A winter afternoon at Blackwell

After looking round the Scottish Colourists exhibition at Abbot Hall, and picking up some shopping in Kendal town centre, we decided to drive over to Blackwell as we’d not been for a while. It had been a beautiful, sunny, winter’s day and, although some cloud had come in, I caught some rather nice shots of the house and Lakeland fells illuminated by the winter light.

View towards the Kentmere Fells from the window in the White Drawing Room
A close up of Yoke and Ill Bell
Christmas installation in the main hall
The White Drawing Room

Katie Spragg at Blackwell

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So this weekend the “Beast from the East” made a comeback. Although the east and south east were worst hit, snow, freezing temperatures and a strong wind in the North West meant that we cancelled a planned short break walking around Ullswater. So stuck in the house I had the opportunity to write up about an exhibition we saw the last time we were up in the Lakes at the end of January (when the weather was less awful!).

While we are Abbot Hall visiting the Land|Sea|Life exhibition, as usual we had a look at the other rooms in the Gallery. On display were a couple of works by Katie Spragg, a taster for her exhibition showing at the Lakeland Art’s Trust other main venue, Blackwell.

Katie Spragg creates ceramic works but they’re not the usual pots and vessels. They’re uncoloured, ghostly, reproductions of plants – grasses and flowers. She also produces animations using her ceramics and illustrations.

At Abbot hall there were two animated pieces. In the Meadow illustrated the effect of the elements and people on a grassy meadow

For the other piece, While Away, vsitors could sit in a deck chair to watch grass made of porcelain blow in the wind.

Intrigued we decided to drive over to Blackwell to take a look at the works on display in the Arts and Crafts House.

Blackwell’s website tells us

The exhibition of ceramics at Blackwell will showcase eight new responses to the Arts and Crafts house and the surrounding landscape, alongside six existing works previously displayed by the Craft Council COLLECT at the Saatchi Gallery, Miami Art Week and the British Ceramic Biennial Award show.

Spragg spent a week at Blackwell in November and was inspired to create new works based on her experience. She said, “In the mornings Blackwell feels very serene. The nooks and corners of the house lend themselves to daydreaming, particularly at this time of day. I became interested in how the landscape is framed through the windows of the house and also how nature is brought inside.”

Most of the works were displayed in one of the exhibition rooms upstairs, but three had been located downstairs – two in the White Drawing Room and a third high up on the window sill in the Great Hall.

As well as displaying her work in standard style Perspex boxes, she also uses Victorian glass domes, “peephole boxes” and other types of cabinets.

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Arts & Crafts bedroom at Blackwell

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Last Autumn Blackwell opened a recreated Master Arts & Crafts bedroom inspired from  designs by Hugh Baillie Scott, Blackwell’s architect, interpreted by contemporary designers. The items of furniture and other objects on display are very typical of the Arts & Crafts style.

The oak bed has been created for the room from a actual design by Baillie Scott from the Pyghtle Works catalogue printed in 1901.

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Griet Beyaert at Blackwell

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On Monday we checked out of our B and B in Keswick, and after picking up supplies for our stay in Kentmere, we drove to Blackwell. We couldn’t get access to the cottage we’d booked until late afternoon and a visit to the Arts and crafts house near Bowness is always enjoyable.

The current exhibition features works by a young artist who works in glass – Griet Beyaert. The main exhibit was The Light Within – a “site-responsive glass, sound and video installation” created in conjunction with Paul Miller – working  collaboratively as The Glass Cyphers.

In addition there were a number of works by Griet strategically positioned around the house – suspended from the ceiling, standing on furniture and window sills

placed by the artist to draw further attention to the beautifully carved wooden interior and stained glass windows that root Blackwell in its Lakeland location.

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The works were abstract sculptural forms made from glass, a medium I’m interested in given that my first job was working for a major glass manufacturer.

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I thought that they were very attractive. They rather reminded me of delicate sheets of ice and snow.

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The Light Within was located in the Oliver Thompson Gallery on the first floor, it’s

a multi-layered video projection-mapped onto sculpted glass works and accompanied by a soundscape.

A photograph can’t do justice to the installation – we thought it was very imaginative and effective

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Laura Ford: Seen and Unseen

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Last weekend, on a whim, we decided to take a short break in Cumbria. We’d planned to visit the latest Lakeland Arts exhibition which straddled Abbot Hall in Kendal and Blackwell, down the road near Bowness, and as the weather outlook was pretty good a stop over in Grasmere followed by a walk on Sunday seemed like a good idea. So that’s what we did.

We set out earlyish on Saturday and drove up to Kendal. First stop was Abbot Hall to see the first half of the exhibition of works by Laura Ford, previously shown at Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham, (20 June – 6 November 2015), and also the National Gallery’s Rembrandt self-portrait which is “on tour” round the country with Abbot Hall one of the venues.

I have to admit of never having heard of Laura Ford before the exhibition was announced, although she is represented in the collections of Galleries including the Tate, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The publicity photos I’d seen looked interesting but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The works on display were mainly sculptures, but there were also a number of ceramic pieces, paintings and drawings. Most of her works are figurative – lifelike humans and animals, but with a twist. She works in bronze, other metals, fabrics, wool, Jesmonite and other materials, including clothing to dress some pieces. Her works include  humans dressed as animals (or ‘sculptures dressed as people who are dressed as animals’), humans with animal aspects and anthropomorphic creatures. Most with a very Surreal influence evident.

The exhibition blurb tells us that

Laura Ford is one of Britain’s most original sculptors and is well-known for her portrayals of animals through which she explores aspects of the human condition – although Ford describes her own work as sculptures dressed as people who are dressed as animals. Deploying a nightmarish imagination she uses humour and acute observation to engage with social and political issues. Her works are personal and particular but also draw inspiration from popular culture as well as painting and sculpture from throughout the history of art.

Nightmarish is a very apt description for many of the works we saw.

The artist is skilful in creating realistic poses so that many of the figures look as if they are about to move. In some cases we worried that if we looked back they would have followed us! That aspect made some of the works very creepy indeed.

At Abbot Hall, they were displayed in the main exhibition space upstairs but some were located in the Georgian furnished rooms on the ground floor. For example, this pair of Medieval Cloud Girls standing amongst the furniture in the drawing room on the ground floor

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Upstairs we encountered this group of rather creepy penguins the size of children. There was something about them that made it seem as if there were real children inside the costumes.

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Perhaps it was the worn plimsolls they were wearing and the way they were posed. I was almost convinced that they had moved when we came back into the room.

At Blackwell the works were distributed throughout the house and outside in the grounds.

These Armour Boys  appeared to be evidence of a battle that had taken place in the Great Hall

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The poses were very convincing.

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Old Nick relaxing by the fire in the dining room

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There were a number of smaller ceramic pieces displayed in the White Drawing Room.

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I don’t think I’d like to bump into these fellows. A rural version of the Ku Klux Klan? or Something out of the Wicker Man.

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There seemed to be a surprise around every corner including this mouse boy

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and an elephant boy partially concealed behind a wardrobe in the small dressing room

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There were two giant rag dolls in the bedroom

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creepy enough without the second face on the back of it’s head

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The Lake District is closely associated with Beatrix Potter who lived over the other side of Windermere from Blackwell. There were three sculptures which almost could have come from her stories, except the characters were clearly down on their luck

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Perhaps that’s what upset these two children

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It was a marvellous exhibition that we thoroughly enjoyed. It’s always great to discover something good that you weren’t expecting and this was certainly the case on Saturday.

The Lakeland Arts website suggests that visitors really need to see both aspects of the exhibition by visiting both locations. I think that’s true and they do offer a reduction voucher for the second site when you ay admission at the first you visit. Mind you we are Friends of the Trust and so are able to visit as often as we like. And the excellent exhibitions they put on make the annual fee well worthwhile.

Romeo and Juliet at Blackwell

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While we were on holiday up in the Lake District, the London based Globe Theatre’s touring company were performing Romeo and Juliet in the garden at Blackwell on three consecutive evenings, organised in conjunction with the Bowness based Old Laundry Theatre . We decided we’d like to and see it as we weren’t staying too far away.

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As we’d left booking tickets to rather late the performances on the Monday and Tuesday were fully booked but we managed to get tickets for the Wednesday. This ended up working out quite well for us. The booking website was clear that the performance would go ahead in all but the most extreme weather conditions. So we made sure we had our waterproofs with us. Luckily, we didn’t need them. Although it had rained for the first two evening the Wednesday performance started in bright sunshine and it stayed dry. However, the temperature wasn’t so warm, especially as the sun began to go down, and we needed to wrap up well. The lamb stew and coffee we bought helped to keep us warm as well.  The setting, by the side of the house with views of Windermere, Grizedale forest and the Coniston Fells was familiar to us due to our regular visits to Blackwell, but magnificent none the less.

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The play was performed by a small company of only 8 actors most (in fact, all except the two leads) had to play multiple roles, differentiated by their costumes and clever use of regional accents. They performed on a “double decker” mobile stage, very useful for the famous balcony scene but also cleverly used throughout the play. Its design was based on those used by Elizabethan companies, when most plays were performed by travelling players.

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I’ve never seen Romeo and Juliet before – either on stage or the films made of it – and never read or studied the text. But the plot was familiar to me, so there were no major surprises. I thought the ending was a little weak. The warring clans were rather quick to make up after the deaths of the two lovers, but hey, who am I to criticise the Bard!

The company pulled the humour out of the play, more so than most productions (I was told!) and there was effective use of music too. The play started and finished with the actors playing instruments and singing and music and other sound effects were used to enhance the mood throughout the performance. The two main roles were played by young actors – Juliet was only meant to be 14 after all. I thought they did well. There were strong performances from Sarah Higgins as the nurse (with a broad Scottish accent) Matt Doherty as Tybalt, Paris and a Geordie servant, Tom Kanji as Benvolio and Friar Laurence and Stephen Elder as Juliet’s father.  The latter was particularly good in the scene where he insists that Juliet marries Paris, seamlessly going from the loving father to enraged dictator.

The performance finished as it was turning dark and we had a 30 minute journey back down the country roads to our cottage.

All in all an enjoyable evening.

Ceramics at Blackwell

Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Bowness in the Lake District is one of our favourite destinations for a day out, often combined, as was the case last Saturday, with a trip over to Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal. Both houses are owned by the Lakeland Arts Trust and have regularly changing exhibitions. The shop at Blackwell always has a large range of ceramic works, by a changing roster of artists, for sale and they usually have an exhibition of ceramic works taking place. During our last visit a few months ago they had an exhibition of works by Emilie Taylor and one of the current exhibitions at the house is a small display of works by three leading British ceramic artists – Gordon Baldwin, Alison Britton and  Nicholas Rena -who

all grapple with ideas of form and function within the wider debate of where contemporary craft stands in today’s art world.

The works were all displayed in one room, lit by a strong natural light that presented some problems for photographs.

I particularly liked these two pieces

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The white spherical object is by Gordon Baldwin and is typical of his work

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The work next to it, Blue Bowl by Nicholas Rena is very different. With a completely smooth perfect finish it was hard to resist touching it!

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There was a second, small exhibition of ceramics on the stairs leading down from the first floor to reception featuring works by Edmund De Waal and Hans Stofer. It was curated by Becca Weir who is a trainee at Lakeland Arts and Kendal Museum and she was inspired by Anecdote of the Jar, a poem by the American Poet Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

A book of Wallace’s poems, opened to show the poem, is displayed by a group of circular pots by Edmund De Waal

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There were two other groups of pieces by him.

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There were only 2 works by Hans Stofer on display. They are similar to Edmund Se Waals in that they are predominantly white, but in this case they are not thrown or cast as complete pots, but have been assembled using pieces of found china

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Emilie Taylor at Blackwell

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The Lakeland Arts Trusts regularly features ceramic themed exhibitions at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Windermere, They also sell contemporary ceramics in the shop there. One of the current exhibitions in the house features the work of Emilie Taylor, a young potter from South Yorkshire who produces works that reflect her social concerns and interests.

As an emerging artist Emilie has had considerable recognition as a ceramic artist thus far; she is currently completing an artist residency at Chatsworth in Derbyshire and has had commissions from Grizedale Arts and Sheffield Museums and Galleries. She has had three small solo exhibitions, two in Sheffield and one at the Snug Gallery in London, and so Blackwell is in the unique position to offer Emilie her first high profile exhibition. (Blackwell website)

The majority of the works on display were large, cylindrical, earthenware pots with a two-tone glaze. At the top of the pots there was a floral type pattern like a flock wallpaper, based on a design by William Morris. The lower half has images of young residents of the Manor and Castle estate in Sheffield. They are portrayed in their everyday dress but represent mythical and religious figures.

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Bus Stop Madonnas I and II

 

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There were also examples of her Harvest food Jugs and others from her Hymn to Persephone produced during a residency at Chatsworth last Autumn. We’d seen them on display during our visit in October. They rather reminded me of some of the works of Bernard Leach that I’ve seen

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In the smaller of the two rooms there was some information, including two videos, about her work and a commission for Grizedale Arts, Soup Run, six bowls she had created, which had images

‘Soup Run’ Detail 4 of 6 Bowls

‘Soup Run’ Detail (Red Ken) 1 of 6 Bowls

The inside of the bowls depict scenes from the ‘Soup Summit’ of 2008. The end of a three year period of wrangling between Westminster Council, the Church and London Voluntary Sector Organistaions as Westminster Council tried to amend byelaws that would mean soup runs, or providing food to the homeless, would become illegal. The summit, (with all organisations represented), met at Tate Britain in 2008 to set up a Soup Steering Group to take the matter forward. Scenes from this period of political history have been drawn simply using scraffitto, resulting in naive or cartoon images and quotes the viewer can piece together in their own reading of the events.

Memorious Earth: A Longitudinal Study

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Last July, when we were on holiday in the Lake District, we visited and enjoyed an exhibition at Dove Cottage in Grasmere – The Walking Poets – inspired by William Wordsworth and the Japanese master of the Haiku, Basho. It featured older manuscripts books together with works by contemporary artists in various media.

Two of these artists were Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson who are partners and collaborators, who both had two works included in the exhibition. I was intrigued by their work, which formed pictures from words –  and afterwards did a little research to find out more about them.

Richard Skelton, who originates from Standish, just up the road from here, is an artist, musician and writer and produces visual works formed from words and “found objects”.  Autumn Richardson is a Canadian poet who also produces visual works. Together they have produced ‘Field Notes’, a series of poetic place-studies published as pamphlets by their own Corbel Stone Press. They also edit and publish ‘Reliquiae’, an annual journal of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, translations and visual art.

Some of Richards’s works were inspired by the West Lancashire Moors, specifically Anglezarke, very much my “stomping ground”, so I ended up buying, and enjoying a couple of his books. So I was particularly keen to see the exhibition of their works which extends across Blackwell and Abbot Hall and which opened recently.

Their work is ‘informed’ rather than ‘inspired’ by landscape. It is not impressionistic, but the result of extensive research into specific places, topographies, ecologies and histories. Pages from their book-works frequently spill with word-lists drawn from varied sources: pollen diagrams, dialect glossaries, cartographic records, archaeological tracts

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The exhibition, features works inspired by their home in a remote part of south west Cumbria.  It includes

music, film, books, pamphlets, prints, artefacts and assemblages that engage with the natural history of this landscape, from the post-glacial wasteland to the present day.

So it’s a “multi-media” exhibition. Many of the works , in books and prints, are “poem-pictures” or “picture-poems” where the words and letters are arranged to create patterns and images that are representative of the theme of the poem. The visual work is often accompanied with a piece of music

Limnology, for example, which is displayed at Blackwell, a book accompanied by a print and music

The book assembles over 1000 ‘water-words’ from the dialect of Cumbria and its tributaries in the Germanic and Celtic languages, presenting them in a way which typographically imitates riverine processes.

Letters cascade down the page, overlap, merge and gather, forming pools and streams. Intermingled with these visual pieces are poems and texts which explore, among other things, water creation myths, the roles of water creatures, both real and imagined, and the paradox of waterless rivers.

This print of one of the images in the book looks like a waterfall of words and letters

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At Abbot Hall “Relics” is a series of prints each one with an image formed by different words used for a specific tree arranged in a  circular pattern, like tree rings.

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The work is inspired by the deforested landscape  around Devoke Water in south-west Cumbria where names related to the landscape refer to the names of the trees that were once there:

Birker Fell (birch), Linbeck (lime), Rowantree How (rowan), Storthes (brushwood), Withy Bottom (willow), Woodend & Wood Knotts

The artists have also collected various objects from the landscape – for example, fragments of bark, bone, twigs, leaves, seeds, pods, roots, animal pellets –  some of which are displayed in conjunction with their word works.

Relics, Richard Skelton & Autumn Richardson, 2013 ©Richard Skelton & Autumn Richardson

1337, RIchard Skelton & Autumn RIchardson, 2014 ©Richard Skelton & Autumn Richardson

Richard Skelton was also given access to the collection of artefacts held by the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry (Also run by the Lakeland Arts Trust). From this he created the ‘Museum of Ferae Naturae’, produced in collaboration with the Notional Research Group for Cultural Artefacts.

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One of the rooms at Abbot Hall has been devoted to this exhibition.

The museum will explore the customary persecution and exploitation of animal life in Cumbria, offering alternate historic, mythic and folkloric contexts for these artefacts which imply different attitudes towards the natural world.

Carefully selected objects are displayed in glass cases together with related texts.

Hare Stone ©Richard Skelton

There’s a catalogue of the works on display at both locations together with photographs here.

I thought it was a marvellous exhibition, reinforcing my appreciation of the work of Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson. There was too much to take in in one viewing so we intend to return, especially as there are other exhibitions at both locations we enjoyed and would like to see again – a display of pots by Emilie Taylor and two rooms devoted to work by the Boyle family “collective” whose art also is inspired by landscape – Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeologyat Abbot Hall