Saturday, 14 April 2012


Some time away is a mixed blessing: much needed and precious time with people I love and a chance to step back from the busy home/work life, have some breathing space; always entered into with the knowledge that there is so much to do back in the studio/office.

However, once I can relax into it of course there is so much rich experience to be had.  Time in Somerset and Cumbria this Easter have given me all of these things.  A visit to 'Damson Country' and the Arts and Crafts House at Blackwell are particular highlights.

I've known about Blackwell House for years but hadn't visited.  It was the exhibition 'Woven from Nature' that prompted this visit and, although I knew this was a special example of an Arts and Crafts House, I wasn't quite prepared for how breathtaking it would be.  You can't photograph inside the house but you are encouraged to sit on the many cosy window seats and take your time.  This was an absolutely necessary part of drinking the place and it's stunning location in. 

The exhibition is beautifully curated (on until 29th April so still over a week to see it).  I've seen Jilly's work before a number of times and seeing her colourful pieces in a new location felt like re-visiting old friends.  

I was fascinated by the detail of Mary Butcher's willow pieces; how a strip of willow can be so ribbon-like in the way it is wound and binds and catches the light as it does so:

What was really clear was the deep understanding of material in all four artists work.  As Maggie Smith says: 

"the themes of my work arise from the ebb and flow of natural cycles, the relationship between maker and materials and by a deep exploration of the materials themselves." 

Maggie's use of found objects, particularly beach-derived ones, had a special resonance for me and her use of seaweed as a basis for cording, twining, knitting, vessel-making was fascinating.

Once outside the house you discover Laura Ellen Bacon's wierd installation, which emerges out of and oozes down the building and out into the landscape.  If you stand in a particular place on the lawn the two pieces come together, appearing to flow from the roof, right over the wall to the lower terrace.  

Whilst I was enjoying these forms in the spring sunshine (a gap between heavy April showers) I was quite shocked by some of the comments of other visitors; people who were so closed off to the possibilities, the craftsmanship and relevance of such art.  It seems so right for work such as this to be installed at a building whose history is all about craftsmanship and design.  You wonder why some people visit these places if they are going to dismiss something so quickly.  It really made me think about how people might view my work, not that it is in any way approaching the league of what I saw here.  How can you engage people in work that is not immediately 'pretty'?  Some people will 'get' it and some won't, so is it worth trying?  Even with sensitive and informative interpretation so many people seem to dismiss things without any thought.  I'm afraid it gave me the blues!  


  1. Your so right, Blackwell is an amazing place to visit, it breathes too doesnt has an atmosphere. Its not a 'dead' house to visit like so many national trust houses can seem to be.......its like the organic design, lives on there.
    Sadly many folks need a blessed circus of rides or disney-esque add ons to feel they have experienced something worthwhile lol
    I guess in truth, half the world has no soul....

  2. I think although you may be needing to make work for a commercial reason you have to make work for yourself and for your own self worth.(I should probably say 'one' in place of 'you' as I don't mean it personally.) People will always make a snap decision about some art, especially if it is outside their experience or understanding and maybe in this setting they will not take the time to think or even take all that much notice of the written explanations. It is wounding that they make comments without thought to the work or the journey that the artist has taken and I think Lin has a point about the theme park mentality even among people who deliberately visit what you would think is a more cultured location. Coincidentally my DH and I are going up to Lancashire next week (so I can go to a Shelley Rhodes workshop) and I am hoping that we will visit Blackwell as this is the second time in a week someone has talked about it. From your post here I am looking forward to seeing the exhibition and judging for myself, especially the wicker installation which must be very striking. (Hope I havn't overstepped the mark with my comment). :-)

  3. Thank you Julie and Lyn. As you say Julie it was the fact that we were in that particular location that meant the comments affected me so. Do go to the exhibition and let me know what you think!

  4. Trying to fathom what folks think of one's work - that way madness lies! The exhibition sounds wondrous - and as you say, a perfect venue for such work. I have been fortunate to see Laura Ellen Bacon's work twice in person, the second time while she was still weaving it, and it really does live and breathe. One can only feel sad for those who don't 'get' it.

  5. Thanks for showing this Alice - stunning works in an amazing setting. It must have been hard given the place; to realise not a lot of people 'got it'. I have accepted my work is in a niche within a niche, and not many folk get it, but I have found my tribe on-line with other folk who love things I love and see things like I do, and it is special. I am currently reading Jeanette Winterson's Art Objects - a series of essays; and she speaks of exactly what you speak of! If you haven't yet read it (but you probably have) I would recommend it for those moments of - oh yes, I totally agree! Go well, make well.

  6. Thanks Fiona. Yes, good to be amongst people who do 'get it' and make those links even though we're all far apart. I haven't read those essays but I will!

  7. Hi, Alice. The Bacon work really caught my attention--amazing work. It seems to me that those lacking understanding have never made anything by hand in their lives and therefore can have no idea of the conception and craftsmanship. Just weaving a small simple basket would open the mind.
    best, nadia