and windy too so we delayed leaving and driving up the M6. We were lucky and managed to grab a space on the packed Parish Church car park, as someone was leaving just after we arrived.
It was only a short walk to the Base Camp which was on the park near Abbot Hall (we’ve missed our visits to the gallery while it’s been shut for over 2 years for refurbishment – crossed fingers it opens soon) so we were able to have a look round the various stalls and grab a coffee before crossing over the river and walking the short distance to the venue at The Barrel House. We went back to Base Camp after the event and had a bite to eat in the Food Court before setting off back home.
So, what about the event? We didn’t know quite what to expect.
First up wasAmy-Jane Beer is a biologist, nature writer and campaigner, based in North Yorkshire, whose book , The Flow, was published earlier this year.
a book about water, and, like water, it meanders, cascades and percolates through many lives, landscapes and stories. From West Country torrents to Levels and Fens, rocky Welsh canyons, the salmon highways of Scotland and the chalk rivers of the Yorkshire Wolds, Amy-Jane follows springs, streams and rivers to explore tributary themes of wildness and wonder, loss and healing, mythology and history, cyclicity and transformation.
She read passages from her book about swimming in a chalk stream in the Dales and the Severn Bore, accompanied byJack McNeill a local clarinettist, composer and maker who created a soundscape of computer enhanced sound effects and clarinet tunes
Zaffar Kunial is a poet who was born in Birmingham. He has a connection with the Lake District having spent 2014 in Grasmere as the Wordsworth Trust Poet-in-Residence. Again accompanied by Jack McNeill, he rad selections from his latest collection, England’s Green has been shortlisted for the 2022 T.S Eliot Prize. One of the poems, Ings, was inspired by Zaffir receiving points on his licence having been caught twice exceeding the speed limit near the said village. Anyone who has driven to Windermere from the M6 via Kendal will be aware (or needs to be!) of the speed camera on the A591 where it passes through the small village and where the speed limit suddenly drops from 60 to 40 mph.
Ings. The name came to mean: Now. Slow. Down. And little else. A splash of houses cut by a dual carriageway, a petrol station, a lane with an easily missable church.
It’s a long poem which takes in a subsequent visit to the village where he goes into the church and graveyard and reflects on what he sees and feels.
“Colour is universal, but at the same time no one really knows what it is; it’s very familiar yet also entirely strange.”
The main temporary exhibition showing at Compton Verney during our visit was Colour is, the first large-scale survey of work by Scottish artist and writer David Batchelor, featuring 40 years of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, animation and tapestry.
The Gallery website tells us that
Including work in a wide range of media, from sculpture, installation and drawing, to painting, photography and animation, Colour Is will take visitors on a journey through Batchelor’s career, starting with his pre-colour works from the 1980s. These give way to his earliest experiments with colour and found objects in the ‘90s, and vivid multimedia installations during the 2000s. The exhibition culminates with recent work, including a glowing animation, in which sentences beginning with the words ‘Colour is …’ are projected in a continuously changing colour-saturated space.
Colour is, is certainly a good title for the exhibition – the later works, in particular are very bright and colourful with primary colours dominating the paintings and 3 D works.
In the first room we entered there were giant balls of electrical flex on the floor, looking like enormous balls of wool – a work entitled Dog Days (2005-06)
Most of the paintings on the wall were misleadingly simple brightly coloured “eggs” sitting on pedestals. The simplicity was misleading as a closer look revealed a complex textured surface. To create these, the artist had poured household gloss paint on metal panels allowing it to dry while being gently tilted by the artist, forming interesting wrinkled patterns as they dried. I though they were very effective
This painting reminded of the molecular models we used to construct when I was studying chemistry at University
On his website, the artist tells us that
In almost every city I have visited, I have at some point come across a mid-height wall topped-off with shards of broken coloured glass set in concrete. That observation was the starting point for these sculptures.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the Chinese collection on the first floor of the Gallery. It turned out to be absolutely fascinating. Our appreciation of the exhibits was certainly enhanced as just after we’d started to look at the exhibits the guided tour arrived. We latched on to it and benefited greatly by the knowledge and expertise of the guide who was an excellent communicator, explaining the history and context of the works she highlighted.
Sir Peter Moores, founder of Compton Verney, began collecting a small number of Chinese bronzes in the 1990s; and in the years since, Compton Verney has amassed one of the largest and most important groups outside China.
The core of the collection are bronze ritual vessels from the golden age of Chinese bronze production between 1200 and 221 BC. However, there were some pieces on display even older than this. I don’t know how they date the vessels, but assuming that the dating is correct, the quality of the castings, and the intricacy of the design of the vessels and the details of the ornamentation is incredible demonstrating highly developed casting and metalworking technology, the skill of the craftsmen and the sophistication of the Chinese civilisation.
Here’s some more background information from the downloadable guide
Vessels made from bronze for use in rituals were among the most highly prized and technically sophisticated objects manufactured in early China. As important to the Chinese as stone temples and sculpture were to their contemporaries in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, these vessels have had a profound and continuing influence on Chinese art.
The spirits of ancestors were seen as a powerful force by the ancient Chinese. Their help was sought by offering food and wine served from bronze vessels at elaborate ritual feasts. When members of the elite died, sets of bronze vessels were also put into tombs, further strengthening the bond between life and afterlife.
The vessels on display were not everyday objects and their ritual use no doubt meant they were carefully looked after and, hence, were preserved in excellent condition,
Here’s a few photos of some of the pieces from the extensive collection that particularly took my eye
I loved the colouring of this vessel – a rich textured marbled green patina
This was the oldest item in the collection – it’s thousands of years old – Neolithic or early Bronze Age
The next two pieces are ‘cocoon’ or ‘duck’s egg’ vessels. Their shape is based on traditional leather vessels.
Besides the large number of wine vessels, the collection included other items.
This bronze representation of a horse made for the tomb of a nobleman. It was probably part of a team of two or four pulling a chariot for the deceased to use in the afterlife. It was made in nine close-fitting sections which were then riveted together. (Information from the collection guide booklet)
This tiny bronze bird is a finial that would have been “perched” on top of a pole during the funeral procession of a respected elderly man.
There were also several bells and mirrors – this cabinet contained some examples of the former
These warriors on horseback were from the tomb of a nobleman. Smaller examples of the funeral goods used in such tombs, the most famous being the “Terracotta Warriors” (examples of which I saw in Liverpool a few years ago)
Another look at the two warriors from the entrance to the gallery. From the Ming dynasty, 1400-1500 AD, they represent two of the Four Heavenly Kings (si tianwang) who watch over the earth from the four directions.
The last day of our holiday and the offspring decided they didn’t want to go ot, but I was ken to visit Compton Verney – another 20 or 30 minute drive away – an old Stately Home and its grounds that’s been converted into an art gallery. I’d heard about it, the first time quite a few years ago, and have been keen to visit ever since. The trouble is its on the wrong side of Birmingham, but here was an opportunity to see it that I wasn’t going to miss.
The weather was beginning to change. Cloud was coming in covering over the blue skies we’d had for the rest of the week, but it was still pleasantly warm.
Arriving at the site we parked up and then paid our entry fee – £17 each. Memberships cost less than double this and allow entry for a year, but it didn’t seem an extra sensible expenditure for us given its location as regular visits aren’t an option.
To reach the house we walked through the grounds along the drive, crossing the old bridge (this view is from the other side, nearer the house)
There’s been a manor house here since the 12th Century but it was extensively remodelled for the owners, the Verney family, in the then fashionable Neo-Classical style in the 19th century by Robert Adam together with the grounds which were designed Capability Brown.
The Verneys it financial difficulties and sold the house in 1887. It passed through a series of owners and was requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War. It wasn’t occupied after the war and started to deteriorate. It was rescued by Peter Moores Foundation who bought the house and grounds in 1993 which restored the house, which was in a dilapidated state, turning it into a modern art gallery. It’s now owned by Compton Verney House Trust, a registered charity.
Next to the house there’s a Georgian Chapel which has also been restored and is registered for weddings
The chapel, which was completed in 1780, was designed by Capability Brown and replaced an older church that stood on the other side of the house and which was demolished to open up views from the house over the lake and grounds.
Very little of the original Medieval stained glass which was taken from the old church, is left; it was sold in the late 1920’s and some can be seen in Warwick museum and at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.
The tombs of earlier Verneys were moved to the new chapel and still remain
We eventually found the right door to gain entry into the main building and sussed out what there was to see. There are 6 permanent collections
and galleries for temporary exhibitions. During our visit there was a major exhibition showing of works by David Batchelor, some loans from the National Portrait Galley, an exhibition of photographs by Magnum photographers of artists at work, and a couple of installations in the grounds. Unfortunatley we didn’t get to see the Folk Art and Marx-Lambert Collections. We’d left it to the end of our visit and due to staff shortages they’d close these two galleries early. However, we were starting to feel “arted out” by then so weren’t that disappointed.
These rowing boats on the lake were one of the installations – Crossings by Luke Jerram. Visitors were able to take out a boat to row on the lake while listening to one of a number of 30 minute audio recordings of stories, created by Luke Jerram in collaboration with BBC Radio 4 producer Julian May, all related to the sea from around the world.
It looked like fun, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to have a go!
The other installation was effectively a playground for children in the Old Town Meadow,, a sort of colourful fantasy village, by Morag Myerscough. Children were certainly enjoying themselves running through, in and out and on to the colourful structures.
We started by touring the ground floor to see the art from Naples, Northern European Art and British Portraits (including the National Portrait Gallery Loans) which were all on the ground floor. We revisited some of the works after lunch when we tagged on to a guided tour. (I should add that the room guides were all very friendly and helpful and very keen to tell you about the exhibits)
The gallery claim to have” “one of the richest collections of Neapolitan art in the world outside Naples”, with paintings, sculptures and other objects from the 17th and 18th Centuries. This Baroque isn’t my favourite style but there were some interesting pieces and the explanation of a couple of them during the guided tour definitely added interest as their creation and context were described by a very informative and knowledgeable guide.
I didn’t take any photographs on the ground floor, which is rather remiss of me, but there are plenty on the Gallery’s website, of course (click the relevant links in the above list).
The Northern European art was of more interest and I enjoyed the British Portraits, including the loans from the National Portrait Gallery of celebrities from the West Midlands celebrating the recent Birmingham Commonwealth Games (including a video work of Julie Walters).
We’d taken in a lot so it was time to get something to eat. And after that we went to have look at the upstairs galleries. But I think I’ll save them for another post – this one has gone on a bit!
When Charles Wade bought Snowshill Manor the area around the house was a “muddy farmyard” but he was determined that it should become “a garden of interest”. The original design was by Hugh Baillie Scott, modified by Wade who’d originally trained as an architect, and, with the assistance of a local builder, William Hodge, he then set about its transformation.
Like Hidcote the garden at Snowshill Manor was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement style as an extension of the house, based around a series of “garden rooms” with terraces, stone walls, buildings and features such as a sunken pool, a well, an obelisk and a model village. Although it is much small than that at Hidcote.
The day after our trip to Hidcote we decided to drive back over to the north Cotswolds to visit another National Trust property – Snowshill Manor. We’d read that it had another Arts and Crafts style garden but that there was also a manor house to visit. We didn’t know quite what to expect.
There’s been house on this site since Tudor times but at the beginning of the 20th Century it had been used as a farmhouse and was surrounded by muddy fields. Then in 1919 it was bought by Charles Wade who’d heard was up for sale while he was serving in the trenches. Wade wrote that
the whole property was in a most deplorable state of ruin and neglect, but it had not been spoilt…in spite of the gloom of the day…I could visualize it as a delightful home…’
Charles Padget Wade came from a wealthy family who had made their money from sugar plantations in the Carribean. Of course, that would had meant that originally they would have been slave owners (who were very comprehensively compensated when the slavery was banned in the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833). When his father died Wade inherited a share in his father’s business, including property on the island of Saint Kitts. He’d originally trained as an architect, but his inheritance allowed him to devote his time to other pursuits, in particular his passion for collecting, and Snowshill manor became a home not for himself, but his growing collection of diverse objects and curiosities. He also decided to create a garden from the farmyard and messy fields behind the house, designed by the Arts and Crafts architect Hugh Baillie Scott – who amongst other creations design our favourite Blackwell in the Lake District.
After a 30 minute drive we arrived at the property. As the house isn’t very large they operate a timed entry ticket policy and we had about 40 minutes to wait for our turn. There was a lengthy walk along the drive to reach the house and gardens – it was another fine day so we were quite happy to start to explore the gardens before our turn.
At the back of the house there’s another smaller building Wade named the “Priest’s House” – said to be haunted by ghosts including a monk. Wade spent most of his time elsewhere but when he was at Snowshill this is where he lived – the main house was exclusively the home of his collection. We were able to look inside
This was his kitchen – notice the candles, there was no electricity. Cooking wasn’t allowed and he had his meals brought in by his housekeeper who lived in a nearby cottage. He did, however have a spirit stove that he used to boil water for his brew and to cook boiled eggs.
and this was his bedroom with it’s Tudor box-bed and spooky religious statue and decor..
Yes, a real eccentric character.
We had a quick look around the garden, but then it was time for our turn to enter the house.
It was a “self-guided” tour through a series of rooms that were packed to the rafters with an amazing collection of all sorts of objects. Nothing was labelled but there were the usual NT room guides who were extremely well informed.
Wade’s obsession for collecting was inspired by his “Grannie’s cabinet”. When he was seven years old he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Great Yarmouth. She was a strict woman, apparently, but on treat she allowed him was to explore her “cabinet of curiosities“
Every Sunday she would allow Charles to open the cabinet with its ‘magic key’ and to marvel at its collections, hidden within drawers and recesses. The cabinet contained old ‘family treasures’, like a little wax angel with golden wings, musical boxes, shells, compasses, butterflies and silver spoons.
There were literally thousands of diverse objects in the house, which is effectively a giant “cabinet of curiosities”, and it was difficult to take everything in. By the end of the tour we were mentally exhausted!
Wade married late – in his 60’s – and had no heirs so before he died, approached the National Trust and arranged to leave Snowshill to them to safeguard the future of his collection.
Having spent a good hour in the house we emerged into daylight to explore the garden. But this pot has been long enough. I think the garden deserves its own!